Orthodox group makes prenup mandatory for Jewish marriages
The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has adopted a resolution requiring a hala-chic prenuptial agreement in any wedding officiated by a member of the organiza-tion, thereby preventing husbands from deny-ing a get, or Jewish divorce document, to their spouse in the future, or a wife from refusing to accept one.
A prenup is expected to do this in two ways: It “designates the rabbinic forum in which claims for a get will be adjudicated and creates finan-cial incentives for both parties to effect the Jew-ish divorce in a timely manner,” according to a statement from the RCA, the rabbinic arm of the Orthodox Union.
“I think this is one of the greatest things the Rabbinical Council of America has done, no question about it, and it’s something the Ortho-dox, the Modern Orthodox, rabbinate is very proud of,” said Young Israel of Century City Rabbi Elazar Muskin, who serves as RCA vice president.
In the Orthodox community, a person must be granted a get in order to remarry. Husbands who deny a get to their wives when divorcing are known in the community as “recalcitrant hus-bands,” and a divorced woman who does not re-ceive a get is known as an agunah (chained woman). A man, if his wife denies him a get, is known as an agun.
Declining the issuance of a get is one way for one party to exert power over the other and manipulate the situation into getting, for example, more money in the divorce or full custo-dial rights of children.
The RCA resolution, adopted Sept. 23, is called “2016 Resolution: Requiring the Use of Prenup-tial Agreements for the Prevention of Get-refus-al.” It refers to the “prenuptial agreements of the Beth Din of America (BDA) … [as the] single most effective solution to the agunah problem.” The BDA is a rabbinic court founded by the RCA, and its responsibilities include obtaining Jewish divorces, according to its website.
“This new resolution now requires all RCA-member rabbis to require the use of prenuptial agreements. … With the adoption of this new resolution, signing the prenup is now no longer about the couple and the expectations that its rabbi has of them, but is about the rabbi and the professional standards that he must maintain,” according to a Sept. 22 RCA press release. In other words, the resolution normalizes the expectation that the marrying couple has signed a prenuptial agreement.
Rabbi Mordechai Willig of the BDA and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva Uni-versity drafted the halachic prenuptial agreement that today is used widely by RCA members officiating mar-riages.
The prenup, entered into by a man and woman before their marriage, obligates the signees to appear before the rabbinic court in the event of a separation and requires the man to pay his wife a sum of money every day until the divorce is finalized — that way, he has no incentive to prolong the proceedings. Financial implications for the wife are explained, too, if she does not abide by the prescribed process.
A specific California version of the prenup is available on the website of the Beth Din of America (bethdin.org).
RCA has been advocating the use of the get abuse prevention tool since 1993, according to a statement from the organization. Local Modern Orthodox clergy like Muskin, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea and Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob Congregation have been requiring the use of a prenuptial agreement for some time, according to Muskin.
“It’s pretty standard today. We’re just trying to make to make it well known that this has been our position,” Muskin said.
Still, the recent decision does not do anything to help the cases of current chained men or women. More than 450 agunot are believed to live in the North America, according to a 2011 survey by Barbara Zakheim, founder of the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse.
“This is a preventative measure,” Muskin said. “It’s not going to resolve that which took place in the past.”
Married couples who have never signed prenuptial agreements are able to sign postnuptial agreements, which work the same way in that they obligate married couples to settle a divorce in a reputable rabbinic court, among other things.
Esther Macner, president and founder of Get Jewish Divorce Justice, praised the RCA’s decision. The advocacy organization in Los Angeles makes the prenuptial agreement approved by the Beth Din of America available on its website (getjewishdivorce.org).
Macner called the adoption of the resolution “a big step forward” but added that there are those who attach stigma to the signing of a prenuptial agreement. The adoption of a resolution won’t change that.
“It isn’t like overnight everyone is going to sign the prenup,” she said. “This is a constant relentless effort [we have been undertaking] since 1993.”