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Rabbinic group requiring prenuptial agreements

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An Orthodox rabbinic group is requiring its members to use a prenuptial agreement in the weddings in which they participate.

According to a resolution passed by The International Rabbinic Fellowship, its member rabbis may not officiate at or participate ritually in a wedding ceremony in which the man and woman have not signed a halachic prenuptial stating that if the marriage dissolves, they will agree to a Jewish divorce.

That means the husband must give his wife a get, a Jewish divorce decree, and the woman must accept it.

The resolution is an effort to prevent future agunot, or chained women, whose husbands have refused to give them a get, said the rabbinical group’s president, Rabbi Joel Tessler.

Agunot may not remarry in a Jewish ceremony.

“We’re the only rabbinic organization that demands from all of its members that they can only officiate in a wedding if the couple has agreed and signed a prenup before the wedding,” Tessler told JTA. “There will be a process of censure for any rabbi in the IRF that participates in a wedding without these guidelines.”

The rabbinical group, which represents 150 Modern Orthodox rabbis, has not yet decided what that process will be.

Tessler acknowledged that the resolution does not help current agunot or women who already are married and may later divorce.

The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance praised the resolution.

The organization, said JOFA president Judy Heicklen, "looks forward to the day when all rabbinic organizations do everything in their power to resolve the threat of iggun," the state of being an agunah.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the 1,000-member Rabbinical Council of America, also praised the IRF, but said it would be counterproductive for his organization to mandate use of a halachic prenuptial agreement.

“Nearly 80 percent of our rabbis encourage this sort of prenup. We’re anxious that this number grow, but we believe the best way to do is through continued education,” he said.

“There are certain people within the organization who, for whatever halachic or personal reasons, will not use it. If I mandated it now, and those rabbis left the organization, the chance they would ever use it would be minimal.”

The IRF resolution was passed last week during the group’s annual conference in New York City. 

The RCA and the Beth Din of America have developed a halachic prenuptial agreement.

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