Makor Rishon – “In the USA, even conservatives support it”

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In the USA, even conservatives support it

A response from Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, in response to Yehuda Yifrah’s article of 10 October (read the translation) examining halakhic prenuptial agreements.  

For the past several decades, I have been involved in the issue of halakhic prenuptial agreements in Israel and the Diaspora, as well as the reality emerging from the field, which unfortunately was not fully presented in an article on the subject that was published last weekend in the “Musaf Shabbat” supplement.

First, it should be emphasized that senior and esteemed rabbis in the United States, even those who are not suspected of liberalism, such as Rav Herschel Schechter and Rav Mordechai Willig and dozens of other senior rabbis at Yeshiva University, support prenuptial agreements and even demanded that their students not officiate a wedding without the bride and groom signing them. That this agreement has become a sort of standard in the North American Zionist-Orthodox community has not led to an increase in the number of reported divorces, and those who argue otherwise are attempting to mislead the public and deter educators and rabbis from supporting the agreement.

According to data submitted a week ago for a special discussion in the Knesset on the subject, there are between 2,000-3,000 divorce cases that have been going on for more than two years in Israeli rabbinical courts. To this problematic reality for the couples themselves must be added the tens of thousands of their family members, friends and acquaintances, who see the process lengthened and delayed, with immense mutual harm, and as a result may themselves avoid marriage via the Chief Rabbinate.

It is important to emphasize the fact that the wording of the “Updated Agreement of Mutual Respect” used in Israel prevents us from entering into action before a year of attempts at compromise and dialogue for “shalom bayit”, or with the consent of a couples therapist after six months of unsuccessful treatment.

Likewise, the agreement also contributes to the mitigation of extremist voices in the discourse on this matter, who seek to take the path of marital annulment (“Hafka’at Kiddushin”) even in cases that do not justify its use.

Another advantage of this agreement is that it can also be enforced in cases where one of the spouses flees abroad. The agreement allows the court to confiscate the spouse’s assets even if he or she is overseas, so that the financial distress will make it difficult to escape, and as we have seen in many cases in the past, will expedite the granting of the Get.

It is important to know that halakhic prenuptial agreements are gaining momentum even among the Israeli public. Recently, we launched a website dedicated entirely to the subject, which in the last hundred days alone has gained hundreds of thousands of hits and views of informational videos on the subject, and hundreds of downloads of the “Updated Agreement of Mutual Respect”. It is possible that it is precisely this impressive momentum that is bringing the opponents of the agreement to stand up and call out against it right now.

I would like to dwell on the words of Rav Eliezer Igra quoted in the article, according to which the agreement is not relevant to the ultra-Orthodox sector. First, 44% of the women who turn to the Ohr Torah Stone’s “Yad La’Isha: Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline” come from the ultra-Orthodox sector. These women are very open to the solutions offered by Yad La’Isha, and were delighted with an agreement that would have prevented in advance the difficult situation into which they found themselves.

Second, the ultra-Orthodox community in the United States has a parallel version of the agreement of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), which is very successful and has the support of that community’s rabbis.

A recent study of the U.S. ultra-Orthodox community, supported by psychologist Dr. David Pelkovitz of Yeshiva University, showed that an ongoing situation of Get refusal causes post-trauma difficulties in sexuality (94%), propensity for self-harm (83%), suicidal thoughts (80%) and more. This is in addition to the heavy damage caused to the children involved.

Is this not a sufficient reason to act as much as we can to expedite the process and prevent these tragic occurrences? It will indeed take time for the agreement to be accepted by the ultra-Orthodox as well, but it is clear that over time, the recognition of the importance of the agreement will also permeate this public, as it does in the United States.

Finally, I will address the argument that the authors of the halakhic prenuptial agreement do not know the situation of agunot in the rabbinical courts. In this context, it is worth noting that the Yad La’Isha, which co-drafted the “Updated Agreement of Mutual Respect”, employs seven female rabbinical advocates (To’anot Rabbaniot), who are managing more than sixty cases at a given time, and accompany the women in the courts’ complicated halakhic and legal discussions.

In conclusion, the “Updated Agreement of Mutual Respect” is another tool in the halakhic arsenal that is available to us to prevent Get refusal and allow women and men to remarry and raise a family with love and joy.

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