So I just got my first invitation to a post-nuptial agreement party.
Friends are celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary by signing a document in case their marriage doesn’t work out.
If you put 40 years in already, your chances of marriage survival are pretty good, and this is a very loving couple. But it’s best to be on the safe side.
I always wondered about people who give each other toasters and vacuum cleaners for anniversary presents. I know one couple that gave each other a refrigerator, and recently heard of a summer anniversary celebrated with a generator. It proved particularly useful during Hurricane Sandy. I guess candlelight isn’t as romantic as the reassuring hum of electricity. But this party is a whole new level of the un-sentimental in marriage.
The invitation actually came with our own post-nup agreement to sign. Touching. Now instead of a simple response card with a stamped envelope, I have to consider if I’m in my marriage for the long run. The invitation said that a notary would be present at the party. I personally was hoping for a deejay or one of those people at a simcha who teaches dance steps so you don’t make an idiot out of yourself. We don’t get out much.
We got married right before signing a pre-nuptial agreement became common, accepted and expected in the Jewish world across the denominational spectrum. Most people at this party will be in the same position. The accompanying letter acknowledged that most people in attendance will have been married for decades, and divorce is not relevant (let’s hope).
“But that’s not the point,” the letter adds. The procedure is free, non-intrusive and sends “a message to your own family and friends…” The message: any married Jewish woman can become an aguna, a woman chained in an unhappy marriage. Since this critical issue has not been resolved by rabbinic courts, individuals should seek legal protection within civil confines. We should all do what we can to bring attention to this crisis and protect the Jewish family.
The post-nup ensures that the Beth Din of America can adjudicate when a marriage fails, and that its decision is fully enforceable in any court of “competent jurisdiction.” For those of you who believe that Mexican theme parties with tortillas and piñatas are passé and would like to go this route, you can check out the Beth Din of America website: theprenup.org/pdf/Postnup.pdf. And you don’t need a party to take this important step. Just a cheap pen and a notary.
It is a great sadness that we still have Jewish women trapped in relationships that forbid them to move forward with their lives. The aguna is indeed a weighty anchor, just as the word denotes in Hebrew. Many of us know someone who is in this position and cannot find a way out without extreme financial extortion or great emotional pain and humiliation. Or all of the above. Many women wish they could buy themselves out of what they deem a hopeless marital situation sanctioned by Jewish law. But their ex-husbands (in civil court) would rather see them never remarry.
This 40th wedding anniversary party is a way to let people know and let the news travel that it’s not only the younger generation that is taking the fate of Judaism in its hands and trying in small and big ways to make a difference.
But I must confess that I am a little anxious about the whole thing.
I wrote to the hosts immediately to ask what to wear. Something ugly? The host wrote back to say it was obvious: my wedding dress. This makes a big assumption: that I can fit in my wedding dress. We are not going there.
Also what food do you serve at one of these things? Something overcooked?
What kind of party games do you play? Pin the tail on the recalcitrant husband?
Naturally, you have to buy a present for an anniversary party and an appropriate card. But I’m stumped. A self-help book on marriage? Two separate gift cards? His-and-her towel sets that can be separated if necessary? I saw a “Kiss me, the divorce is final” button on the Internet along with a whole line of divorce related gifts, but it feels wrong somehow.
The music, the gift bags, the conversation, the entertainment — it’s all rather a mystery, but it will be interesting. And in thinking about the invitation, I’ve concluded that there may be no greater present to give each other, friends and relatives than a loving marriage and a way out of that marriage with integrity if it does not work. Protecting the sanctity of Jewish marriage and the family unit is the best gift we can give our children.
Who knows what they’ll do for their 50th? May that celebration be filled with love and happiness.
Erica Brown is scholar-in-residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Her column appears the first week of the month.