Unchaining the chained


When Orlee Turitz married 22 years ago, she and her husband signed an agreement to make sure that if their marriage didn’t work, she would be given a Jewish divorce right away and not become an agunah (chained woman).

“We had one of the first prenuptial agreements,” said the Kemp Mill woman. However, she said, by today’s standards, her prenuptial isn’t “sufficient. It didn’t have one of the most important clauses.” She was referring to a clause which spells out that a man getting a divorce from his wife would grant her a Jewish divorce, a get, in a timely fashion or be ordered in civil court to pay a daily fine. “That is sort of the stick,” she said.

Orlee and Joey Turitz plan to join other couples in a post-nuptial signing event sponsored by Kemp Mill Synagogue that will be held Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at the Kosher Pastry Oven in the Kemp Mill Shopping Center.

The event is being billed as a first of its kind in the Washington, D.C., area and is “designed to prevent and raise awareness of the issue of agunot — when a man refuses to give his ex-wife a get so she can remarry and move on with her life,” explained Sharon Mazel, a synagogue member. Signing the agreement “will reaffirm the couple’s commitment to never do harm to each other in the case of divorce,” she said.


Participating couples will fill out and sign a three-page binding arbitration agreement from the Beth Din of America that commits the former husband and wife to go before that Jewish court to settle their dispute. The document, which includes sections on financial penalties and parenting disputes, will then be notarized on the spot.

Turitz said that if every married couple had a signed agreement, the incidents of a woman not being able to remarry, have children or go on with her life, will greatly be diminished. She said she plans to make sure all of her four children obtain a prenuptial agreement before they marry.

“Absolutely, it will be a necessity,” she said. Withholding a get “turns Jewish values on their head. A Jewish marriage is a holy commitment. For anybody to turn that into a weapon, that is not acceptable,” she said.

Even though Barry and Betsy Starr have been married 42 years, they too plan to sign a postnuptial agreement this weekend. All three of their sons are married and already have signed agreements. The oldest son is a pulpit rabbi in Atlanta who, just like Kemp Mill Synagogue’s Rabbi Jack Bieler, will not conduct a wedding unless the couple has a prenuptial agreement, she said.

“We want to support things that are in our family and support the whole concept,” Barry Starr said.

The binding agreement is a legal document that tells a man he can’t hold his wife hostage, Betsy Starr said. While she said she has no fears that her husband would ever withhold a get if their marriage dissolved, signing a binding document shows support for all, she said.

When the Starrs married, they “didn’t have one. It was absolutely unheard of,” she said.

The Kemp Mill communal signing is intended for married couples who never signed a prenuptial agreement, who can no longer locate their agreement or who never had their agreement notarized. Those signing such an agreement, along with others attending in support, will then celebrate with food and music.

Copies of the signed agreements will be given to the couples as well as the beit din and Rabbi Bieler.

To register, call Kemp Mill Synagogue or go to their website at kmsynagogue.org. There is no charge.

While the event is clearly aimed at married couples, those participating are hoping a strong message will go out to those about to be married concerning the importance of signing a prenuptial agreement. A goal of this event is “to foster a culture where entering into a halachic pre-nuptial agreement is a routine part of the marriage process for every Orthodox couple,” it states in the literature about the upcoming event.

The Orthodox community in Silver Spring is no stranger to this issue. Aharon Friedman and Tamar Epstein, who lived in Silver Spring while married, have made national news during the five years that Friedman has refused to give a get to his former wife, whom he married in April 2006. The couple had a daughter in November 2007 and then separated in March 2008. They received a civil divorce in April 2010. Epstein currently lives in the Philadelphia suburbs.

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