I have recently become a mother.
As a first time mom, the enormity of the responsibility that I was given along with the bundle of joy that is my daughter scared me. Over the first few days and weeks the realization finally sunk in: I, along with my husband, am responsible for this tiny person’s well being, and we must provide for her every need- physical, emotional, and cognitive. And while at this stage, providing for her is pretty straightforward – feed-change-bath-cloth-burp, I look forward to – and also dread – the day when we will also need to educate, advise and protect.
Needless to say, this new journey has given me a whole new appreciation of my parents, who never stopped protecting me, even when I thought I could really do without it. Four years ago, when I was engaged to my future (now present) husband, my mother did something she doesn’t do often – she put her foot down. “I want you and Menachem to sign the halachic prenup.”
I don’t remember my exact reaction, but it definitely wasn’t enthusiastic. At the time, I was busy with being a first year law student, planning a wedding and making time to see Menachem when he was on leave from his army service. Discussing our possible future divorce, and signing a contract to regulate the process, wasn’t exactly at the top of my list of priorities. I also wasn’t sure how my boyfriend of 4.5 years would respond to my request that he sign a document to prevent him from acting like a jerk in the future – as if I suspected he might want to.
But as I said, Ima put her foot down, and when my mother – who believes in the rule of “pick your battles” – insists on something, I respect that. Menachem, as I expected, wasn’t enthusiastic either. But my mother wasn’t going to give up, and she convinced us by saying that
we weren’t signing for us, because *obviously* we are both wonderful people, and won’t get divorced, and if we do we will both be civil. No, we were signing in order to make signing a prenup a social norm, and thereby help save the poor couple who *clearly* aren’t as wonderful as we are.
After being convinced by my mother, we decided to do it. But you can bet we weren’t going to work very hard to get it done. Luckily, my mother wasn’t about to forget about it. She arranged for someone from the community to sit down with us and explain the clauses of the “Agreement of Mutual Respect”, written up by respected halachic authorities, Rachel Levmore, Rabbi Elyashiv Knohl among them. This person explained how it works, how it is halachically acceptable, and made sure we understood everything before we signed. The agreement we signed didn’t pertain to dividing of assets (being two 19 year olds, we didn’t have any), only to what would happen in case one of us would want a divorce. The agreement clearly spells out the process, which includes a commitment by the parties to try counseling. Most importantly, it sets time frames within which the counseling must take place, and within which a get must be given and received, if the attempts to repair the relationship fail. Just as important- it includes sanctions that can be easily put into effect if one of the parties doesn’t cooperate with the process (counseling and divorce).
My parents also took the next and necessary step to set up a meeting with a notary, so we could have the agreement notarized – otherwise, it would be useless. And that was that – we were young, in love, and we had a prenuptial agreement.
If you are a parent and reading this, believe me when I say this – on our own, we wouldn’t have ever signed our prenup. It wasn’t on our minds, and even if it was, we probably wouldn’t have the guts to bring up an uncomfortable topic during our engagement. But we needed a prenup. Because even though we are *obviously* wonderful – just like your children are – you never know. And just like with life insurance, just like with guardrails, you are always better safe than sorry.
And that’s what moms and dads are for. they are meant to protect their children, even when those children are starting a new life. Even when those children might not want this specific protection, or think you’re overreacting. Or if those children just couldn’t care less right now, and don’t have the time and money to arrange for signing a prenup. Even if this protection will be annoying. That is what parents do for their children.
Today we are still young and in love, so we haven’t used our prenup. But I know people who definitely would’ve benefited from signing one and didn’t, and suffered a long and messy divorce, which could have been avoided.
So I do plan to use my prenup, at least once. When my now 5 month daughter decides to get married, I will pull it out, dust it off, and say to her: “I know you might not want to do this, but I love you, so I’m going to insist. I want you to sign the halachic prenup.”
It’s what parents do for their children.
The author, Batzion BenDavid Gerstman is 23 years old, married to Menachem Gerstman and mother to El’ana. She is about to become a lawyer and Menachem is a student in Bar Ilan University. The family lives in Jerusalem.
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