Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Updated Halakhic Pre-Nuptial Agreement Available
by Hillel Fendel

( The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), which is the largest Orthodox rabbinic group in the world, and the Beth Din of America have announced the publication of an updated edition of their widely used Halakhic Prenuptial Agreement.

The purpose of the agreement is to avoid, as much as possible, situations in which a spouse withholds a get - a Jewish divorce - from his or her spouse. The original agreement was issued more than a decade ago, and the RCA says it has been "responsible for a dramatic drop in the incidence of so-called 'agunot,' or 'chained women' among those who made sure to sign it prior to marriage." Some rabbis have stated that they will not officiate at a marriage whose partners have not signed the agreement.

The updated version of the prenuptial agreement, which can be downloaded at, incorporates a number of procedural improvements and enhancements to the original document. It encourages consultation with legal counsel and comes with detailed implementation instructions to the bride and groom. It also allows for a number of choices by the couple, by mutual agreement.

There are also a number of available variations, including one designed specifically for the community property marriage provisions of the State of California, as well as a so-called "reciprocal version." Another available version can be inserted into general prenuptial agreements. The agreement is valid under both United States law and Jewish law (Halakhah).

Rabbi Basil Herring, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America, expressed his organization's gratification that "the prenuptial agreement has been so effective in limiting the incidence of recalcitrance among couples whose marriages have failed."

"We urge every couple about to be married, no matter their love and regard for each other leading up to the wedding day, and irrespective of their background, to utilize this very important and valuable tool, to benefit not only themselves, but the entire Jewish community," Rabbi Herring said.

Some rabbis oppose pre-nuptials on the grounds that they make divorce too easy, or because the monetary fine that the recalcitrant party must pay monthly renders the divorce "forced" and thus not valid.

Rabbi Elyashiv Knohl, the rabbi of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, a marriage counselor, and a driving force behind the formulation of Halakhic prenuptial agreements, answered these claims. He told Arutz-7, "Regarding the first point, it is certainly true that it makes it a bit easier. But we believe that we have put in sufficient brakes in order to make it fairly difficult: There must first be a six-month waiting period after the time that one side informs the other of intent to divorce, and there must be at least three counseling sessions if the other side wants, and then there is an option to extend the six months by another three - and then, on top of all that, a professional must declare that the marriage is in fact, essentially 'dead.'"

As far as the Halakhic claim that the monetary fine - $1,500 each month, or half the payer's salary, whichever is higher - is a form of coercion, Rabbi Knohl said there are many Rabbinic opinions that a fine that one voluntarily took upon himself, as is done at the signing of the prenuptial agreement, is not considered a form of coercion. "In addition," he explained, "the renowned Rabbi Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg, who has accompanied us every step of the way, insisted on a formulation in the agreement that not only does not even mention the word 'divorce,' but frames the fine as merely an increased obligation to support the wife that he takes upon himself at the time of the marriage, while the wife, for her part, 'forgives' this obligation for as long as they are living together."

In any event, the website of the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel states, "The signing of prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal has been recommended by [Israel's Chief] Rabbinate several times. It is included in the Resolutions of the Rabbinical Council of America which were adopted in June 1993, entitled “In the Matter of Prenuptial Agreements”.

A year later, in 1994, “The Endorsement of Prenuptial Agreements” was reaffirmed. Furthermore, the leading Roshei Yeshiva of Yeshiva University issued "A Message to Our Rabbinic Colleagues and Students" in 1999, strongly urging "rabbis to counsel and encourage marrying couples to sign such an agreement. The increased utilization of pre-nuptial agreements is a critical step in purging our community of the distressful problem of the modern-day Aguna and enabling men and women to remarry without restriction."

In May 2006, the Rabbinical Council of America once again reaffirmed its previous resolutions, declaring “that no rabbi should officiate at a wedding where a proper prenuptial agreement on get has not been executed.”

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