How to End the Agunah Crisis
For more than a decade, Chava has been waiting for him to have — a Jewish writ of divorce — from her legal ex-husband Naftali, who continues to keep her chained to a dead marriage. Chava married Naftali in 2006, and after four years of relentless abuse, she took up the mantle with her two children and moved on. Although a service — an order for a beit uproar for the community to ostracize him – was issued, Naftali made no attempt to give Chava a to have, preventing him from moving forward in his life. For years, Chava suffered in silence as she struggled to raise her two children as a single mother on a meager income. Recently, Chava started sharing her story on social media and her case garnered widespread support.
In our communities, there are hundreds of agunot — women in chains — whose husbands refuse to give them a to have because their husbands want to use it as leverage to get a better divorce settlement, as a mechanism to maintain control, or simply because they want revenge. No matter the reason, to have refusal should never be accepted, and our community must unite to oppose this manipulation of Jewish law and to support our most vulnerable members.
To ask for help, many agunot turn to ORA: The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, a leading organization tackling the agunah crisis. Working within the parameters of Jewish and civil law, ORA explains how they work to help everyone agunah reach it to have in a timely manner thanks to “agunah case advocacy, early intervention programs and educational initiatives for agunahprevention.”
However, rallies and advocacy efforts only work as a afterwards answer. The best way to protect individuals and end the agunah crisis is for couples to sign a document known as a halakhic prenuptial agreement. There are many misconceptions about the halachic the marriage contract and how it works, so let’s start at the beginning.
Originally written and approved by Rabbi Mordechai Willig, the halachic The marriage contract is an agreement that a couple signs before marriage and which consists of two clauses. First, the couple agrees that in the case of to have refusal, they will judge their case before the Beth Din of America, whose Rabbi Willig serves as Segan Av Beth Din. This way, if a problem arises, the couple already knows who to turn to.
Second, the couple agrees that if a husband or wife refuses to participate in the to have process, the recalcitrant party must pay the other party $150 per day. The $150 a day is not a punishment or a coercive mechanism; it is simply the application of a halachic obligation that a husband should support his wife (Rambam, “Hilchos Ishut12:1-2). The marriage contract tells a husband that if he wishes to retain a to have, he must continue to support his wife until the end of the marriage. Likewise, if a woman refuses to accept the to haveshe has to pay her husband $150 a day because the husband loses the support his wife usually provides.
It is important to note that as a legally binding arbitration agreement, the halachic the marriage contract can be confirmed in civil courts. Thus, although a civil court cannot order a husband to give birth to havehe can compel the parties to honor the agreements reached, to appear before the Beth Din of America and to pay the appropriate amount of money each day.
As CEO of ORA, Keshet Starr, Esq. told the commentator, “The prenup is extremely effective because it’s binding under civil and Jewish law, holds people to a positive standard, and encourages a divorce early on, before animosity builds and the parties do not take root in their positions”.
So far, the halachic marriage contract has proven to be very effective in preventing to have refusal and has been confirmed by civil case law.
So why isn’t everyone signing it?
While some couples do not sign it simply for lack of knowledge, others argue that because the divorce and to have refusal is such a sad and unlikely possibility that they just don’t want to discuss it. After all, who would want to talk about the possibility of a divorce with the person you plan to spend your life with? It is comparable to a person who decides not to buy insurance or who neglects genetic tests before starting a family. The sad reality is that sometimes in life we have to plan things that are hard to think of, and the halachic the marriage contract should not be excluded from these plans.
Also, most people think they will never need to use the halachic prenuptial. Honestly, they’re probably right. Although most people don’t need it, the reality is that to have rejection comes. Even if you think you’ll never need it, by standardizing this document you can ensure that someone else never ends up in the horrible situation of being a agunah. You are not saying that God forbids you to think this will happen to you, but rather you are declaring that you love and respect your partner regardless of the situation, and you are committing to each other that the to have will never be used as a weapon. Most importantly, you are helping to create a standard of safety and respect in our community, where we oppose to have denial and domestic violence and ensuring that every individual is protected.
Rabbis and leaders in our communities are doing their part to spread the word and normalize the halachic prenup – the most effective tool we have to combat the agunah crisis. In 2012, 21 roshei yeshiva at Yeshiva University signed a Kol Kore urging its leaders and students to use halachic prenuptial agreements at every Jewish wedding. And, in 2019, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) launched its “I Support the Use of a Halachic Prenuptial Agreement” campaign, collecting 150 signatures from rabbis around the world. However, the real work must be done by us – the young people who are taking the first steps towards building marriages and families. You can play a role in helping to end the agunah crisis by taking small actions such as mentioning the prenup to friends, signing it yourself, or signing a prenup if you are already married. If we want to see a Jewish community based on respect, dignity and Jewish values, we need to spread the word about the importance of halachic prenup and make it an established standard in our community.
Photo caption: The halakhic marriage contract can allow many women to become free.
Photo credit: Unsplash