Happily Ever After?

Far from being happy, when “Yael” returned from the hospital with her new baby girl, she was distraught.

Her husband “Moshe” had seen Yael into the ambulance, and waved her off to the hospital, but then did not join her for the birth, or visit her even once. Nor did he call her, or respond to her calls.

Yael’s fears and concerns reached a peak, as she unlocked the door of their apartment, and wheeled in the stroller and tiny pink bundle. She called out “Moshe! We’re Home!”. But there was no answer. “Moshe?”. Nothing.

As if punched in the face, she whitened and stiffened with shock, as she saw, and then read the note on the bed.

Moshe wrote that he had sold the business, the car, and had moved out.

Moshe did not say where he had gone, when/if he would be back, or warn Yael about the pile of debts and legal/financial mess he had left her, with her name on them.

When I tracked down and visited Moshe’s parents in New York, I challenged them how they, respected members of a chasidic community, wealthy diamond dealers, had allowed their son Moshe to do this to their daughter in law and to their grandchildren. “They literally have nothing to eat, they are deep in debt – and are depending upon charitable hand-outs.”

I was gob-smacked when he told me “she deserves worse”.

“She will not get a penny, nor a Get (halachik divorce), from my son – I will make sure of that.”

I tried my best to reason with him, to appeal to his sense of human decency, but he was resolute. “Not a penny! let her starve!” he shouted.

I asked him to tell me how to locate his son Moshe, and he claimed he had no idea where Moshe is.

As we talked, there was a sound of the front door unlocking, and, who should walk in, but Moshe. “Oh hi David!” he said, as if we had casually bumped into each other at the corner store.

I later found out that this was the second such case in this family – Moshe’s brother had also deserted his Israeli wife, leaving her and their children in Israel, destitute and Get-less.

It took almost three years to extract a Get from Moshe – and the Get was conditional on Yael withdrawing any claim for alimony support.

This and similar cases of recalcitrant husbands have alerted me to the risks and horrors of separation and divorce processes. In many cases, the husband has the stronger hand, particularly when the case is heard by a Bet Din rather than civil court. Although much effort has been invested in reducing the number of agunot (trapped wives – who cannot remarry as they have not obtained a Get) this problem is tragically still widespread.

So when my daughter recently became engaged, I suggested to her and her fiance’s family, that the couple sign a pre-nuptual agreement. They had not previously heard of the concept, so I explained that pre-nuptual agreements are now widely endorsed in Jewish communities throughout the USA – the Bet Din of America has its own Prenuptuial Agreement, and many American rabbonim even refuse to perform marriage ceremonies until the couple have signed this agreement.

The Bet Din of America has adopted the following policy:

Therefore, be it resolved that every member of the Rabbinical Council of America will utilize prenuptial agreements, which will aid in our community's efforts to guarantee that the get will not be used as a negotiating tool in divorce procedures.

My mechutonim asked their rav, Rabbi Dov Lior of Kireat Arba, who said he did not encourage the couple to sign a prenuptial agreement. Rav Lior explained that the pre-nuptual agreements are a phenomenon of the diaspora, and are not widely accepted in Israel. So we begrudgingly let it pass, and the wedding went ahead with great simcha. I am confident, Be”H, this special couple will enjoy a lifetime together in marital tranquility.

Meantime, a new book has been published about the halachik role of Pre-Nuptual Agreements, by Rachel Levmore, called Spare Your Eyes Tears: Prenuptial Agreements for the Prevention of Get Refusal (Hebrew title: Min'i Einayich Medima).

According to reviews (JPost, YNet and the Young Israel) this book is the first Hebrew book published in Israel presenting the halachik argument in favour of Pre-Nuptual Agreements. Rachel Levmore is a US born Bet Din Advocate in Israel, and she claims that “90% of delayed divorces could be speeded up by prenups”.

From my experience, this book and future publications and actions encouraging Pre-Nuptual Agreements in Israel will benefit couples, and in particular the women – who are most susceptible to being abused, through Get-refusal, during the separation process by their husbands.

As I said, somewhat despondently to my mechutan (my son-in-law’s father) – I accept that this young couple will not sign a pre-nup, but I am willing to bet that neither they, nor their rabbonim, will not allow their children, Be”H in another twenty-something years time, to marry without one!

Hopefully, with the erudite & dedicated efforts of people like Rachel Levmore - and indeed of all of us who can encourage & generate pressures for change, each within their own sphere of influence - it will not take nearly that long.


If you are getting married, or your children are, please review the following information:

The Young Israel have a nusach (text) for an Israeli Pre-Nuptual: http://www.youngisraelrabbis.org.il/prenup.htm

And a paper about Pre-Nuptual Agreements by Rachel Levmore: http://www.youngisraelrabbis.org.il/texts/article.pdf

The Bet Din of America: Endorsement http://www.rabbis.org/Prenuptial_Agreement.cfm

And approved text: http://www.rabbis.org/forms/Halachic%20Prenuptial%20Arbitration%20Agreement.pdf

My advice: Discuss this with your rav, with the couple and with your prospective mechutanim early on, preferably prior to the engagement/vort. Along with arranging the dates and many other details, slot it in right then!


  1. B"H

    David, What is the percentage Agunim to Agunoth, especially now that rabbanim have "cracked down" on applying heter me'ah rabbanim?

    {Of course, there was never a such thing as an ogen, until the Taqanah of Rabbeinu Gershon, and the continued adherence to this expired taqanah, and forced acceptance on Sepharadim and Teimanim and others in Israel. Speaking of "diapora" phenomena....}

    I am not minimalizing the pain of these women.

    Let's just keep the discussion even.

  2. A 'trapped' husband is no less a tragedy than a 'trapped' wife.

    I do not know the percentages of Agunot/Agunim in Israel (can anyone find some stats?).

    Regardless of these statistics, the proposed introduction and promotion of Prenups in Israel would help avoid the misery of BOTH Agunot AND Agunim.


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