Speak No Evil

Rabbi Avi Shafran gives “[his] understanding” of why “pre-nuptial agreements are not common in the charedi world”:

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.”

I find this unpersuasive, and certainly ineffective from the perspective of public relations. If Haredim really wish to dispel the stigma that they are unconcerned with the plight of Agunos, they really need to refrain from reflexively batting down any suggestion proposed for the alleviation of the problem, or, of course, to provide serious Halachic or Hashkafic arguments against such proposals. They may very well have serious concerns of אסמכתא and גט מעושה with the types of pre-nuptials under discussion, but if so, these ought to be forthrightly acknowledged, and not hidden behind such arguments as R. Shafran presents.

In the remainder of this post we shall discuss the admittedly venerable tradition of reluctance to be overly forward with the mention of catastrophe, even in formal legal documents, although the concern seems to have been not R. Shafran’s humanistic one of the impact upon the mindset of the contracting parties, but rather a worry over the paranormal harm that might be caused by articulating the possibility of misfortune. We preface our discussion, however, by noting that the issue is never the very terms of the arrangements themselves, but only the preferred way in which they should be recorded.

The Talmud itself mentions a concern against beginning a legal conditional with the mention of possible tragedy:

אתקין שמואל בגיטא דשכיב מרע אם לא מתי לא יהא גט ואם מתי יהא גט ולימא אם מתי יהא גט ואם לא מתי לא יהא גט לא מקדים איניש פורענותא לנפשיה ולימא לא יהא גט אם לא מתי בעינן תנאי קודם למעשה מתקיף לה רבא מכדי כל תנאי מהיכא גמרינן מתנאי בני גד ובני ראובן מה התם הן קודם ללאו אף כל לאפוקי הכא דלאו קודם להן אלא אמר רבא אם לא מתי לא יהא גט אם מתי יהא גט אם לא מתי לא יהא גט אם לא מתי לא יהא גט לא מקדים איניש פורענותא לנפשיה אם מתי יהא גט אם לא מתי לא יהא גט בעינן הן קודם ללאו:1

Now, it is possible that the Talmud is speaking merely descriptively and not normatively, i.e., simply noting an existing reluctance to begin with tragedy and accommodating this habit, but not necessarily acknowledging it as reasonable. Maran and Beis Shmuel, however, seem to imply that one should actually be careful of this:

שכיב מרע שרוצה לגרש על תנאי אם ימות כדי שלא תפול לפני יבם ואם עמד לא תהיה מגורשת אומר לה כשנותן לה הגט אם לא מתי לא יהיה גט ואם מתי יהא גט מעכשיו ואם לא מתי לא יהא גט כדי שיהא התנאי כפול הן קודם ללאו ולא יפתח פיו תחלה לפורענות …2

אם לא מתי. כדי שאל יפתח פיו לרעה …3

Indeed, Beis Shmuel and Rav Avraham Ha’Levi go so far as to argue that the aforementioned tripartite formulation is actually not ideal, and not normally acceptable, and it is only the case of the שכיב מרע that has a special dispensation allowing it, due to the concern of לא מקדים איניש פורענותא לנפשיה!

לכאורה נראה מדברי הר”ן (גיטין ריש לו: בריף) [ד]דוקא בשכיב מרע יכול לומר הלאו קודם כי היכא דלא יקדים פורענות לנפשו, אבל בעלמא צריך להקדים הן.4

