What Is A Halachic Prenuptial Agreement?

Rebecca E. Samson

Marriage is a very importance part of our Jewish life but there are some times that marriages need to end. Divorce is a reality in the Jewish community. For a Jewish divorce to occur, a husband must willingly give his wife, and a wife must willingly receive, a Get (a Jewish Bill of Divorce). Without a Get, neither the man nor the woman can remarry.

Rabbinical courts (battei din) are responsible for overseeing a Jewish divorce, listening to both  the husband and wife and determining whether a Get should be given, and if so decided, ensuring that Get is not improperly withheld.

However, today, battei din frequently lack the authority to insure that the husband gives the Get in accordance with its judgment. There are no tools to insure that the husband listens to the decision of the Beit Din. There is an additional unfortunate issue. There have been situations where a husband has refused to give a Get for unconscionable reasons, i.e., to extort money or to get additional concessions from his wife, or because of emotional reasons.

Is there a solution?

The halachic prenuptial agreement gives the battei din power and authority ensure that a Get will be given in the proper manner and minimize a husband’s desire to hurt his wife by refusing to willingly give a Get. The agreement protects the couple from acting on their worst thoughts which can happen in the midst of an emotional divorce, thereby ensuring that the Get does not become an issue nor will it be used as a sword.

What Is a Halachic Prenuptial Agreement?

It is a simple document.

First, the husband and wife each agree to appear before a panel of Jewish law judges (dayanim) arranged by the Beth Din of America, if the other spouse demands it. The couple agrees to abide by the decision of the Beth Din with respect to the Get. If you do not want to appear before the Beth Din of America, you can choose a different Beth Din. Just make sure to make that change before you sign the agreement.

Second, if the couple separates, the Jewish law obligation of the husband to support his wife is formalized, so that he is obligated to pay $150 per day (indexed to inflation), as long as the couple is married. This support obligation ends if the wife fails to appear at the agreed stated Beth Din.

Each of these provisions is important to ensure that a Get is given by the husband to his wife in a timely manner. The first clause gives the Beth Din authority to oversee the Get process. The second clause gives the husband an incentive to abide by the Beth Din’s decisions and give his wife a Get once it is determined that the marriage should be dissolved.

The halachic prenuptial agreement was drafted by Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Sgan Av Beth Din of the Beth Din of America, and a Rosh Yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University, in consultation with halachic and legal experts. It is based on a classical version of the tana’im, the engagement contract.

The halachic prenuptial agreement has been endorsed by leading poskim including, Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg (Member, Beth Din of Yerushalayim), Rabbi Yitzchok Liebes, zt”l (former Av Beth Din, Iggud HaRabbonim), Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz (Av Beth Din of the Beth Din of America), Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel), Rabbi Chaim Zimbalist (Member, Beth Din of Tel Aviv), Rabbi Asher Weiss (Member, Beth Din of Tel Aviv).

Why Sign the Halachic Prenuptial Agreement?

Divorce is an emotionally charged circumstance that can result in an expensive, prolonged lawsuit about finances and child custody. Making the Get an issue can unnecessarily add to this time of distrust. By signing the halachic prenuptial agreement, you can avoid the Get becoming an issue if you do need to seek a divorce.

It is a matter of respect and trust that a couple can should each other before they even marry. There is no better way to start off a marriage than to say to your future spouse: “Even in the very worst circumstance, even if this marriage ends, chas v’shalom, I will not allow myself to act inappropriately towards you. I always want to treat you with the same respect that I have for you at the time of our marriage if there comes a time for our marriage to end.”

Marriage is based on trust and we believe that our marriage will be successful and my spouse would never want to hurt me. But there are no guarantees. Just like you purchase life insurance or health insurance or car insurance to protect yourself even though you don’t think you will ever get sick or in a car accident, so too you should approach your marriage. Take safeguards to protect yourself from an uncertain future.

Be a leader. Take a stance in your community. People follow by example. The probability is that you will not need a Get nor will you be an Agunah (a woman whose husband refuses to give his wife a Get), but someone in your family or community will. If the halachic prenuptial agreement becomes an integrated part of a Jewish wedding, and everyone will automatically sign an agreement before they marry, then you will be a part of the solution to the Get crisis and will help others from suffering this fate.

***  If you are already married and did not sign a halachic prenuptial agreement, do not be concerned.  You and your spouse can sign a similar post-nuptial agreement which contains the same clauses.

***  Please be aware that if you are getting married in California, the halachic prenuptial agreement contains additional language that complies specifically with California state law.  Please ensure that you sign the California agreement.


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