Posted by Rabba Sara Hurwitz
I recently met with several women, who have spent the greater part of their professional lives advocating on behalf of agunot—women whose recalcitrant husbands refuse to grant a get. They came to me hoping discover the solution to the agunah problem. The plight of wives—and husbands for that matter—whose spouse callously withhold a writ of divorce is a traumatic experience. It is hard to believe that despite many attempts by Rabbis, and advocacy organizations to circumvent the agunah problem, there are many, many men and women who are suffering. I don’t have the solution, but perhaps together, with our varied voices paired with our religious and ethical conscience, we may discover the magic bullet.
Here’s a just a few of the existing band-aides that attempt to prevent couples from becoming agunot as well as release those who are currently chained to loveless marriages:
1. RCA prenuptial agreement
2. Heskem L’ Kavod Hadadi (the agreement of Mutual Respect)
3. Rabbi Emanuel Rackman’s Beit Din
4. Rabbi Michael Broyde’s Tripartite Pre-nuptial Agreement
5. Nullifying a marriage based on a technical defect in the wedding ceremony
1. The RCA prenuptial agreement includes a “binding arbitration agreement, whereby both the groom and bride accept the Beit Din of America as an arbitration panel, and is legally able to render any decisions relating to the get. The BDA prenup agreement proposes to compel a husband to give a get or pay $150 per day for each day that he refuses to grant her a bill of divorce.
A few problems that are embedded in this solution: any person who is very wealthy, mentally unstable or has absolutely no funds, and therefore nothing to lose may not be threatened by the monetary obligation, and simply ignore the bet din’s pleas. In addition, the women may refuse to accept the get in exchange for child custody, or other demands.
2. Another prenup, called the Heskem L’ Kavod Hadadi (the agreement of Mutual Respect) works much like the RCA prenup. However, both the bride and the groom obligate themselves to support the spouse, the amount ranging from $1500 per month to half his/her monthly net income.
While the Israeli agreement has potentially increased the financial burden on the recalcitrant spouse, there are cases where the recalcitrant party may simply ignore the financial obligation and continue to withhold the get without concern for the pain this action may cause.
3. A third, rather radical solution was proposed by Rabbi Emanuel Rackman in 1997. The rationale behind the Rackman court is that since “grave errors,” “mistakes,” or “salient defects,” underscore the marriages at issue, the wives’ initial consent to marry their husbands was marred, rendering the marriages void. Therefore, the Rackman Beit Dins have freed many chained spouses without the need for a get to be given by the husband to the wife.
There has been many critiques written on the Rackman courts, and despite the fact that it has the potential to alleviate the suffering of so many, Rackman’s court’s are not widely accepted by the Orthodox community. (see Rabbi J. David Bleich in his 1998 article entitled Kiddushei Ta’ut: Annulment as a Solution to the Agunah Problem). Rabbi Dr. Michel H. Broyde dismisses Rackman’s solution, saying that the Rackman court allows for the annulment of marriages based on defects in the husband that arose after the marriage was entered into—something that Rabbi Broyde feels is unfounded in the halakhic literature.
4. Rabbi Broyde has advocated for the annulment of marriages in cases where unknown to their wives, their husbands were homosexuals, impotent, epileptics, mentally ill or apostates when their wives married them. (based on heterim by Rav Moshe Feinstein and others). Rabbi Broyde has also proposed a Tripartite Pre-nuptial Agreement: authorizing the rabbinic court to void a marriage by communal ordinance; establishes that a consecutive fifteen-month period of separation is a condition to void the marriage; and appoints agents to give the get in the husband’s stead. This agreement has not yet been authorized by the Orthodox community.
5. Yet another proposed solution that could free agunot is finding a defect with the marriage ceremony. If the wedding did not fit the halakhic requirements of kiddushin, then the marriage could be annulled. Some even advocate to purposefully introduce a technical error into the wedding ceremony—having a non-observant witness, for example. While this solution has its merits, it seems disingeneous to purposefully flaw the wedding ceremony.
So where des this leave us?
There should be no reason why any Rabbi officiating at a wedding does not insist that a couple signs a prenuptial agreement. Many of the agunah cases that have been resolved, have in large part been due to the binding prenuptial agreement. Yet, this is not enough. We must ask ourselves if there is a way to find a halahicly acceptable premise with which to accept the Rackman courts. If not, then we need to advocate for larger acceptance of Rabbi Broyde’s Tripartite Pre-nuptial Agreement, which it would seem would free many agunot, if employed. Or, perhaps, (and I am not sure how I feel about this) advocate for a small technical breech within the kiddushin ceremony.
Whatever the solution, let’s break the silence. Our community must galvanize together and raise a voice of moral conscience to advocate for the freeing of women who are currently agunot, as well as find solutions to prevent men and women from becoming chained to hateful, loveless marriages in the future.
Do you have the answer?
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July 22, 2009 | 3:14 am
Posted by Rav Yosef Kanefsky
There are many commitments we renew as the Jewish calendar year goes round. And we’re sincere and serious about most of them. These include the commitment to repent every time Tishrai comes around, to remember the lessons of the Exodus every Nisan, to personally receive the Torah anew every Sivan. But there is one commitment on the annual cycle that is a near-total charade. We pay it reverent lip service, but few if any of us have any idea what we even mean by it. And we certainly don’t harbor any actual intention of following through on it. This is the commitment we renew every Av to achieving “achdus”, Jewish fraternal unity. And it’s probably the biggest farce of the year.
