Get Refusal Is A Problem And The Solution Has Been Found

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.

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  • Avatar photo Dr Yael Machtinger says on August 4, 2020

    This is an extremely misleading and dangerous title sending the wrong message to all its readers! The Agunah crisis is FAR from solved. In MANY communities, cities and countries around the world, the prenup is not viable and thus is NOT a solution!
    Even in NY- the prenup is NOT 100% effective, as R Willig himself recently acknowledged at a Midreshet Yom Rishon (it doesn’t work when a recalcitrant is extremely wealthy or extremely poor).

    This damaging article needed more research. I would have been happy to help as a (neutral) academic expert without an agenda, based on empirical data from mesuravot get themseleves that will be included in my forthcoming book.

    Feel free to reach out anytime.
    Dr. Yael Machtinger

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on August 4, 2020

      Thanks for your comment, Dr. Machtinger. We spoke to the former and current CEO’s of ORA in preparing this article. They both told us that in matters of recalcitrance, when the prenup is duly signed, that it has worked 100% of the time. So I’m not sure what specific cases Rav Willig was referring to. The headline was not meant to say that there are no agunot left, but rather, the modern Orthodox world does to seem to be producing new ones because the prenup and preventative education is working. The idea is to then push for this to become universal across the entire Jewish world. It’s no longer a theory.

  • Avatar photo Dr Yael Machtinger says on August 4, 2020

    Then this is an American or New York-Centric article.
    ORA and it’s CEOs do amazing work. That said, this article and title are nonetheless misleading because as you say, “when the prenup is duly signed”, is the catch. Prenups are NOT duly signed in MANY, MANY places around the world where Jews, including Modern Orthodox Jews(and agunot) live because they are not viable for a variety of reasons. For example,Jews in Toronto Canada, your friendly neighbor to the north is unable to sign prenups as a solution both due to the secular civil law which precludes them, and due to the hashkafic view of our beit din. So as you can clearly seem prenups should NOT be touted as THE solution because for many communities and women, they simply are not – preventative education or not, this theory can only work for some lucky Jews…
    So again, claiming “The Agunah Crisis has been Solved” is inaccurate in insensitive (and I suspect it can also harm the women refused a get who continue to need support).

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on August 4, 2020

      ORA does work beyond New York and the US. The idea for this title came from Jeremy Stern, the former CEO, who wrote an essay on this topic (with a similar title) which we interviewed him about and then got updated quotes from the current CEO. I was not aware of Canadian law precluding a prenup from being duly signed. I reached out for more info on this topic and it appears that even with Canadian law not working with the prenup, ORA is still not aware of any new agunah cases coming out of the modern Orthodox world, of those who signed as prenup education has made a cultural change in the modern Orthodox world.

      Regarding not all Batei Din allow for the BDA prenup, I’m aware of this. We are publishing a forthcoming article about the prenup that was designed for the charedi world to continue creating awareness and hopefully causing more buy in. Just because a working vaccine has been found doesn’t mean everyone got inoculated before they got “sick.” When get the vaccine for Covid19, we will have solved the pandemic. It doesn’t mean we’ll be able to heal everyone who was already effective.

  • Avatar photo Benny says on August 4, 2020

    Although it’s very nice this has broad support in the modern Orthodox Community that’s a very small percentage of the Jewish World At Large. And getting the ultra-orthodox on board is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do, and a huge chunk of the problem still comes from that community. So the problem is not solved, just a very good idea is pitched.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on August 5, 2020

      So the good news is that the charedi world has rolled out their own version and it has backing from major rabbis. By solved we mean that a solution has been found. It needs to be universalized.

      • Avatar photo Shlomo Zalman says on August 5, 2020

        I’m familiar with Rabbi Avrohom Kahan’s efforts over the last couple of years to popularize his “chareidi” version of a Halachic Prenup. Nevertheless, you should be aware that despite whatever amount of support he already has, he also faces a large amount of opposition from various major chareidi rabbonim (both in Israel and in America) that will likely preclude his initiative from obtaining a major foothold within the chareidi world.


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