Agunah Day and Women’s Day marked this month are the perfect time to point out that this year ICAR (International Coalition for Agunah Rights) is promoting the signing of pre-nuptial agreements to prevent get-refusal on the part of the husband or the wife. Unfortunately, the problem of get-refusal is not about to be solved in a systemic manner. Rabbis are not about to stand up and say that a husband cannot withhold his wife’s get (Why would rabbis suddenly say such a thing? Where is it written?).
No rabbi is suddenly going to stand up and say that kidushin (the Jewish way of sanctifying marriage) in our time is carried out with the express, agreed-upon condition that the two sides will live a good life together and will not be separated from each other for an extended period of time.
No rabbi is suddenly going to stand up and rule that an agreement is unnecessary because it is as clear as day that no woman would want to live with a snake, and that no woman would marry her husband with the assumption that she may become an agunah for many years, and thus, if a husband refuses to give his wife a get, the marriage was entered into under fraudulent circumstances, null and void from the first instance.
None of this is going to happen. And generally speaking, rabbis are not about to stand up politely and tell women: "We want to hear from you. Please give us your opinion on this matter or another and let's hear your suggestions to improve things.”
Thus, we, the public, must do the minimum, which is actually almost all we can do, and that is – sign a pre-nuptial agreement that poses some sort of threat against the party refusing to give or even accept a get, and by doing so, temper and reduce the effect of get-refusal as much as possible. Sign a pre-nuptial agreement to avoid aginut!
Yes. It does bother meYes. It bothers me that rabbis today cannot deal with a halachic problem that we all believe is intolerable – that a woman cannot divorce at her will, and that she is being blackmailed for the get. Yes. It bothers me that the only effective solution today, is to sign a contract between the two parties that circumvents Halacha, instead of having the rabbinic judges solve the problem if they would only try. Yes. It bothers me that we have to sign a contractual agreement to resolve a problem that can easily be resolved with readily available halachic tools.
Let's assume for a moment that we live in a world in which Halacha rules that a married woman is not permitted to raise her left hand without her husband's permission. And let’s assume that we are convinced that this Halacha is completely irrational, for it is inconceivable for a woman not to be able to raise her left hand without her husband's permission! How would we try to solve this problem? It is possible, of course, to bypass the problem and suggest that each couple sign a pre-nuptial agreement in which the husband revokes his right to disallow his wife to raise her left hand.
In an agreement of this kind, the husband will explicitly state that if he ever disallows his wife from raising her left hand he will be heavily fined. That is one way. It is certainly possible to legislate a civil law ruling that any husband who does not permit his wife to raise her left hand will be put in jail. That is another way to deal with the problem.
There is no doubt that the problem can be minimized in these ways but there is something we have overlooked. If there was a Halacha that was so offensive to women, we would expect the rabbis to use their legal weapons to neutralize this Halacha instead of requiring a circumventing civil agreement to bypass it.
I long for the day when we will no longer have to sign a pre-nuptial agreement that establishes that whoever withholds a get will be obligated to pay increased alimony to the other party. I long for the day when we will not demand that a get-recalcitrant be sent to prison. I am asking the rabbis to revoke a husband's almost unfettered hold over the freedom his wife's freedom. Am I asking too much?
And in the meantime– sign a pre-nuptial agreement to avoid aginut, and to be on the safe side, sign with your right hand.
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinical advocate, working at The Center for Women’s Justice.
Translated by: Judit Blumenfrucht