About 20 years ago, as the Rabbi of the Boca Raton community in Florida, I was closely involved in the case of a couple who had married at a young age but had since grown significantly estranged from one another. Despite the woman’s desire to move on, her husband refused to grant her a get (a halakhic writ of divorce) for years – until we were forced to take drastic social measures against him. After consulting with my own teachers and mentors, we decided to close the only mikveh in the region three days a week, publicizing that the closure was the direct result of the recacitrant husband’s actions. How could any of us enjoy Shalom Bayit, peace in our home, when there was a member of our community with no peace in their home? Ultimately, the get-refuser did not withstand that type of pressure, and he agreed to give the get.
Although I am now living on the Israeli side of the ocean, I continue to witness cases of get-abuse through Yad La’isha, our national legal aid center for agunot. Women like Rachel (all names are pseudonyms), an aguna of 16 years, whose husband insisted in court that he wanted reconciliation, but who had nonetheless moved in with another woman and fathered two children with her. Like Sara, who was trapped for a “mere” six years, released only after our advocate threatened her husband with a civil damages suit; or like Irit, whose husband relented to grant her a get to stave off the public “naming and shaming” that Yad La’isha’s advocate attained permission (otherwise in Israel such activities are forbidden) from the rabbinic family court.
I have seen these cases and hundreds more over the years. Different women, different stories, ages, countries and backgrounds. But the common denominator is that all of them could have been avoided, had their officiating rabbi insisted on signing a Halakhic Prenuptial Agreement before the wedding.
So why don’t more Israeli couples agree to sign such a Halakhic Prenup?
Among the most common reasons given for hesitation is a fear that doing so reflects a lack of commitment to the marriage and encourages higher rates of divorce.
Without the Ketuba, which has no mention of God, it is halakhically prohibited to perform a wedding. Because when the music fades, and the lights go out, the couple will remain together, with all the opportunities and challenges that married life brings. And if they care for one another, they will want all the necessary protections to be in place to ensure their respective wellbeing, both during what will hopefully be their long, happy marriage, and, if necessary, during the inevitably difficult process of bringing their marriage to a close. That is the focus of the Ketubah because after all at the root of the word, Ahava, love is the word hav to give, to take responsibility.
The Halakhic Prenup, just like the Ketubah is a testament to a love that runs deep; a love that is founded on care, compassion, and respect – exactly the values that marriages thrive on, and that weddings come to celebrate.
Among the most common reasons given for hesitation to sign the Halakhic Prenup is a fear that doing so reflects a lack of commitment to the marriage, and encourages higher rates of divorce. But when you get into a taxi, would you feel safer if the driver didn’t have auto insurance, or didn’t put on a seat belt? Not a chance. You would more likely question the driver’s unwillingness to take precautions to protect against some unlikely, albeit possible, worst-case scenario.
Facts on the ground demonstrate that the Halakhic Prenup is the single most effective way to prevent get-refusal and the creation of agunot. While there are hundreds of ongoing cases of agunot, whose spouses refuse to grant a get, the number of cases of get-refusal among couples who have signed the Halakhic Prenup is next to none.
The agreement uses a simple and well-accepted halakhic mechanism, encouraging recalcitrant spouses not to use the get as leverage in the divorce proceedings. As the years go by, we are reaching the point where the Halakhic Prenup is becoming standard practice in our community, thanks to the rabbinic endorsements of leading poskim, dayanim, and rabanim, notably among them R’ Zalman Nechemya Goldberg zt”l, R’ Ovadya Yosef zt”l, R’ Nachum Rabinovitch zt”l, R’ Gedalya Dov Schwartz zt”l as well as (yb”l) R’ Elisha Aviner, R’ Yosef Carmel, R’ Yair ben Menachem, R’ Herschel Schachter, R’ Mordechai Willig, and many, many more.
And in fact, signing the Halakhic Prenup has also never been easier, readily available in the United States and Israel, online and in person.
Here in Israel, the “Renewed Agreement for Mutual Respect” utilizes the halakhic mechanism endorsed by leading rabbinic authorities and used in the Beit Din of America’s Prenup, with technical adjustments to properly reflect Israeli family law.
Awareness of the prenup option is of utmost importance, which is why Yad La’isha has been running an educational campaign for youth and relevant professionals on the ground, and we are blessedly seeing a rise in both interest and use.
So as wedding season continues, whether it’s you who is getting married, or your child, your grandchild, cousin, or a good friend, I would implore that for the sake of true love, be sure that the grooms and brides sign a Halakhic Prenup.
Doing so not only protects the happy couple, but it contributes to setting the standard for our community, sending a message loud and clear that get-refusal will not be tolerated in our community. It is the Torah’s way of denouncing abuse and promoting life, love, trust, and respect.
And that is certainly a reason for celebration.
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.