Can a “post-nuptial agreement” break the chains of an aguna, a woman whose husband refuses to give her a religious divorce, or get?
Congregants at Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob and David in West Orange say they believe it can. On Sunday, Feb. 23, more than 30 couples, including Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler and his wife Sharon, signed post-nuptial agreements with witnesses and a notary present.
The event, “Ani L’Dodi, An Evening of Commitment,” is part of a push by Modern Orthodox rabbis to popularize post-nups as a partial solution to cases in which recalcitrant husbands deny their wives the release they require to remarry. Failure to receive a get places observant women in a Jewish legal limbo, and often exposes them to extortion.
Created in the 1990s along with a similar pre-nuptial agreement, the post-nup includes a clause requiring the husband to support his wife at a cost currently set at $150 per day until a get is given. The parties also agree to appear before a beit din, or rabbinical court, and cooperate with its decisions.
Pre- and post-nuptial agreements are available online through the Beit Din of America, affiliated with the Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America.
Zwickler finds the documents so compelling that he “will not perform a wedding without a signed RCA pre-nup,” he said. “I have required it as long as I can remember.”
He added, “I have them signed at the wedding itself, at the hatan’s tisch [groom’s reception] and it is brought over to the bride and she signs in front of all the people present. I do so in order that people see and that it hopefully becomes standard practice.”
Zwickler and his wife, who married in 1998, did not sign one before last month’s event. “When I got married in 1998, the pre-nup was in relative infancy. To be honest, my mother passed away suddenly a week after my engagement so the whole period of time leading up to our wedding was very dramatic and traumatic; that is probably why we didn’t sign it.”
The congregants who organized the evening, Shira and Jonathan Fox, did sign one when they got married in 1997. “Until post-nups and pre-nups become universal, there will be agunot,” Jonathan said in a telephone interview the day after the event. “We can’t solve this problem until everyone signs, individual by individual, community by community. Last night, we had people come to show their support. There were people who had been married before they existed, and those who had never heard of it. One couple had been actively discouraged when they got married. No matter what, this is a place to start, and it’s in our power to do it.”
Zwickler said he was “excited” when the Foxes suggested the idea, “that we would be doing something collectively as a shul to show our passion about this important issue.”
Bennett Degen attended the event with his wife, Michelle. “We believe that the issue is important and the execution of halachic pre-nups need to become standard operating procedure in order to inhibit, resolve, or decrease future agunot,” he said.
He added that they signed the post-nup to set an example for their three daughters and a son.
“By our signing this document, we have set the standard for them and hopefully helped to make this process standard operating procedure. If not, the best leverage is to say, ‘We signed one and so should you.’” He added, “We intend on insisting that they, together with their future spouses, each sign a halachic pre-nup prior to their respective weddings.”
The evening concluded with a cake emblazoned with the words “Happily ever after.”