In a renewed effort by the Orthodox movementís Rabbinical Council of America to prevent future instances in which husbands refuse to grant their wives a get or religious divorce, the organization has adopted a resolution asking members to refuse to officiate at weddings at which the couple has not signed a prenuptial agreement. Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the RCA, said that about five years ago 60 percent of his organization’s more than 950 members said they would make every effort to encourage couples to sign a prenuptial agreement. He said he believes that number has increased because the agreements are now better known and rabbis have been speaking about them to students in yeshivas.
Among them is Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, principal of the Ramaz School in Manhattan, who said he shows the document to his 15- and 16-year-old students. He said he is not ashamed to ask a couple to sign a prenuptial agreement during the first session of a premarital conference. He said he prefers that they sign it at that time, explaining to them that it is a "statement of love, each for the other."
Although Rabbi Herring has said he would refuse to perform a wedding unless the couple signs the agreement, Rabbi Lookstein said he is not prepared to do that. But he said that no more than six couples out of more than 400 marriages he has performed in 23 years have refused to sign a premarital agreement.
To make it even easier for couples to learn about the prenuptial agreement, the RCA has now posted it on its Web site, www.rabbis.org. And the State of New York adopted a law last year that permits rabbis who perform weddings to act as notary publics for the purpose of witnessing the signing of prenuptial agreements. It thus makes it easier for couples to execute the agreement, and it is legally binding and enforceable by the courts.
"It has nothing to do with state and religion," Rabbi Herring said.
He added that it is "a powerful agreement because it says that if there is a marital dispute, they must go to the following named bet din [religious court], and we have said it is the Bet Din of America. One of the biggest problems is that couples used to haggle for years over which bet din has jurisdiction. The bet din will adjudicate the matter and if it says the marriage is over and that the husband must give a get and he refuses, it will order him to start paying his wife $150 a day" (as stipulated in the premarital agreement) until he gives the get.
Rabbi Herring said that a man cannot be forced to give his wife a religious divorce, but that the $150 daily payment might serve as "a major incentive" to convince him to grant a get. He noted that the premarital agreement provides for the amount to increase each year, based upon the consumer price index.
"Anytime a woman has walked in [to a bet din] with this agreement signed, the get has followed within a short time," he said. "This agreement has taken away the whole problem. It has been tried and tested in the field."
Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said his organization developed a prenuptial agreement more than a dozen years ago. But, he confessed, "we have a mixed record" of usage. The Reform movement does not require a religious divorce, accepting instead a civil divorce.