'Chained Wives' Find Halachic Pre-Nuptial Agreement Is No Panacea

Orthodox Men Balk at Document Agreeing to Get


By Talia Lavin

Published November 28, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(JTA) — For years, Rachel Light felt like a hostage, worried she would be forever trapped in her marriage to Eben Light.

Even in April 2012, after Eben was arrested for allegedly threatening her and was slapped with a restraining order, Rachel was unable to get a writ of Jewish divorce, or get.

That made her an agunah – Hebrew for “chained woman” – putting her in the company of hundreds of other Orthodox women who cannot remarry because their husbands refuse to grant them divorces according to Jewish law, or halachah.

Fortunately for Rachel, who was Modern Orthodox, she and her husband had signed a halachic (Jewish ritual) prenuptial agreement. In 2013, hers was the first such prenup to be enforced in a U.S. civil court. Light obtained her get and a substantial financial settlement in Connecticut.

“I’m so thankful that I happened to have signed it, because I don’t know that I’d be remarried today with an awesome, wonderful new family without it,” Light told JTA. “But nevertheless, it’s not going to be able to help everybody in every case, and I would love to see a solution that could.”

First developed in the 1990s in an attempt to protect women from becoming agunot, halachic prenuptial agreements stipulate that the couple in a dissolving marriage must come before a predetermined court of Jewish law. If the man refuses to provide the get, he must provide a financial settlement, typically in the range of $150 per day – an agreement enforceable in civil court.

Yet while halachic prenuptial agreements have been touted as a solution to the agunah problem, they have hardly been a panacea – because many are reluctant to sign them in the first place.

“Those who are most likely to need to use it are least likely to sign it,” said Rabbi Jeremy Stern, director of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, or ORA, which says it deals with more than 150 cases of agunot per year.

The problem is unique to the Orthodox world, because non-Orthodox movements have rejected or found ways around traditional rules that give husbands practically all the leverage. And, frustratingly for advocates on behalf of agunot, most Orthodox couples hail from segments of the community that aren’t interested in halachic prenups.

“The problem is in the black-hat and haredi community, where they don’t have prenups or rabbis don’t agree to enforce the idea of having a prenup,” said Stanley Goodman, director of an organization known as GET - Getting Equal Treatment.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.