A centuries-old problem is taking on vicious forms as our society itself changes. Put that together with the concept of “consciousness-raising” as a trend implemented in generally unknown matters. Hence the development of International Agunah Day.
This week, on Ta’anit Esther (March 23, 2016) we mark International Agunah Day as we do yearly. There is great importance to raising our voices in condemnation of get-refusers. In addition, it is emotionally significant for each agunah to receive our support. However, the question remains — what can we do beyond words? What would be even more effective than raising our voices and our consciousness?
In the Talmud, Kiddushin 30a, it states that one of the mitzvot incumbent upon a parent is to marry off a son to a wife – alongside teaching him a trade, Torah and of course seeing to a Brit Milah. All of these indicate that for centuries Jewish parents were entrusted with establishing strong Jewish family units whose stability would bring forth the next generation in the chain.
However, in the recent past Jewish society in Israel and all over the world, is witnessing a rise in divorce rates, which is accompanied by horrifying cases of get-refusal – a phenomenon destructive to the Jewish family unit as the trauma associated with the agunah problem has a deleterious effect on all involved, thus preventing the establishment of new stable families. The need for preventative measures, such as the signing of prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal is recognized more and more through educational efforts.
Although the recognition of this imperative is gaining ground, the halakhic prenuptial agreement still remains a topic of debate—particularly among rabbis who refuse to recognize the change in the Jewish world. Authority is stripped from rabbis by individuals who would be accurately called “chatzufim” – filled with chutzpah – refusing to obey a rabbinic decision. Those rabbinical figures who believe that their community is protected by virtue of their authority are those who feel that endorsing the use of halakhic prenuptial agreements is an admission that their community is not holy. Therefore it remains up to the realists amongst us – including rabbis, parents and marrying couples themselves – to recognize that there is an agunah problem and even more so, that there is a means of its prevention. The strongest method of prevention is the halakhic prenuptial agreement. (Beit Hillel not only endorses, as a matter of policy, the signing of a prenuptial agreement by every marrying couple, its members are actively engaged in the development of additional solutions to the agunah problem.)
It is Not Too Late For Parents to Set an Example
Most spouses in marriages of 15 years or more in Israel (or 25 years in the US) did not have the opportunity to sign a prenuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal, due to the fact that the Heskem l’Kavod Hadadi was first made public in the year 2000. As a result, our grown children cannot look to us as a role model for this responsible act. As educated women and men, we must realize that with knowledge comes responsibility. We must assure that all Jewish marriages are respectful and dignified – whether in love or in divorce, G-d forbid. We must certainly do all we can to prevent any woman from entering into the existential angst upon becoming an agunah. Those of us who have brought up children can ruefully say that kids don’t necessarily do as we say, but they do tend to do as we do.
Giving the parents of the community the opportunity to sign 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. Within each family and beyond, communities which gather together to sign a postnuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal demonstrate to all of our children “Do as I do! This is the minhag of our family and our community. You must sign a prenuptial agreement when you get married.”
?משנה אבות א יד : אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי? וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי? וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתַי
Mishnah, Avot 1, 14: If I don’t take care of myself, who will do it for me? If I take care only of myself, what is my worth? And if I don’t fulfill my responsibility now, when will I?
The above Mishna accurately describes the need for educational leaders and married couples to take on the responsibility of inspiring marrying couples to sign a prenuptial agreement. If we don’t sign a halakhic postnuptial agreement for the prevention of get-refusal—when will others sign?
Dr. Rachel Levmore, a member of Beit Hillel, is a Rabbinical Court Advocate (to’enet rabbanit), directs the Agunah & and Get-Refusal Prevention Project for the International Young Israel Movement in Israel and the Jewish Agency and is one of the authors of the Heskem l’Kavod Hadadi. She is also a member of the Israel State Committee for the Appointment of Dayanim and author of “Min’ee Einayikh Me’Dimah: Heskemei Kdam Nissuin LeMeniat Seiruv Get”, Mosdot Ariel & CYIR, Jerusalem 2009.
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