אמנם נראה מספר בית שמואל דאין נכון לעשות כן … הנה דברי הר”ן הם בפרק מי שאחזו דף תק”ץ ע”ב בדאתקין שמואל גיטא דשכיב מרע כתב וז”ל לא מקדים פורענותא לנפשיה כלומר שאם לא כן היה אומר בתחלה אם מתי יהא גט שהרי הוא לגרש מתכוין עכ”ל ומדבריו ליכא למשמע דדוקא בשכיב מרע עבדינן הכי דכל מה דדמי לשכיב מרע שפיר דמי למעבד הכי כגון שהוא הולך למדינת הים וכתב גט לאשתו שלא תשאר עגונא דדילמא יטבע או יהרגהו לסטים ולא תהיה שם עדות ברורה על מיתתו ולכן כתב הגט וכיון שכן הגון הוא לתקן לו דלא ליתרע מזליה דלא ליקדום פורענותא לנפשיה אמנם בשאר התנאים שאינם כיוצא באלו אז יקדים לאו לאין בהחלט ולמה ישנו ממשפטי התנאים מבלי צורך וכבר מצינו שהמפרש בים או יוצא בשיירא והיוצא בקולר והמסוכן כלם הושוו לדין שכיב מרע גבי מתנה גם בענין גט הקלו בהם ואפשר שגם הרב בית שמואל אינו מחליט רק אחריני דאין להם השואה עם שכיב מרע ולא בכה”ג5

Rav Yehudah Rosanes, however, disagrees, arguing that if there were really anything problematic about this formulation, this would not be overridden out of concern for לא מקדים איניש פורענותא לנפשיה. This would certainly seem correct if לא מקדים is only descriptive and not normative, but R. Rosanes may merely mean that an actual, formal Halachah cannot be ignored even out of a real concern for an ill omen:

ולא ידעתי כוונתו [של הבית שמואל הנ”ל] דאם כוון לומר שאם בעלמא התחיל בלאו וחזר ואמר הן קודם ללאו דאיכא קפידא. הא ודאי ליתא דאם היה איזה קפידא בדבר שיתחיל בהן לא היו מתקנים בגט שכיב מרע משום חששא זו דלא יקדים פורענותא מילתא דאית בה ריעותא.

ואדרבא מדברי הר”ן נראה בהפך שכתב דטעמא דמילתא הוא משום דמאי דבעינן הן קודם ללאו לאו משום דבעינן שההן יוקדם אלא מאי דבעינן הוא שההן לא יאמר בסוף. וכיון שכן מה לי גט שכיב מרע מה לי גט דעלמא.

והר”ב המפה בסימן ל”ח כתב וז”ל הזכיר לאו קודם להן וחזר והזכיר לאו אחר הן הוי תנאי כאלו הזכיר הן קודם ללאו ע”כ. הרי מבואר דאין חילוק בזה בין גט [שכיב מרע] לדבר אחר. ואפשר שמה שסיים הר”ב המפה וציין הר”ן פרק מי שאחזו, ולכאורה קשה שדין זה הוא גמרא ערוכה וכבר הרגיש בזה בעל חלקת מחוקק שם, הוא כדי לשלול דברי בעל בית שמואל דאי מסוגיית הגמרא היה אפשר להתעקש ולומר דלעולם בעינן דיקדים ההן אלא דבשכיב מרע משום חששא דלא לקדים פורענותא תיקנו שיקדים הלאו אבל הא מיהא שיסיים בלאו ולפי זה במקום אחר לא מהני. אבל מדברי הר”ן נראה דמה שאמרו הן קודם ללאו הוא משום דבגמר דבריו אדם נתפס ואם כן בעלמא נמי אם הקדים הלאו אם חזר ואמר הן ואחר כך לאו שפיר דמי וזה פשוט.6

Turning to marriage settlement documents, the old custom in Germany and Poland had been to bluntly acknowledge therein the possibility of the potential termination of the marriage, as well as (in Germany) domestic dissension, as attested to by the standard texts of those documents recorded in נחלת שבעה:

ומחמת עידור וקטט ח”ו יתוקן קודם החופה כתקנות קהלות שו”ם.7

ומחמת קטט ועידור ח”ו יעמוד כתקנות קהלות שו”ם.8

ואם ח”ו שיעשה כמר פלוני הנ”ל לזוגתו מרת פלונית איזו דברים שאינה יכולה לסבול וצריכה לבית דין, אז תיכף ומיד יתן לה עשרה זהובים לפיזור מזונות. וכן יתן לה כל חודש וחודש משך ימי הקטט. וכל בגדיה ותכשיטיה השייכים לגופה. וירד עמה בדיני ישראל לבית דין שלהם, תוך שני שבועות אחר בקשתו ממנו, ועל פיהם יעמוד כל ריב וכל נגע. ואחר שנתפשרו תחזור מרת פלונית לבית בעלה וכל הנותר בידה מן המעות וכל בגדיה ותכשיטיה תחזיר למקומם הראשון.

