Frequently Asked Questions

A brief introduction to the Agreement for Mutual Respect and the Agunah problem

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

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4. What is a pre/post nuptial agreement?

Prenuptial

 

It is a financial agreement signed before marriage, governing issues of money and property between the couple. Recently, prenuptial agreements have been developed expressly for the purpose of preventing get refusal.
PostnuptialIt is a financial agreement signed after marriage governing what happens should the couple wish to divorce. The Postnup Party agreement is presented expressly for the purpose of preventing get refusal.

5. How is the agreement different from the Ketubah?

Prenuptial & Postnuptial

The Ketubah was introduced to address the pressing social needs of the past. It was designed to protect a woman from being divorced against her will and to secure her economically.

The contemporary prenuptial Agreement for Mutual Respect supplements the Ketubah and is designed to address current pressing social needs that arise from a spouse’s refusal to grant a get.

 

 

6. What is stipulated in the agreement?

 Prenuptial

  •  An appendix to the agreement lays out how any property and assets belonging to the couple will be split in the event of divorce.
 

Prenuptial & Postnuptial

  • Each spouse obligates him/herself to pay the other, monthly spousal support of minimum $1500 or half his/her monthly income for as long as they are married according to halakha -- in the case that he/she refuses to grant the get.
  • The financial obligation takes effect after six or nine months have passed since a letter of notification referring to the agreement was sent from one spouse to the other.
  • During the six or nine month period, the spouse receiving the notification may require marital therapy and the other spouse must attend a defined number of sessions.
 

7. Why sign an agreement?

Prenuptial 

The agreement prevents cases of get refusal, protecting both the husband and the wife, thus building a strong foundation of trust between the spouses.

 Postnuptial

Signing a postnuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal is the most effective educational tool one can provide for the next generation – to teach them how to establish a responsible, healthy Jewish family unit.

 

8. How does the Agreement work, and 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.

9a. What causes the agreement to be valid?

Prenuptial

The agreement conforms to both civil and religious law. It must be signed in the presence of a recognized authority in accordance with local laws. In Israel, the couple can choose to sign before a civil court or a religious court (Beit Din), a local marriage registrar, or a notary. Experience has shown that the notary is the most efficient and expeditious way.

Postnuptial

To give civil legal validity to the document for married couples, Israeli civil law may require that it be signed before one of two courts: The civil Family Court or the Rabbinic Court. In order to grant the document halakhic validity to the greatest possible degree when not signed before a Rabbinic Court, signing should take place before two kosher witnesses with a kinyan.

 

9b. How about signing at a Posntup Party?

The postnuptial agreement differs from the prenuptial agreement at the point of its signing. There is a dispute of legal opinions as to whether the postnuptial agreement, in its version to be signed at the Postnuptial signing Event, gains legal validity by the two spouses simply signing it, or whether the spouse must sign in the presence of a judge in the civil Family Court to gain legal validity, Neither the prenup nor the postnup have ever been challenged in any court so we don't know which legal opinion is correct. If one wants to ensure that there will be absolutely no dispute in the future as to the legal validity of the postnup in the future, then one should take the postnup to be given the power of a ruling of the civil Family Court and sign before the judge there.

10. How can an agreement prevent problems in case of divorce?

 Prenuptial

It safeguards the financial rights of both partners in accordance with Israeli law.

 

Prenuptial & Postnuptial

It conveys the message, and in real-time actually convinces the couple, that when a divorce becomes necessary, the couple will enter into and conduct divorce proceedings with dignity and respect.
Potential financial obligations of spousal support discourage spouses from creating obstacles to divorce, rather encouraging them to communicate.

 

11. In what cases is a prenuptial agreement effective or ineffective?

Prenuptial & Postnuptial

  • The Agreement for Mutual Respect has proven effective in cases of get-refusal, by changing the stance of a spouse refusing a get through the mechanism of a financial obligation, which dissolves upon the arrangement of a get.
  • The agreement cannot solve the problem of a “classic” agunah: one whose husband has disappeared and we do not know if he is alive or dead, or one whose husband is not capable of issuing a get.
  • Although it has been claimed that the prenuptial cannot solve the problem in the case of a very poor person who cannot pay his or her monetary obligation (claiming that since he or she has nothing to lose, he/she is not amenable to pressure) – this has been disproved. Even one who has thousands of shekalim of debt does not wish to enter into more debt, therefore he/she acts to “escape” this future debt by giving the get.
  • It has also been claimed that the prenuptial agreement cannot solve the problem in the case of a person who is prepared to lose everything so as not to free their spouse. This claim too is highly unrealistic due to the fact that get-refusers are very concerned with not losing any of their money to the spouse that left them.
 

