Rabbinic body touts prenups to avoid 'get' refusal

Beit Hillel, a centrist organization, says refusal to grant divorce is used as means of 'extortion, revenge.'

Divorce 370 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Divorce 370
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Beit Hillel, a centrist association of 170 national-religious rabbis and female Jewish scholars, has initiated a campaign to encourage the use of prenuptial agreements designed to help solve the problem of spouses refusing to give or accept a halachic bill of divorce, or “get.”
A policy statement issued by Beit Hillel said that the problem of get refusal was getting worse and that action must be taken to address the issue.
“The problem of get refusal, which affects both men and women, is spreading and becoming more widespread,” the group said in a statement announcing the initiative.
“When one of the partners getting divorced understands that they have certain powers in deciding whether or not to give or accept the bill of divorce, it can be used as a form of extortion or revenge.”
In Jewish law, a woman must obtain a bill of divorce from her husband before she is able to marry again.
According to women’s rights groups, there are several thousand open cases of men refusing to give their wives a get, using it as a tool to extort more favorable terms in the divorce settlement.
A woman may also refuse to accept a get from her husband, thereby preventing completion of the divorce, but a man is permitted to live with another woman and have children in such a situation according to Halacha, whereas a woman cannot, and so the phenomenon of recalcitrant husbands is much more widespread.
According to a recent study, the average time it takes for a woman to receive a get after proceedings are initiated in a rabbinical court is 642 days.
Between 1995 and 2007, 12.5 percent of the cases took more than four years before a get was given, and 28.4 percent took at least two years.
Although according to the law, marriage registrars, who work within the local religious councils or rabbinates, must authorize a prenuptial agreement, in practice many registrars have refused to do so, fearing that the document may not be in accordance with Halacha.
A directive issued by the Attorney-General’s Office in coordination with the Religious Services Ministry several months ago has helped prevent this problem to some extent.
Although several women’s rights groups, including Orthodox ones, have been promoting the issue of halachic prenuptial agreements for some time, Beit Hillel says it is the first Orthodox rabbinic organization to back the idea in Israel. Halachic prenuptial agreements are commonplace in North America.
Beit Hillel director Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth said that it was vital that the signing of prenuptial agreements becomes commonplace in Israel in order to prevent get refusal.
“Signing this agreement means in practice that it just doesn’t pay to refuse your spouse a bill of divorce,” said Noibert. “In most cases, this is an effective tool to prevent the problem from arising, which is why it is so important that the Israeli public, including young couples and their parents, become aware of this option.”
The rabbinic organization said it is calling on all segments of Israeli society to start using prenuptial agreements that would effectively end the phenomenon of get refusal. The document works by putting financial pressure on the recalcitrant party through exacting a hefty fine every month until he gives or she accepts the get.
“We encourage all couples in Israel who are getting married to sign before they wed, and in so doing will demonstrate their love and devotion to each other,” the Beit Hillel rabbis stated, describing the principle as akin to strapping on a safety belt before setting off on a car journey.
“The widespread belief among couples getting married is that ‘it won’t happen,’ [that they will get divorced].
But the prenuptial agreement is an amendment that serves as a form of security, exactly as the Sages established when establishing the marriage contract,” Beit Hillel said.
According to the group, the principle of signing halachically approved prenuptial agreements has the backing of senior national-religious leader and dean of Har Etzion Yeshiva Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, as well as Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, the dean of Birkat Moshe Yeshiva in Ma’aleh Adumim.
Mavoi Satum, a women’s divorce rights group that has strongly promoted halachic prenuptial agreements, is helping advance legislation in the Knesset that would make it obligatory for couples registering for marriage to either sign a declaration that they are not interested in such an arrangement, or to sign such a prenuptial agreement at the time of registering.