A new survey shows that most Israeli couples are unaware of the existence of a special pre-nuptial agreement, which prevents a woman from eventually becoming an aguna - a woman whose husband denies her a get (religious divorce ) and can, therefore not remarry.
This pre-nuptial agreement, which has existed for 37 years and must be signed before a marriage registrar, nullifies the halakhic requirement that a man must agree to his wife's divorce request for it to be fulfilled. Since most Israelis are unaware of the existence of this pre-nuptial agreement, it is rarely signed or exercised.
Of the couples who participated in the survey conducted by the Sarid Institute for Research Services, 75 percent said they would have signed the pre-nuptial agreement had they known of its existence before they married. Those who said they would not have signed the agreement said they thought it would damage the romance and trust existing between them.
Religiously observant and ultra-Orthodox couples responded in the survey that they were aware of the agreement's existence but would not sign it for religious reasons.
The survey was initiated by MK Gila Gamlier, a deputy minister the the Prime Minister's Office. "The picture that emerges from the survey is disturbing," she told Haaretz.
According to changes enacted in 1973, marriage registrars are required to explain the agreement to any couple planning to marry, as well as the ramifications of not signing it. The halakhic demand that both spouses agree to divorce has proven fertile ground for blackmail, and in many cases, the spouse opposed to divorce has demanded vast chunks of the couple's shared property in exchange for his or her agreement.
The Fast of Esther, which is commemorated today, has been designated a day for recognizing agunot in Israel. Earlier in the week, the Knesset held a discussion on how to expand public awareness of the pre-nuptial agreement.
The exact number of agunot in Israel is unknown. The rabbinical courts reported that in 2009, another 53 new cases of refused divorce requests were registered. Civil society organizations say that as many as 100,000 women in Israel are trapped by their husbands in marriages they no longer want. The organizations explain that most such cases never even make it as far as the rabbinical courts.
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