A soon-to-be-married friend asked me for some guidance on the Agunah Prenup, a prenuptial agreement meant to deter husbands from denying their wives a get (Jewish writ of divorce). In short, the agreement provides that the husband must pay the wife $150 per day for every day that they no longer live together but remain married. The agreement is enforceable in US courts.
I signed this agreement, and I know that some rabbis will refuse to marry a couple unless they sign an agreement of this kind. Many in the Orthodox movement welcomed the development, as I did. Today though, I just didn’t feel as good about it.
Women should have the right to leave a marriage, and this agreement does not grant them that right within the halachic system. It punishes the husband so that he will exercise his exclusive right to end the marriage. Worse, it does not engage any halachic powers against the husband, it instead turns to the government and its ability to enforce contracts. It’s a ruse – the structural halachic problem is side-stepped entirely.
On the one hand it’s very neat, and is even in keeping with the halachic tradition that says that a Bet Din would force a recalcitrant husband to give a get even through corporeal punishment (i.e. beating him until he relents). On the other hand, neither beating a man until he consents to follow a religious ritual nor binding a woman to a marriage against her will are particularly progressive ideas. In the end, the prenup is a non-halachic solution to a halachic problem, and as such it does nothing for injecting life and relevance into the halachic system.