May 30, 2006
The Rabbinical Council of America, at its recent convention held in Newark, New Jersey, reaffirmed its commitment to preventing future instances of iggun, in which a husband refuses to grant his wife a religious divorce even after their marriage is dissolved according to civil law. The organization adopted a resolution insisting that no member Rabbi officiate at a wedding unless a proper prenuptial agreement on get has been executed.
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, the resolution’s author, explained that he wanted to strengthen the hand of those Rabbis who regularly use the RCA’s prenuptial document, but occasionally encounter resistance on the part of a couple. “I believe fervently that filling out this agreement is both an act of love by the chatan and the kallah toward each other, and a communally responsible thing for them to do. But without a resolution of this sort, it is hard to insist on it in the few cases where persuasion has proven ineffective.” He also saw the adoption of the resolution as “a very clear statement to the community that we are anxious to eliminate the problem of agunah from this country and from the Jewish world in the most effective way.”
The prenuptial document currently in use by the RCA and its affiliated Beit Din of America was formulated by Rabbi Mordechai Willig of Yeshiva University, together with Rabbi Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg of Jerusalem, who attempted to find a mechanism that would prevent husbands from withholding a get, or Jewish divorce, from their wives, once a marriage has been dissolved. Rather than use a form of conditional marriage statement, or inject new language into the Ketubah, as other, more controversial attempts had suggested, the RCA document simply requires the husband to continue to support his wife until the get has been executed, stipulating a dollar figure per day. An optional additional document serves as an arbitration agreement, specifying a Jewish court of law, or Beit Din, at which the couple agree to settle any related issues. Approved by leading Halakhic authorities in America and Israel, the prenuptial agreement is in wide use among Rabbis with RCA affiliation. It has recently been reissued and can be viewed and downloaded at www.rabbis.org. Additonal information is available from the Orthodox Caucus at www.ocweb.org.
Sharon Freundel, of Washington D.C., who presented at the conference on the topic of Meeting the Spiritual Needs of Women, said of the resolution’s adoption, “I applaud the RCA’s pro-active stance on this matter. Even one woman who is forced to remain in a marriage against her will is too many. The sooner we can obviate this problem altogether, the better, not only for women, but for the entire Jewish community.”
Rabbi Basil Herring, Executive Vice President of the RCA, added, “We are always looking for ways to improve this already excellent document. Even now, we are exploring ways to make it effective in countries whose legal systems differ from the U.S., as well has finding ways to forestall any rare cases of its abuse. All in all, though, it is currently our most effective tool within Halakha to fight for the rights and needs of every Jewish woman entering a marriage, and to ensure that the issue of Agunah eventually become just a distant nightmare of history.”