ומחמת העידור כן נתקן, שאם יעדר ח”ו כמר פלוני הנ”ל בשנה ראשונה אחר החופה בלי זרע קיימא מאשתו הנ”ל, אז תחזיר מרת פלונית הנ”ל ליורשי בעלה הנ”ל כל מה שהכניס. ואם ח”ו יעדר בשנה שניה אחר החופה בלי זרע קיימא מזוגתו הנ”ל, אז תחזיר מרת פלונית הנ”ל החצי ממה שהכניס.

ואם ח”ו שתעדר היא מרת פלונית הנ”ל בשנה ראשונה אחר החופה בלי זרע קיימא יחזיר כמר פלוני הנ”ל ליורשיה כל מה שהכניסה. ואם ח”ו שתעדר בשנה שניה אחר החופה בלי זרע קיימא ממנו, יחזיר כמר פלוני הנ”ל ליורשיה החצי ממה שהכניסה לו.

ובשנה השלישית אחר החופה, ומשלישית ואילך, איזה מהן שתעדר, הדין חוזר לסיני, הבעל יורש את אשתו והיא נוטלת כתובה ותוספת.

ובכל הזמנים הנ”ל היא נוטלת טבעת קדושין בראש בלי ניכוי ומגרעת כתובתה.9

While “עידור” seems to mean death, “קטט” seems to mean a separation due to a quarrel; this latter word engendered a discussion among the Poskim as to whether the תקנת שו”ם really applies in the event of divorce (as opposed to death).10

We have seen that the custom for the תנאים to explicitly mention עידור וקטט and their consequences is centuries old. Nevertheless, Rav Yehoshua Pinhas Bombach testifies that in his day it was common to omit those clauses, out of a concern for אל תפתח פה לשטן, but he explains that they are still in effect:

ואף שנחסר הכתיבה מתקנת שו”מ. בהרבה תנאים משמיטין זה. בכדי שלא יפתח פה לשטן. ואין צריך לכותבו כמו שכתב בתשובות “תשואות חן” דכיון שהמנהג ותקנה ידוע כאילו נכתב דמי יעו”ש11

  1. גיטין עה: – קשר []
  2. שלחן ערוך אה”ע סימן קמ”ה סעיף ה []
  3. בית שמואל שם ס”ק ח []
  4. בית שמואל סימן ל”ח ס”ק ג []
  5. שו”ת גנת ורדים אה”ע כלל א’ סימן ד – קשר []
  6. משנה למלך אישות פרק ו’ הלכות א’-ב’ ד”ה ודע שראיתי, ציינו בהגהות רבי ברוך פרענקיל על הבית שמואל שם, ועיין עוד דיעות בפוסקים בזה באוצר הפוסקים סימן ל”ח ס”ק י”ב []
  7. נחלת שבעה (בני ברק תשס”ו), סימן ח’ נוסח תנאים ראשונים [אשכנז], עמוד פד []
  8. שם [פולין], עמוד פז, ועיין ביאור שתי הנוסחאות והחילוק ביניהם שם אות ו’, עמודים קז-ט []
  9. שם סימן ט’, נוסח תנאים אחרונים [אשכנז], עמודים קנח-ט, ועיין ביאור ומשא ומתן שם אותיות י”ד-ט”ו עמודים קפא-ג []
  10. עיין פתחי תשובה אה”ע סימן נ”ג ס”ק י”ג (ועיין לעיל שם ס”ק ט’), ובאוצר הפוסקים שם ס”ק כ”ט, ועיין שם הערה י []
  11. שו”ת אהל יהושע, חלק ב’ סימן ע”ו אות א’ – קשר, הובא בפירוש תפארת לשבעה על הנחלת שבעה סימן ח’ אות ו’ עמוד פד, וגם בערוך השלחן (אה”ע סימן נ”ג סעיף י”ט) כתב “ואף אם לא נכתב כמי שנכתב דמי מאחר שכך המנהג פשוט”, וכנזכר בתפארת לשבעה שם []
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11 Responses to Speak No Evil

  1. DF says:

    I disagree with you, and agree with R.A. Shafran. A pre-nup DOES start you of on a bad foot.

