America is leading the charge to solve the Agunah crisis

The plight of the agunah, a woman denied a get by her husband so that she cannot remarry despite the functional end of her marriage, has rightfully commanded our attention and outrage for a very long time. But thanks to a 25-year effort to establish the halachic prenup as a conventional rite of Jewish marriage, we finally have a widely accepted tool that eradicates this problem. According to a recent poll conducted in March, 84-percent of Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) rabbis who officiate at weddings now require or encourage the use of a halachic prenup. As a result, the American Jewish community is leading the charge in putting an end to the heart-breaking agunah crisis forever.

The prenup is a document that is signed by a man and woman prior to their marriage. It provides that in the unfortunate event of divorce, the Beth Din of America (BDA) will have proper authority to ensure that the get is not withheld or improperly used as a bargaining chip.

The idea behind the prenup is simple. The husband agrees to support his wife, at the rate of $150 per day, adjusted for inflation, from the time they separate and she requests the support, until their marriage ends with a get. Should he withhold a get, the Beth Din will order that he support his wife, and the courts will enforce the award of the Beth Din. If he doesn’t want to support his wife, he can divorce her with a get. The prenup is endorsed by leading halachic authorities.

The document works dramatically. Virtually every case at the BDA in which a prenup has been presented has been resolved with a timely and unconditional get. The prenup has worked to insulate the get from being used as a tool for advantage even in the most contentious cases, where husbands and wives have used everything at their disposal to wage war against each other.

Since its introduction the prenup has withstood challenges on a number of fronts. In 2012, a Connecticut court upheld the agreement in a reasoned opinion that spelled out its constitutionality. In the early days of the prenup, some objectors complained that introducing a document about divorce to young couples will inevitably undermine the strength of their marriages. But a 2017 article published in a peer reviewed journal described the results of a broad-based marital satisfaction study that showed, if anything, just the opposite. The study demonstrated, “a higher level of marital satisfaction among those who signed the religious prenuptial agreement, and no significant difference in marital adjustment or tendency to consider divorce between groups of individuals who signed or did not sign the religious prenuptial agreement.”

The success of the prenup is clear from the fact that one specific population of women seem, as a group, to be protected from the agunah problem. The Beth Din of America arranges gittin for men and women that span the spectrum of the North American Jewish community. They include Sephardim and Ashkenazim, yeshivish and non-observant, native Israelis and American born, newlyweds and empty nesters. But there is one demographic that sticks out and seems always able to arrange a get early in the process and with minimal friction – Modern Orthodox couples who married after 2000. These mostly young men and women don’t pull their punches and can fight nasty just like anyone else. They don’t fight about the get, however, because they have overwhelmingly signed the prenup. By embracing the prenup over the past 25 years, the RCA rabbinate has, at least within its own subset of the American Jewish community, effectively vanquished a problem that once seemed unsolvable and that continues to vex so many Orthodox Jewish communities.

It is rare to see a solution to a problem affecting the Jewish community that is resolutely implemented over decades, and that succeeds in meeting its objectives in such a decisive way. The prenup is one such case.

The halachic prenup is now easier than ever for marrying couples to sign. Every parent should encourage their children to do so and every rabbi should encourage the couples they are marrying to do so. The document is available at www.theprenup.org. While nobody who is in the process of planning their wedding is thinking about a potential divorce, a halachic prenup is the insurance policy that everyone should have.

Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann is the Director of the Beth Din of America. The Beth Din of America, along with the Rabbinical Council of America, created and administers the halachic prenup that is the single most effective solution to the agunah problem. For more information, visit: https://bethdin.org/.

About the Author
Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, Esq., has served as the Director of the Beth Din of America, the most active rabbinical court in North America, since 2008. In this role, he utilizes both his secular and Jewish legal expertise to manage all aspects of the Beth Din’s activities, and to oversee a forum for dispute resolution that seamlessly integrates the Jewish jurisprudential tradition with secular norms of procedural due process. Rabbi Weissmann also serves as a mediator and arbitrator at the Beth Din, and has mediated and arbitrated over 100 cases since joining the organization. Rabbi Weissmann is a frequent speaker on topics relating to religious arbitration, and has delivered lectures at law firms, law schools, religious institutions, and universities. Prior to joining the Beth Din of America, Rabbi Weissmann served as a commercial real estate attorney at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, and before that at Day Pitney LLP and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.
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