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Lieberman clause

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Kesubah

A modern Ketubah (Jewish wedding contract).

A Lieberman clause is a clause included in a ketubah, named after Talmudic scholar Saul Lieberman, that stipulates that divorce will be adjudicated by a modern Bet Din (rabbinic court) in order to prevent the problem of the agunah.

In the 1950s the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly worked on the agunah issue.

According to Halakha (Jewish law) when a couple gets divorced it is the man who has to present the woman with a bill of divorce, called a get. Without one the couple is still viewed as married, whether a civil divorce is obtained or not. In the past, if a woman was refused a divorce because a man would not give his wife a get, the rabbis of the local Jewish community were authorized, under certain circumstances, to force the husband to do so (e.g., his refusal to be intimate with his wife as well as not giving the get, or other such serious matters). However since the Haskalah, local Jewish communities lost their autonomous status, and were subsumed into the nation in which they existed. The Jewish community lost its civil powers to enforce marriage and divorce laws. The unintended result was that rabbis lost the power to force a man to give his wife a get, and Jewish law does not allow a woman to give a get to the husband. Without a get, a Jewish woman is forbidden to remarry and is therefore called an agunah (literally "an anchored woman").

For decades traditional voices within the Rabbinical Assembly counseled that Conservative Jews should take no unilateral action on this issue, and should wait for solutions from the Orthodox community, or joint action with the Orthodox community. While numerous solutions were offered, none were accepted. Eventually liberal voices within the Rabbinical Assembly won out, and the movement authorized unilateral action.

Lieberman developed what came to be called "the Lieberman clause", a clause added to the ketubah (Jewish wedding document). In effect it was an arbitration agreement used in the case of a divorce; if the marriage dissolved and the woman was refused a get from her husband, both the husband and wife were to go to a rabbinic court authorized by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and heed their directives, which could (and usually did) include ordering a man to give his wife a get. At the time this clause was proposed it had some support in the Orthodox community.

Orthodox Judaism has rejected the Lieberman clause as a violation of Jewish law. As such, it is only accepted as binding and valid in non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism.

This clause is still used in many ketubot (wedding documents) used by Conservative Jews today. However, in the intervening years there has been growing concern on the legal validity of this clause due to United States law on Separation of church and state; while this clause has been upheld in court, many rabbis are concerned that at some point in the future its binding legal nature may be denied. As such, the Rabbinical Assembly has since developed other solutions to the agunah issue which are now commonly used.

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