    Moreover, you must realize what Rabbi Shafran doesnt say, but what everyone knows is the undercurrent: that it’s common knowledge that the secular court system favors the woman. Thus, it is felt, the Get is the only card the man has. Why should he give up that one card, when she’s not giving up hers?

    Furthermore, you cannot bring proofs from the old teshuvos as evidence that they didnt objet to pre-nups. By that logic you might also bring a proof from the kesubah itself. The elementary difference is that these documents were all written in hebrew, which the girls barely knew, and many of the guys barely knew either. They lloked upon these documents as ritual obligations to get over with as part of the many religious ceremonies associated with marriage. Thus, no one thought twice about these documents once they were over and done with. A legal document written in English is markedly different.

    Still further, the concept of a pre-nuptial agreement is urt by its association with modern orthodoxy. The rabbinic leadership of that segment of society is best knows for its obsession with women’s issues. Promoting bat mitzvah, talmud for girls, women’s hakafos, and more. Thus, the fact that it is again some modern orthodox rabbis pushing for prenups makes this just another women’s issue. Has caving to feminism been such a great idea, either for religious Jews, or for society generally? I dont think so, and neither do the majority of orthodox Jews.

    Finally, and still further, the so-called “agunah problem” has been vastly exaggerated and over-stated. In some cases women’s groups employe people – that is, they pay people – to go about trumpeting agunah issues. These people are as self-interested in having you believe the “agunah problem” is widespread, as the ADL is in interested in preaching that there are neo-nazis all over America that can only be stopped if you send them money. This is the big problem with all these claims of “agunah” problems – these activists claims its a huge, widespread problem, but they themselves dont even know how numbers they claim.

    Finally further, as related to the last point, what exactly is an “agunah”? In classical halacha an agunah was someone whose husband is missing. By contrast, nearly all of the agunah probelms dealt with here involve legal problems, as described in paragaph 2 above. The woman is not an “agunah” – typically she is using her card – the American legal system – to get more money or custody than the halahca would otherwise permit, and he is using his card – the get – to balance hers. In truth we should not even call these “agunahs” at all. We should call them “litigants”, becasue in 49 out of 50 cases, that is exactly what they are.

    One last finally – dont think them men have no problems, either. As Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz has written, there are many man whose wives refuse to grant them gets, making them agunos to no less an extent than the women. While in theory there is still the avenue of a hetter meah rabbonim, these documents are not that simple to get, and require much hardship and expense.

    All discussion here in the spirit of debate, of course! I think your blog is great. If I dont speak to you beforehand, R’ __________, a kesivah vachasimah tovah!

  2. Yitzhak says:

    Moreover, you must realize what Rabbi Shafran doesnt say, but what everyone knows is the undercurrent: that it’s common knowledge that the secular court system favors the woman. Thus, it is felt, the Get is the only card the man has. Why should he give up that one card, when she’s not giving up hers?

    As I acknowledge in the post, I’m perfectly willing to accept serious arguments against pre-nups, and there’s definitely some merit to the above. But if this is the real reason, then he should have said so, and not hidden behind what I consider, even if you and he do not, a flimsy and unpersuasive pretext.

    Furthermore, you cannot bring proofs from the old teshuvos as evidence that they didnt objet to pre-nups. By that logic you might also bring a proof from the kesubah itself. The elementary difference is that these documents were all written in hebrew, which the girls barely knew, and many of the guys barely knew either. They lloked upon these documents as ritual obligations to get over with as part of the many religious ceremonies associated with marriage. Thus, no one thought twice about these documents once they were over and done with. A legal document written in English is markedly different.

