Agunah/Pre-Nuptial Agreement

Agunah/Pre-Nuptial Agreement (2008)

Background

In Judaism, the act of marriage is identified as kiddushin attesting to the reverence with which marriage is held. Most rabbinic scholars consider marriage between two Jews as being an anticipated life-long commitment. Yet, some marriages do fail and Judaism provides for the dissolution of the marriage by means of divorce.

Today in the United States, statistics show a civil divorce rate of 50% over all and an estimated 30 to 40% divorce rate among Jews. Divorce can not only be emotionally traumatic, but also a complicated and often devastating legal proceeding. For Jews, civil divorce must be accompanied by a halakhically determined religious divorce known as a get. Without a get, a Jewish woman is considered bound to the original marriage contract, and is identified as an agunah, a “chained” woman.

The designation as an agunah prevents the woman from entering into any future Jewish marriage. It is in the spirit of equity and justice for women that Women’s League for Conservative Judaism addresses the realistic protection of women entering marriages. A program such as Making Marriage Work (MMW) of Beth Am Congregation of San Diego, California, offers a successful model worthy of emulation.

Resolution

Whereas, the identification of the status of an agunah still exists in a significant number of Jewish marriages given the civil divorce rate,

Whereas, Conservative/Masorti Judaism offers and has implemented prenuptial measures to alleviate this problem, and

Whereas different forms of prenuptial measures exist: the incorporation of the Lieberman clause (a moral obligation of the couple to come before the beit din in wanting a divorce) in the ketubah, the signing of a separate document apart from the ketubah, called the t’nai b’kiddushim, with a letter of intent in the native language of the couple signed on a separate occasion.

Therefore, be it resolved that Women’s League for Conservative Judaism seeks to have its members

  1. Become aware of all conditions for a valid and equitable Jewish marriage;
  2. Promote the inclusion of the Lieberman clause in the ketubah in North America with an accompanying letter of agreement;
  3. Engage in a comprehensive understanding of marriage through sisterhood and region educational programming; and
  4. Encourage congregational rabbis to incorporate the prenuptial agreements as part of pre-marriage counseling.

Agunah (1994)

In the law of the Torah, divorce is possible, but only by means of a fixed ritual in which the husband gives a document of divorce (a get) to the wife. Since then, the rabbinic tradition has greatly expanded the interpretation, but the basic nature of the get ritual remains the same.

The Hebrew word agunah means “chained” or “anchored” and refers to a wife who has not been granted a get and therefore is not free to remarry according to halakhah.

Rabbis of the Conservative Movement acting through the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and the National Bet Din, have for decades, within appropriate halakhic parameters, established halakhic methods by which to unbind agunot. Recently, some Orthodox rabbis in the United States have begun to adopt some of these very same halakhic principles in an attempt to resolve issues related to agunot.

Women throughout the world are appalled by the failure of rabbinic authorities in Israel to alleviate this injustice, and empathize with the tens of thousands of agunot in Israel and in the diaspora.

Women’s League for Conservative Judaism urges the rabbinical authorities in Israel to find remedies to this ancient and cruel burden within halakhah similar to those of the Conservative Movement.