Prenuptial Agreements Save 'Agunot' in Israel

According to Dr. Rachel Levmore, Rabbinic embrace of prenuptial agreements is reducing the number of new get-refusal cases in Israel.

Gedalyah Reback,

Divorce (illustration)
Divorce (illustration)
Thinkstock

Prenuptial agreements in Israel are on the rise. Long-shunned by more traditional circles and sometimes even considered interference by some authorities, they have increasingly been embraced as the best way to alleviate the dangers of 'chained' women whose recalcitrant (ex-)husbands have refused to give them the get document needed to sever a Jewish marriage.

Dr. Rachel Levmore is one of hundreds of advocates who are championing prenuptial agreements as addendums of sorts to the traditional ketubah, which is often perceived as but not exactly considered a marriage contract by observant Jews. The common stipulation is that in the event of a divorce, the husband by some mechanism included in the agreement would guarantee giving a get to his would-be ex-wife either within a certain frame of time or possibly once certain parameters of the divorce have been set.

It was not always the case that Rabbinic leadership were so welcoming to such a game-changing document. Now, according to Levmore, there are “some Rabbis who won’t officiate without it.”

“Both secular and religious couples are signing. Most religious councils are now familiar with it. Roshei Yeshivot Hesder are going along with them and actively encouraging their students to sign.”

Levmore is the author of the book Minee Einayikh MeDim'ah on the subject of get-refusal. She is also one of the authors of a prenuptial agreement called the “Agreement for Mutual Respect,” whose implementation by a couple before the wedding ceremony has become “automatic and obvious in some circles.”

In an academic article explaining the agreement’s Jewish legal caveats in the journal Hakirah, Levmore eloquently described the agreement:

“Should a couple that signs the Agreement join the 30% of couples in Israel that end in divorce, they will be able to end their marriage in a peaceful, dignified manner, in accordance with the rules that they established for themselves when they were still in love.”

While the possibility a man might refuse to "free" his wife from the marriage is the most common reason sought for these agreements, Levmore says that mistrust is hardly the only reason couples are concerned enough to pursue these pre-marriage addendums to their ketubah.

“We estimate that thousands of people have signed these prenuptial agreements.

“They’re asking for a document that would prevent the classic agunah problem from coming up (like in the event of the disappearance of the husband).”

According to Levmore, there is general interest across every single sector of Israeli society. It should be noted that prenuptial agreements can resolve a whole set of differences that might avoid the process of divorce also for couples who are less concerned about being "locked" as it were by a religious agreement. Prenuptial agreements often delineate settlement terms for a dissolving marriage without the time, emotional pain or money involved in the legal divorce process.

Couples are even going further than a prenuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal. Take for instance the “Agreement for Mutual Respect.”

Specific organizations, independent of the Chief Rabbinate, have moved along with Levmore in the direction of proliferating these agreements across Israel.

“It has had an effect and has brought Tzohar rabbis to develop their own agreement which they plan on presenting to every couple marrying under their auspices.”

Tzohar announced their version of the Halachic pre-nup several weeks ago, which includes agreements that men would continue paying certain fees to their would-be ex-wives in the event they have not given her a get by a certain point in the divorce process. Tzohar’s document, importantly, does not define those payments as “fines.”

When Arutz Sheva spoke with Tzohar Vice President Yakov Gaon at the beginning of March, he highlighted that the agreement was beneficial because it also helped circumvent the Rabbinic court system in particular, which has a reputation in some corners for either bias or a cumbersome process.

“We know of actual cases where the women were saved from becoming agunot  (“chained” wives) due to the agreement,” says Levmore, who has worked with religious courts for years. As a result, she says “the Ministry of Religious Affairs has set up a committee to compose a "standard" agreement to be offered at their religious councils.”

Levmore says the developments she is seeing in Israel have her elated; if not for the hundreds of women who were directly affected by these agreements, then for sure in being recognized as a true authority on the subject.

“The Dayanim (religious judges) participating in these committee meetings arrive with my book in hand – bookmarked and highlighted.”


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