For the first time, a state court has affirmed the constitutionality of a Modern Orthodox-sponsored prenuptial agreement meant to protect agunot — Jewish women “chained” by husbands who refuse to grant them a religious divorce.
The agunah in this case, Rachel Light, may even be eligible to demand more than $100,000 from her husband under the terms of the prenup, which stipulated that Eben Light has to pay $100 for each day he refuses to grant his wife a Jewish divorce, known as a get. Light and her husband have been separated for several years.
Observers believe that the Connecticut judge’s ruling is the first published opinion on the Beth Din of America’s prenuptial contract since it was introduced about 20 years ago.
The BDA prenup was created during the early 1990s as a way to combat the phenomenon of chained wives, those who cannot remarry and whose subsequent children are considered illegitimate unless their husband grants them a Jewish divorce.
The imbalance of power has traditionally given men the upper hand when parting couples negotiate child custody, division of assets and other issues. In some cases, wives and their families have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their husband to grant them a get.
The plight of agunot gained national attention most recently with the case of Tamar Epstein, whose husband, Aharon Friedman, a legislative aide to Dave Camp, chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means, is refusing to give her a get while the couple fight over custody of their young daughter. The couple did not sign a BDA prenup.
Susan Aranoff, a director of the advocacy group Agunah International, said the Connecticut decision is a breakthrough for women. “The unanswered question with regard to the prenup was always will it be enforceable in civil court,” Aranoff said.