    You need to reread the כתובה – believe it or not, the contemporary text contains no overt reference to death or divorce (except for the note that the שיעבוד is בחיים ובמותא)! The husband’s financial commitments are enumerated, but not the conditions under which they are payable.

    And I believe that your claim that these documents were looked upon as mere ritual obligations is quite mistaken. That is probably true today, when they are but traditional relics of the past, but in the medieval period, the situation was exactly the reverse. Remember that these are not Talmudic forms, but rather medieval creations intended to ensure that the parties would fulfill certain financial commitments by some pre-arranged date, and indeed, weddings were sometimes postponed, or even canceled, if one party could not or would not do so!

    You are doubtless correct that the young couple, who were often underage, frequently did not understand the contents of the תנאים – but the contracting parties, the מחותנים, probably generally did.

    Still further, the concept of a pre-nuptial agreement is urt by its association with modern orthodoxy. The rabbinic leadership of that segment of society is best knows for its obsession with women’s issues. Promoting bat mitzvah, talmud for girls, women’s hakafos, and more. Thus, the fact that it is again some modern orthodox rabbis pushing for prenups makes this just another women’s issue. Has caving to feminism been such a great idea, either for religious Jews, or for society generally? I dont think so, and neither do the majority of orthodox Jews.

    What happened to שמע האמת ממי שאמרו?

    Moreover, I remind you that it is well known that Rav Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg, widely acknowledged as one of the preeminent authorities on חושן משפט ואבן העזר of our generation, is a staunch advocate of pre-nups. Indeed, in a personal conversation (about the question of the continued relevance of the principle of טב למיתב טן דו today) he once exclaimed to me [rough paraphrase] “Why are they invoking such dubious ideas? There’s a great and entirely unexceptionable alternative to counter the Agunah problem – the pre-nup that I designed with R. Willig!” Neither RZNG nor R. Willig are “obsessed with women’s issues” or guilty of “[p]romoting bat mitzvah, talmud for girls, women’s hakafos, and more”.

    Finally, and still further, the so-called “agunah problem” has been vastly exaggerated and over-stated. In some cases women’s groups employe people – that is, they pay people – to go about trumpeting agunah issues. These people are as self-interested in having you believe the “agunah problem” is widespread, as the ADL is in interested in preaching that there are neo-nazis all over America that can only be stopped if you send them money. This is the big problem with all these claims of “agunah” problems – these activists claims its a huge, widespread problem, but they themselves dont even know how numbers they claim.

    I have heard this charge before, from various sources including the legendary R. Nota Greenblatt, who ought to know, if anyone does. But this is only relevant insofar as a proposed solution involves some considerable price, in which case a cost-benefit analysis (הפסד מצוה כנגד שכרה, ושכר עברה כנגד הפסדה) needs to be performed. As long as there’s no serious downside (and once again, I disagree with you and R. Shafran about the seriousness of the stated concern), why not do whatever we can?

    Finally further, as related to the last point, what exactly is an “agunah”? In classical halacha an agunah was someone whose husband is missing. By contrast, nearly all of the agunah probelms dealt with here involve legal problems, as described in paragaph 2 above. The woman is not an “agunah” – typically she is using her card – the American legal system – to get more money or custody than the halahca would otherwise permit, and he is using his card – the get – to balance hers. In truth we should not even call these “agunahs” at all. We should call them “litigants”, becasue in 49 out of 50 cases, that is exactly what they are.

    Perfectly correct, and I’ve often made the same point myself. I have little sympathy with anyone utilizing the secular legal system to obtain more than he or she is entitled to according to Halachah. Indeed, one who initiates a civil action instead of proceeding in Beis Din is a רשע and is considered “as though he has been חירף והרים ידו בתורת משה”. But why is this relevant? As far as I know, the pre-nup advocated by Rabbanim Goldberg and Willig is merely designed to force the parties to adjudicate any eventual disputes in front of (a specific) Beis Din in a timely fashion. Why would you or R. Shafran object to that?

