Tuesday, November 20, 2018 -
Print Edition

Modern pre-nups in Jewish law

Are pre-nups an extension of the ketubah? Do they prevent the agunah problem?

A nice Jewish boy, Neil Sedaka, one had a number one hit with a song about a truism: Breaking up is hard to do.

Anyone who has broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend knows this to be true — not to mention those who have had to endure a divorce.

Without going into the myriad and only too well-known reasons why such separations are hard, the sad truth is: there is hard, and then there’s really hard.

If you happen to be an Orthodox Jew and wish for yourself and your children to remain so, or if you happen to be an Israeli, a divorce can easily be of the really hard variety.

If a husband, for example, refuses to “give” a get — essentially a spousal sanction of the divorce — the wife can suddenly find herself in a murky limbo between a marriage and its dissolution.

She becomes what is known as an agunah, a “chained woman,” meaning that she cannot remarry under Halachah, Jewish law, or the laws of the State of Israel, where marriage and divorce fall under the domain of the nation’s Chief Rabbinate, a religious authority that adheres to Halachah.

(Although seldom discussed, there are two sides to this coin: women can also refuse to grant husbands a get, which imposes many, but not all, of the same restrictions upon him.  This is very rare, however, and seldom factors into serious conversations about women who are denied their get).

If an agunah decides to remarry through a civil or other non-religious ceremony, the religious authorities will consider her new relationship to be adulterous and her children (and their children, for 10 succeeding generations) to be illegitimate.

The children of such unions, like their mother, may not marry other Jews unless they share the same status, and may find themselves isolated from religious communities.

While there are vast differences in the estimates for how many agunot actually exist in Israel and elsewhere, it’s safe to conclude that there at least hundreds living in this strange twilight between married and single.

There are, of course, an almost equal number of husbands who have created that situation by refusing to grant the get that would unchain their wives. They are usually inspired by the sort of toxic baggage that often accompanies divorce — spite, resentment, jealousy, greed.

The rest of this article is available in the March 20 IJN print and digital edition only. Contact Carol to order your copy at carol@ijn.com or subscribe to our online e-Edition.

Chris Leppek

IJN Assistant Editor | ijnews@aol.com

Leave a Reply