The solution to end the agunah crisis has been found, despite most people not realizing it. All we need now is universal buy in from the entire Jewish community. The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) has been on the frontlines for the past decade, courageously combatting the issues of a get refusal and calling it out for what it is, domestic abuse. This can go in both directions, in which a man can withhold a Jewish divorce, a get, from his wife or a woman can refuse to accept that divorce document from her husband, which is rare and occurs in about 1% of the cases they see.
According to CEO of ORA, Keshet Starr, “For the past several years, we have had extremely few, if any, new agunah cases coming from the Modern Orthodox community. This is a marked change from five, eight, or certainly ten years ago. Put differently, the number of Modern Orthodox agunot is rapidly diminishing.”
What is the reason for this? The halachic prenup. Since its origins over 25 years ago, the prenup has been 100% effective in cases of a recalcitrant party when duly signed an executed. In fact, ORA has seen numerous husbands posture that they would refuse to issue a get until their wife met their demands and later backed down once they saw their wife was moving to put the prenup into play.
Uprooting the very source of the problem is exactly what Keshet claims to be their success factor, “ORA has been focusing our efforts not only on agunah advocacy, but on educational and preventative efforts to stop get refusal cases before they even develop.”
The Halachic Prenuptial Agreement is not a magical document that inspires fear and allows the wife to cash in on $150 per day throughout the husband’s refusal period. The prenup is a document carefully weaved and refined by many rabbis and lawyers over the years, making it as strong as possible with both halachic authority and state, civil authority binding. It was originally drafted by Rav Mordechai Willig in 1994, who made sure it would be accepted across the Orthodox world. Its goal is to enforce the husband’s commitment to care and provide for his wife’s basic necessities, which he had already promised in the beginning of the marriage based on the Torah’s commandment to do so. The prenup simply reflects what was already divinely instituted and “help[s] create communities founded on the most basic tenets of respect and dignity for all” says Starr.
“We present the prenup as a choice we make to protect others, not out of our own relationship anxieties.” But after years of making it a choice, ORA passed a resolution through the Rabbinical Council of America requiring its 1,000 member rabbis to only officiate at a wedding in which a halachic prenup has been signed.
It seems to be that the problem is not within the halachic realm but a societal construct, because the halachic actions that can solve these issues are only applicable within Israel’s borders. The separation between church and state in the U.S. would usually nullify halachic rulings but not this one. The prenup offers an elegant and clever solution by creating an enforcement mechanism, giving back power to the beit din which then allows its rulings to be upheld by U.S. civil courts. This document does not function as a teacher’s ruler or “cattle prod” but is structured in a way to remind the husband of his obligations, which he signed off on from the get-go!
When two people are young and in love, they agree to care for each other and assume it’ll be forever. In the unfortunate event that it’s not, they’re proving that “forever” mindset in the present by signing their name on the dotted line. Starr expresses, “Our goal is that by the time a young couple prepares for marriage, they will each have learned about the prenup, in a non-threatening setting where the focus is on communal values, not individual blame.” For couples who did not sign the prenup, have no fear! There is indeed a halachic post-nuptial agreement that you can sign today.
Once upon a time, this was just a talking theory but now it is a real, visible movement that is taking the Jewish world by storm. A final, large aspect of ORA’s mission is that “we also know that without consistent education, we could lose these extraordinary gains” states Starr. ORA has pledged to maintain their educational pursuits via various programming, launching of initiatives, speaking to communities, and visiting high schools and colleges across the nation. Due to these continuous efforts, it’s no longer a “we can solve” mentality but a “we did solve” reality.