    One last finally – dont think them men have no problems, either. As Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz has written, there are many man whose wives refuse to grant them gets, making them agunos to no less an extent than the women. While in theory there is still the avenue of a hetter meah rabbonim, these documents are not that simple to get, and require much hardship and expense.

    Certainly – but this is completely irrelevant – how will the sort of pre-nup we’re discussing worsen their position?

    Throughout your comment, I detect an undercurrent of suspicion that I have a nefarious feminist agenda. I do have an anti-anti-feminist agenda, in that I believe that the instinctive rejection of anything that the feminists want, merely due to the fact that they want it, is simplistic and wrong-headed, but my only real motive in advocating for pre-nups is the minimization of human suffering insofar as this can be done in a manner consistent with the Torah (Halachah and Hashkafah). Feminism is wrong and must be firmly rejected when it conflicts with the Torah – but the same goes for anti-feminism.

    All discussion here in the spirit of debate, of course! I think your blog is great. If I dont speak to you beforehand, R’ __________, a kesivah vachasimah tovah!

    Back at you (both the beginning and end of the paragraph)!

  3. S. says:

    >That is probably true today, when they are but traditional relics of the past, but in the medieval period, the situation was exactly the reverse.

    It seems like a good place to point out that a couple of years ago Kestenbaum was auctioning a revised Kesuvah written by the Rizhiner rebbe. Apparently he had married at 13 or so. When he was an adult he decided to rewrite the Kesuvah for her with a much higher amount as a token of his affection. Although this does not show that the Kesuvah was taken more seriously, I thought it was interesting. Rebbesche romantic gestures.

  4. Shalom Rosenfeld says:

    Those who object to the pre-nup on halachic grounds: do they disagree with the pre-nup found in the Nachlas Shiva, or do they feel our case is different than that of the Nachlas Shiva?

    • Yitzhak says:

      I don’t actually know, offhand, of any formally expressed Halachic objections. If we encounter any, we’d certainly have to keep the question in mind.

  5. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    i’ll posdt a fuller comment later, but if you want to advocate for takanot shu”m (which we dont really know what it provides), you’ll have to deny an ex wife any more than one year “alimony” ( = her ktubah, however much $ you want to define it as) plus her assets she brought into the marriage (ok — civil courts do that too) less “perot” income from those assets (no woman, no civil court will agree to that) and any other “benefit” halacha gives to the husband.

    wont fly today.

    dont pick and choose. takanaot shu”m, but not the rest.

    • Yitzhak says:

      I was not advocating reimplementing the תקנות שו”ם, but merely noting that at least some previous communities were willing to explicitly acknowledge the possibility of a marriage’s catastrophic end in a pre-nuptial agreement.

  6. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    then put it into the ktubah.

    this was historically done, all the time. and will enforce the concept that the ktubah IS a pre-nup.

    however, when conservative jewry developerd the lieberman clause in the ’60s, the complete orthodox community rose up against it. yet it is identical to the revised prenup — its simply an arbitration clause.

    the pblm with the prenup is that it directs the case to a bet din that is inexperienced in divorce matters (or in litigation in general; its web site lists 15 cases heard in 18 months; dont go looking for that statistic — after that bet din’s secrtary general (mancal / mazkir) confirmed that statstic to me (“sounds about right” is a direct quote) he asked me how i got that number; i told him its on the web site . the next day, it was removed from the site.)

    the point is that the revised pre nup directs cases solely to a bet din that is a bet din in name only; actually, its just a get processor.

    therein lies the pblm (besides the issue of enforcement; that bet din (like many others) declines to enforce its own decisions.)

  7. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    should read
    therein lies the pblm (besides the issue of enforcement; that bet din (like many others) declines to cooperate in enforcing its own decisions, as a matter of (unwritten) policy.)

  8. NAB says:

    With the recent engagement of a prominent dayan in Lakewood who is known to approve of prenuptual agreements we may see an easing of Haredi resistance to the practice (at least in one case).

  9. DADA says:

    So can I assume Rabbi Shafran carries no life, home or car insurance?

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