When the couple went to sign a pre-nuptial agreement in front of the marriage registrar, they were asked to pay a special fee and then … in front of the eyes of the astonished couple, the rabbi tore up the agreement and told the couple to leave the room, explaining: 'It’s not in accordance with halacha.” And the reaction of the Chief Rabbinate?
“As a religious-Zionist, I am mortified. The Rabbinate embarrassed us and shamed us, and is making a fool of itself,” Yitzchak (not his real name) said when he told me the following story: His daughter and her intended went to the Rabbinate to register for marriage. The couple opened up the requisite files in their city of residence and took care of all of the necessary arrangements. Due to their great love, they decided to strengthen the connection between them with a pre-nuptial agreement that would make sure that one party would not take advantage of the other in the event of a possible divorce (get). From among all of the existing agreements, the couple decided to sign the “Agreement for Mutual Respect” drafted by Rabbi Eliyashiv Knohl, Rabbi David Ben Zazon and the rabbinic pleader Rachel Levmore. This agreement has been approved by many rabbis, scholars and attorneys and is promoted by Kolech.
According to the law, an agreement that is signed between the couple after their marriage has to be authorized before a civil court or a rabbinic court in order to take legal affect. However, before the wedding, it’s enough to sign before a notary or a marriage registrar. The latter being the least expensive of existing options.
And indeed, Yitzchak’s daughter and her future husband didn’t expect what happened next. When the couple informed the clerk that they wanted to sign a pre-nuptial agreement before the marriage registrar, he asked them for NIS 230 ($61) in addition to the fee of NIS 600 (about $160) required for opening a marriage file. The clerk forgot to tell them that certifying the couple’s signature on the agreement did not require any payment unless the couple also wanted the rabbinate to file the certified agreement for safe-keeping. But ok, let’s not quibble.
According to Yitzchak, the couple then presented the agreement with its copies to the rabbi who was registering the marriage and asked him to certify it. The rabbi started to read and sign the agreement and then stopped and asked: “Who drafted this agreement?” Apparently, he did not like the couple’s answer and he said to them angrily, “I’m not signing this agreement. We don’t accept this agreement. It’s not in accordance with the halacha.” He then tore the agreement up in front of the eyes of the astonished couple and asked them to leave the room.
'This is our kingdom'
The bride’s father, who had been waiting outside of the office, felt degraded and angry and asked the registrar to explain: “What kind of behavior is this?” According to Yitzchak, the clerk answered him: “This is our kingdom. Now get out of here. We’re not open to the public now.” This all happened during office hours!
Indeed, it’s their kingdom. The obligation of the marriage registrar is to verify the signature of the parties on the agreement. He is not authorized to pass judgment on the substance of the agreement. Nevertheless, there are marriage registrars who act according to their independent discretion and refuse to fulfill their duties. I’ve been told that even the rabbinic courts themselves agree to certify such pre-nuptial agreements. But, as was already stated … this is their kingdom.
The couple was forced to hurry and reprint 3 copies of the agreement that had been torn up, and to run and look for a notary who would certify the agreement for another, higher, fee of NIS 330 ($87).
By the way, the couple has still not received a refund of the NIS 230 that they had paid for certification of the agreement that was torn up.
The office of Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger stated in response, “If the rabbi registering the marriage is of the opinion that there is a halachic or legal problem with the agreement, he is authorized to refer the couple to the regional rabbinic court in the area where they live.” Tearing up the agreement, and the conduct described above, certainly are not in line with those instructions.
Rivka Lubitch is a rabbinic pleader who works at the Center for Women’s Justice , tel. 02-5664390.