Frequently Asked Questions

A brief introduction to the Agunah problem and prenuptial agreements

Prenuptial Q&A

1. What is an agunah? Is there an agunah problem in Israel and in the Diaspora? (Is there a difference?)

An agunah can be defined as a “husbandless wife”-, stuck in a Jewish marriage, unable to change her personal status from a married woman to one who is remarriageable. The modern-day agunah who is a victim of get-refusal, has requested a divorce but is chained to her husband as long as he refuses to grant her a Jewish writ of divorce—the get. In the Diaspora this problem can affect women married in accordance with Orthodox Jewish law. An Orthodox woman cannot remarry until she receives a get. It is irrelevant if in the Diaspora, there is a civil divorce in place. In Israel, where all State sanctioned weddings are administered in accordance with Orthodox Jewish law, it can affect any woman or man—regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.
 
The classic Agunah is a victim of tragic circumstances. The Agunah status occurs when a man cannot give a get to his wife in the Rabbinical Court, as a result of running away, disappearing (without our knowledge if he is alive or dead), in a coma, or mental illness, for example. In this case the woman is truly trapped, since her husband is either not present physically or mentally and his active participation in the process is required. The result is a woman agonizingly trapped in an unwanted marriage.

2. What lies at the root of the problem of get-refusal?

By biblical Law, a Jewish writ of divorce, a get, must be given from the husband’s free will to the wife. By Rabbinic law, the wife must also agree to accept the divorce. Therefore a divorce can only occur today when both parties agree to it. Whoever is being sued for divorce has the upper hand–as he or she can name their price or even simply refuse to divorce in accordance with Jewish Law. Not even a Rabbinical court can change the parties’ status to divorced if the two of them don’t do it themselves.

3. What can the individual do to protect herself or himself?

Both in North America and in Israel there is a prenuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal available on the internet for use. In the US it is provided by the Rabbinical Council of America, while in Israel it is called the Agreement for Mutual Respect (in Hebrew: Heskem l’Kavod Hadadi) and posted on this site. All are linked below.

The United States

The binding Arbitration Prenuptial Agreement of the Beth Din (Rabbinical Council) of America

Israel: The Agreement for Mutual Respect

Available in English, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Russian

ישראל: הסכם לכבוד הדדי

עמודים בעברית בדרך

4. Is this an autonomous decision or does she or he need the OK of some authority, such as a rabbi, to implement the signing of the Prenuptial Agreement for Mutual Respect? Are there Rabbis who recommend signing?

In order for the agreement to be valid in a legal sense in Israel it can be signed in front of one of four authorities. The two simplest methods are signing before the Marriage registrar in the local religious Council where the couple registers for marriage or secondly, at a NOTARY. One can choose a notary–which is a completely autonomous decision and completely private. After signing, the agreement is put away by both parties, hopefully never to be used. The Rabbinical Council of America in the US passed a resolution that no member rabbi may officiate at a wedding where the prenuptial agreement was not signed. In Israel, there are some rabbis who believe the same, some rabbis who are willing to go along with the couple’s interest in signing and some rabbis who have never bothered learning the issue in depth. In any case, as previously explained, one does not have to involve his rabbi if one does not want to.

5. How does the Agreement for Mutual Respect work? On what basis?

It is a combination of a monetary agreement with a deadline–it is not a get. As a sign of mutual respect both the groom and the bride take on a monetary obligation to support the other, at a high level of spousal support, under certain conditions. Those conditions are those of get-refusal after a six to nine month interim period. During that period, the couple sees the future monetary obligation looming which convinces them to talk to each other in a dignified fashion and come to an agreement through negotiations. There is also a clause providing for marital therapy. All together, the monetary incentive brings the couple to some sort of agreement–either to divorce or to reconcile. Any attempts at setting a price for the get or extortion become meaningless, as the recalcitrant party realizes very quickly that he is in for a monetary loss as opposed to a gain.
“Money Talks”. His own lawyer would recommend that he settle as quickly as possible, before the six month deadline.

6. Has it been proven to be successful? Can you give an example?

There have been several cases in Israel where an initially recalcitrant husband was reminded of the Agreement for Mutual Respect which he had signed and he came to the Rabbinic Court to give the get within less than the six month time period. There was one young women (about 22 years old) who explicitly stated “This agreement saved me”. She had married a young man who seemed suitable, but the mother of the bride insisted that they sign the agreement. It was fortunate she did so–for after the wedding it became clear that the young groom was hundreds of thousands of shekels in debt and was not the man the bride had thought he was. She demanded a divorce and he refused. The women’s lawyer had to chase him in the streets until she caught him and explained to him that he would enter into even greater debt. That was when he agreed to give the get.

In the US Rabbi Yonah Reiss, former director of the BDA and present of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, has repeatedly stated that: the prenuptial agreement has been 100% effective. In all divorce cases where a prenup had been signed, the get was delivered in a timely manner.

7. How can one convince a young couple to sign at the height of romance?

The first theme should be ideological. There is a need to correct a terrible problem that plagues Jewish society. You are not going to divorce. However, if you lead by example, then your cousin will sign, and his neighbor, etc, until all will sign. So that all of the 30% of couples who do get divorced will be “innoculated” against the virus of get-refusal. It is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for you to participate in a tikkun olam.

Secondly, each individual benefits from a type of personal insurance. Just as we put on seat belts to minimize collateral damage in case of an accident — even though we are sure that we will not cause an accident– so too, even though we are sure that we will not divorce, we will put the agreement in place to insure that we always treat each other with mutual respect–even in a crisis. In fact, this is the most romantic step a fiancé can take–he is saying to his bride: I love you so much that I want to protect you from any harm which may befall you, I want to protect you even from myself.

The easiest thing to do when still single is to join one of the facebook groups (linked below) so when someone suggests a possible date for you and he or she goes into Facebook to check you out- he will immediately see that you are a member of (for example) “save the whales”, and an environmental group and The Halakhic prenuptial Agreement for Mutual Respect. That way, when you do become engaged it will not be taken personally, rather he knew all along that you were a believer for ideological reasons and it will be obvious that you both will sign The Agreement for Mutual Respect.

Helpful Articles

For the United States

The binding Arbitration Prenuptial Agreement of the Beth Din of America can be found at http://www.theprenup.org/

All downloads, including forms, texts and articles, are for individual and personal use only. Organizations, educational institutions and businesses wishing to utilize and/or distribute any materials need to contact IYIM – Israel Region for written permission: office@iyim.org.il

Have a question?

Please note for your information that the composers of the prenuptial agreement cannot take upon themselves legal or halachic (Jewish legal) responsibility for the phrasing and text of the agreement or for its validity. Rabbinic and Halachic authority and/or legal authority (an attorney), of your choosing, should be consulted in order to obtain appropriate counsel and advice.

Which Version do I sign?

This section is under construction.

Postnuptial Q&A

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"Save your eyes from tears: Prenuptial Agreements for the Prevention of Get Refusal" - a thorough halachic work, currently available in Hebrew. Contact our helpline for details.

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