Dr. Rachel Levmore: Respecting the Prenup

Dr. Rachel Levmore, alumna of the Department of Talmud at Bar-Ilan University, has dedicated her career to promoting the status of women in all aspects of marital life. One of the significant transformations she created is the establishment of “The Mutual Respect Agreement” – a prenuptial financial agreement.

 

Dr. Rachel Levmore is an accomplished academician and author, and one of Israel’s first female rabbinical advocates. She is a public activist, working with the Young Israel movement to help Agunot (women “chained” to their marriage) be released from their vows, and is a popular lecturer in this field.

 

Her book, Spare your Eyes Tears -Complete Guide to Orthodox Jewish Pre-Nuptial Agreements-The Halakhic Prenuptial Agreement for Mutual Respect and Prenuptial Agreements for the Prevention of Get-Refusal is both an academic and halahic essay, published in 2009. Levmore was recently appointed by the Secretary of Justice Tzipi Livni to the national committee for the selection of  Dayanim (judges in the Jewish religious courts).

 

Levmore immigrated to Israel from the US in 1976, and acquired a BA in chemistry. When she was 38, she decided to make a career change and entered the Training Program for Female Rabbinical Advocates at Ohr Torah Stone. “I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into,” she recounts, “but I knew it was Torah studies on an academic level, and I thought I might be able to help fellow women. My goal -- to help Jewish women realize their potential within the framework of religious life -- stems from the value of human dignity. Back in 1995, when I started out as one of the first female rabbinical advocates in Israel, I was assigned complex cases of Agunot and Mamzerim (children born to married women by another man), that took years to resolve.”

 

During that time Levmore also began studying for an MA at Bar-Ilan. Her thesis focused on prenuptial agreements aimed to prevent “Seruv Get” (husbands refusing to divorce their wives) in 20th century Israel. She followed with PhD studies that took nine years to complete, as she was working to release Agunot from their marital contracts, and promote the Prenuptial Agreement for Mutual Respect initiative.

 

In the late 1990’s, together with leading rabbinical experts, Levmore formulated the Agreement, which she defines as “a financial prenup providing a negative incentive for both spouses to refuse a Get request. This is an evenly balanced, mutual contract, since both parties may face a Get refusal and need legal protection.”

 

So how do you convince two young people in love to discuss the future possibility of divorcing?

 

“We offer three important factors for them to weigh – one, that though it might not be relevant to them, it might happen to someone else, and they can give an example of doing it right. The second is personal security. It might happen. Protect yourselves. The third is particularly relevant to religious couples – having a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a historic change in halachic processes.”

 

Levmore stresses that from the halachic point of view, this agreement actually strengthens the Jewish family unit. Some divorces can’t be prevented, but all Get-refusal cases are an all-out war, with devastating consequences on all family members. “The children suffer, and when it is over, the parents are still on bad terms. They, too, will be traumatized by the refusal, which might deter them from remarrying. Additionally, when a women is an Agunah, she is not permitted to have children according to halacha, which is also an important Mitzvah. This mutual respect agreement, though it deals with divorce, forces them to separate in a respectful, relatively peaceful way, which makes the whole process much easier on everyone involved.”