Woman in chains: Will anything change for Agunot
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Rabbi Avi Shafran, Director of Public Affairs for the Agudath Israel of America, agreed that pre-nuptial agreements are not common in the charedi world. None of his six married children has one, he said. “My understanding of the reason is that detailing what will happen in the event, G-d forbid, of a divorce would start a marriage off on a negative, dangerous note,” Rabbi Shafran explained. “The message a newlywed may take from it, especially in our times, sadly, is that marriage is like any business agreement. Clauses in a contract establishing a legal partnership would understandably deal with the event of the partnership’s dissolution. But a joining of two people into one is qualitatively different, and incomparably important. So, to begin the challenging but holy enterprise of married life amid thoughts of what will transpire at a divorce is neither prudent nor proper.”
Colton said that the prenuptial agreement acts as a kind self-control.
“Divorce brings out the worst,” she said. “Things go bad and people lose control. That’s why we push the prenuptial agreement. When a bad situation happens to you, protect yourself from yourself.”
A marriage can be invalidated retroactively, though, according to Rabbi Broyde, situations such as this, known as Kedushai Taot, a mistaken marriage, are exceedingly rare.
“The most common one is the marriage was improperly entered into,” Rabbi Broyde said. “Sometimes there’s fraud in the inducement and sometimes there’s an invalid ceremony.”
For a woman who refuses to accept a get, a man can receive a “Heter Me’ah Rabonim,” literally permission from 100 rabbis, amounting to a rabbinical dispensation to marry again. That too, is rare though more common than a retroactive invalidation.
The Beis Din of America has performed Heter Me’ah Rabonim on a few occasions, Rabbi Auman said, but only when a woman was “totally mentally incapacitated” and the husband agreed to put up an escrow to care for her.