Thursday, August 18, 2016

Israel's Rabbinical Courts Grapple With Unrealistic Marriage Contract Terms

In Israel, an interesting contract question is being increasingly faced by state rabbinical courts that have jurisdiction over divorce actions. Traditional Jewish marriage ceremonies involve the husband signing a ketubah, or Jewish wedding contract.  The traditional form of the ketubah  includes the pledge of a sum of money which must be paid to the wife upon the husband's death or upon divorce. (Background.) Again traditionally the amount was set at "200 zuz" which has been seen as equating to around $750 (US).  However it has become a custom in Israel for grooms to demonstrate their love for their bride by inflating the amount in the ketubah by large multiples.  That is background to this report yesterday from JTA on a request from Jerusalem's regional rabbinical court to the Chief Rabbinate to limit the practice by capping the amount that can be set out in the ketubah to 1 million Israeli shekels ($264,000 US):
The unusual request earlier this month follows a divorce in which a man’s ex-wife demanded he pay her 555,555 shekels — approximately $145,000 — because that was the sum he pledged to pay on his ketubah.... Her ex-husband argued that he made the pledge as a testament of his love and appreciation for her, not thinking it would be legally binding.....  
Many grooms pledge sums they cannot afford, attaching many zeros to the number 18 – which is associated with life because of Jewish numerology – or the 555,555 figure, which is especially popular among Sephardic Jews who believe it is lucky. The custom of reading out the ketubah to the wedding guests adds incentive to name high figures, which the court defined as unrealistic.
The panel of three rabbinical judges ... reviewing the divorce case in question was divided, with one judge ruling in favor of the ex-wife’s demand. But his colleagues were of the opinion that the ex-husband should not be made to pay the full sum[, and] finally awarded the woman the equivalent of $31,600 from her ex-husband, or 120,000 shekels.