 

12. What are some case examples? Has the agreement ever been challenged?

 
Prenuptial & Postnuptial

  • In several reported cases, the Heskem l’Kavod Hadadi proved its success by saving several women after their husbands had declared that they were refusing to give the get. Following the husband’s initial refusal, he was reminded of the prenuptial agreement he had signed. This led to a quiet and dignified negotiation of a divorce agreement and to the arrangement of the get within a matter of weeks.
  • No prenuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal was ever reported as having been challenged in any court in Israel. Having said that, there have been cases in the Israel Beit Din Rabbani that after applying for the arrangement of a get in a joint petition, the husband specified that he was agreeing to give the get due to the fact that he had signed the Heskem l’Kavod Hadadi . In each case the Beit Din did not enter into discussion but rather arranged the get immediately.
  • In May, 2008, Rav Ben Dahan stated in a public forum that to date several cases have been brought before Israeli courts where a prenuptial agreement had been signed and in each one of the cases the Beit Din arranged the get on the basis of the agreement.
 

 Postnuptial

The idea of signing a postnuptial agreement is relatively new -- it has not yet been tested. However, there is every reason to believe it will be as effective as the prenuptial agreement.

13. How do agreements in Israel and America differ?

Prenuptial & Postnuptial

  • The prenuptial agreement in Israel, the Agreement for Mutual Respect, is an egalitarian agreement of mutual respect in which both spouses are equally obligated.
  • The Agreement for Mutual Respect includes a clause requiring the couple to seek marital counseling if one of the couple requests it.
  • The Agreement for Mutual Respect does not require the courts or Beit Din to issue a ruling pertaining to a divorce suit. After the 180 day waiting period, the obligations kick in automatically.
  • The Agreement for Mutual Respect preserves the goals of the Ketubah, namely to protect the economic interests of women lacking independent financial means.
  • The amount of spousal support which the recalcitrant party is required to pay in Israel can reach 50% of his/her income, while the American agreement incurs financial sanctions of a predetermined sum. 
  • Prenuptial agreements in the United States are binding arbitration agreements that require the participation of both rabbinical and secular courts in divorce proceedings.
 

For the United States

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

For Israel: The Agreement for Mutual Respect

Available in English, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Russian

14. Why sign the Heskem l’Kavod Hadadi – Agreement for Mutual Respect, as opposed to other suggestions?

 
Prenuptial & Postnuptial

  • The Heskem l’Kavod Hadadi is the most widespread prenuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal in the State of Israel. It is approximated that thousands of couples, from all sectors of Jewish society in Israel, have signed it.
  • The Heskem l’Kavod Hadadi has already proven its success by saving several women after their husbands had declared that they were refusing to give the get.
  • The Heskem l’Kavod Hadadi is the one prenuptial agreement that grants the couple full autonomy (within the confines of the halakha) in deciding that a divorce is unfortunately necessary or in implementing the agreement. The spouse who wants the divorce does not need to cede to any authority in making that decision — neither a Beit Din, nor a civil court, nor an arbitrator, nor a therapist.
  • The Heskem l’Kavod Hadadi is the only prenuptial agreement which has been developed by a team of scholars of Jewish Law who consulted with experts in a wide range of fields – Rabbinical Court Judges of the Beit HaDin Hagadol, civil judges, academics, attorneys, psychologists, women’s organizations and organizations for social change.
 

 

15. What type of widespread support is there for the agreement?

Prenuptial & Postnuptial

Many prominent Rabbis support signing of the agreement including:

  1. Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l, Rav Zalman Nehemia Goldberg, Rabbi Yitzchok Liebes, zt”l , Rav Chaim Zimbalist, Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz,  Rav Asher Weiss, Av Beit Din, Darchei Torah Beis Din and Rabbi of Sharei Tzedek Hospital, all gave their approbation to the prototype of prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal—that of the Beth Din of America—which is in use for decades.
  2. Rav Shear Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi and Rosh Avot Batei Din of Haifa
  3. Rav Eliyahu Ben Dahan, former Director of the Israeli Rabbinical Courts
  4. Roshei Yeshiva and Ramim of Yeshivot Hesder
  5. The Beit Hillel and Tzohar rabbinic organizations
 

16. Are there Rabbis that object to the agreement?

Prenuptial & Postnuptial

Yes. Some Rabbis believe that the agreement can cause a Get Meusa - a coerced Get, which is not valid. For this reason, the daily sum of money committed by each side is to pay the mezonot or financial support which must be provided when one is married. Thus the sum is NOT a penalty or a punishment, rather the outcome of not giving or receiving the Get and therefore remaining married.

Some Rabbis believe that the agreement makes it simpler and easier to divorce. For this reason, the agreement stipulates that the couple must go for counseling first and attempt to reconcile -- Shalom Bayit - before divorcing, if one of the spouses requests it.

Some Rabbis believe that innovations are inherently in contradiction with Halakha. Unfortunately, the rising divorce rates are creating more incidents of get refusal and require a Halakhic solution. The plight of those refused a Get is too painful to not consider signing an agreement to protect both parties from unnecessary anguish.

 

 

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. How to implement an existing agreement at the time of crisis?

One must send a notification to the other spouse stating that one wants to implement the agreement. After 180 days (or 270 depending if the couple engaged in marital therapy), and if the couple is still married--then the one who is refusing to end the marriage must pay the other spousal support for as long as they are married. In order to implement this monetary obligation, the spouse must turn to the civil Family Court (or to the State Rabbinic court if they so choose) and sue for the implementation of the obligation clause.

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.

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