Could new "Halakhic pre-nup" help solve the agunah crisis?
Could new "Halakhic pre-nup" help solve the agunah crisis? Thinkstock

Tzohar, a Religious Zionist Rabbinical organization in Israel, in conjunction with the Israel Bar Association, has announced the creation of a new so-called “Halakhic Pre-nup” agreement to be offered to Israeli couples in accordance with Jewish Law (Halakha).

In a press release, the organization’s Chairman Rabbi David Stav was quoted as saying: “This agreement can and should become the norm in Israeli society to ensure that the end of a marriage and separating from your partner be treated with respect and dignity.”

Past efforts and positions by Tzohar have faced stiff opposition from the haredi sector and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Vice President Yakov Gaon stressed that there was more support on this issue, sometimes more confidentially and sometimes very publicly.

“Lots of haredi figures support our initiative silently. Rabbi Aryeh Stern, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, has stood up very loudly and supported this.” 

He stood there, expressing the depth of help this provides Israeli couples and Israeli society at large,” he continued, adding that the Rabbis who were present at the launch transcended the halakhic (Jewish legal) and hashkafic (philosophical) divide.

The issue of agunot – “chained” women who remain at the mercy of their husbands who do not grant them a religious divorce – is an issue that has bothered Rabbinic authorities for centuries, mentioned frequently in the Talmud. In Israel today, some courts have ordered recalcitrant husbands arrested for contempt for not granting such a divorce.

When asked what separated this prenuptial agreement from others being used in places like the United States, he compared the systems.

“In the United States you marry in two separate ways – religiously and civilly. In Israel, the Rabbinate has authority over marriage and divorce. In the US, the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) is limited in what they can do. Not so in Israel.”

He went on that this agreement “predefines the parameters of a divorce ahead of the marriage. All obligations on the husband and on the wife are predetermined, and in the event the couple separates, the agreement is triggered.”

Counterintuitively, the prenuptual agreement never uses the term “get,” the formal divorce document that a husband must give his would-be ex-wife. “We are very conscious not to have an agreement that compels a divorce on the part of the husband, which would not be acceptable in Jewish Law.” Instead, the acquiescence is implied with penalties written into the agreement.

“If the husband were to drag it out, he could pay 6,000 NIS a month or half of his salary (if less than 12,000 NIS per month) as part of a pre-arranged part of the agreement.

The payment is not a fine, but part of the prenuptial agreement itself. Vice President Gaon says the real advantage is that it removes the need for a tedious court process.

“Technically speaking, we don’t need the official approval of the Rabbinate. When going to a Beit Din (Rabbinical court) everything is done according to the letter of the law. The trick here is that in the event of a divorce, everything has already been agreed,” thus allowing couples to avoid months, even years of divorce proceedings.

As of now, the Rabbinate has not had any official comment on the new initiative. But Vice President Gaon is confident whether they speak negatively to it or not.

“We have gotten a lot of support.”