It’s not that we don’t dream of all Jews getting along and serving God together. Our enduring iconic image is that of the children of Israel camped at the foot of Sinai “k’ish echad, b’lev echad”, as one person with one heart. It is rather that our Orthodox community has so vague a concept as to how “achdus” is to be achieved, that we more or less know that we are mouthing empty words when we rhapsodize about its importance every year.
Who exactly are we out to achieve “achdus” with? The most cynical and painful answer is “with other Orthodox Jews”. This is a cynical answer, because it shrinks the exalted religious project of establishing Jewish fraternity, to a small fraction of itself - the fraction that requires the least amount of effort. It is painful, because it dismisses 90% of American Jewry as outliers to the brotherhood.
The more sincere response of course, is that we hope to achieve “achdus” with all Jews, and to together forge a meaningful, cohesive religious community. But the sentiment is exposed as an empty religious profession the moment we make any attempt to translate it into a practical course of action. Tragically, Jews who have lost or who have erased their connection to Judaism or to the Jewish people, have already signaled that they are not interested in being part of a cohesive religious community with us. This then leaves the vast numbers of Jews who affiliate with the Conservative, Reform, or other Jewish religious movements. As someone who has lived his whole life inside the Orthodox community, including the last 22 years in the Orthodox rabbinate, I feel confident in saying that our community is generally not interested in “achdus” with Jews who are committed to practicing and believing and raising their children as non-Orthodox Jews. We don’t want to fight with them of course. We even want to cooperate on matters of mutual interest as long as there is no religious entanglement involved in the cooperation. But we are most certainly not prepared to say that we are all part of one religious community. This would be considered a “granting of legitimacy” to non-Orthodox practices that we have been taught we must avoid. (And to say that we are all one religious community that consists of the Orthodox and “not-yet-Orthodox”, is not only wildly naïve and unrealistic, and not only offensive to the very Jews who we are proclaiming our “achdus” with, but is also not “achdus” at all. “Lying in wait” should never be confused with unity.)
I for one believe – and I know I am not alone – that we are at the historical moment when all Jews who love and who are connected to their Judaism, must learn to appreciate and admire the religious passion and commitments of other Jews. Of course we’ll disagree on all kinds of issues pertaining both to practice and to doctrine. But we together comprise the community that is holding fast to our Jewishness despite the lures of cultural assimilation and plain-old religious apathy. “Achdus” need not be a pipedream if we can let go of ideological battles that will never have any victories or victors, and instead embrace all of our comrades who are fighting the good fight to preserve, celebrate and sanctify Jewish life in this complex time and place.
Our month of Av commitment to unity and brotherhood need not be a farce. Our words need not be devoid of content. All that is required of us are some imagination, and a heart, like the Biblical Yosef’s, that truly seeks its brethren.
July 21, 2009 | 12:49 am
Posted by Rabbi Barry Gelman
Many people often claim that the Modern Orthodox Community lacks the commitment of the Chareidi community. After all, they argue, the Chareidi community is more engaged in Torah learning and seems more committed to regular Tefilla.
I recently had an experience that reminded me that Modern Orthodox Communities in America exhibit a high level of commitment to Torah and mitzvoth. While sharing Shabbat dinner with Rabbi Avichai Ronski, Chief Rabbi of the IDF, I shared with him the tuition cost in our local Modern Orthodox day school. Rav Ronski had no idea and was, needles to say, shocked.
The Modern Orthodox community is marked by extreme commitment to Jewish continuity. Many Modern Orthodox families spend upwards of $20,000 per child in tuition costs for day schools. Since many other families cannot afford tuition, many families make significant charitable contributions to these schools to allow for scholarships. These same families pay dues to their synagogues, contribute to Benin Akiva, Torah MitZion Kollel or a Yeshiva University Kollel and some even “invest” to make sure local kosher establishments continue to operate and provide kosher food.
Still there is more. Almost every Yeshivat Hesder, Israeli hospital, Israeli University and many other charitable organizations hold annual fund-raiser and many Modern Orthodox families participate very significantly in those efforts. The list goes on and on. There is a never-ending stream of causes, all of them good that are supported by Modern Orthodox Jews. It is important to note that many Modern Orthodox Jews contribute to Chareidi causes as well (why that is, is good material for another post).
All of this amounts to a picture of extreme commitment and devotion to Torah. These commitments and accomplishments should not be overlooked.
I am not suggesting that all is perfect in the Modern Orthodox community and I am aware of the challenges we face, but it is important to offer all of these details to highlight the level of commitment that exists in the Modern Orthodox community. Our communities should recognize where we can improve and build on the significant accomplishments and commitments that we exhibit.
July 20, 2009 | 12:33 pm
Posted by Rabbi Asher Lopatin
First I want to congratulate you for your fervor and unity in responding to those who are violating Shabbat by driving to Jerusalem on Shabbat and those who are intervening in family life in the Niturei Karta community by taking children to the hospital when they are emaciated and weighing 7 kg at two years old.
But, secondly, I want to tell you that from a Torah True perspective your reactions are the very opposite of what you should be doing. Your commitment to Torah and current events gave you an opportunity for a great Kiddush Hashem, and instead you have distanced thousands – if not millions – from Torah. Didn’t you consider that Chilul Hashem B’farhesia, publicly profaning God’s name, is such a great sin that it outweighed going out on a limb to protect parking lots from cars on Shabbat, or to protect a family that really seems like it was abusing its children? Do you think that there could never be child abuse in your community? And was it not worth bringing an emaciated child – even you agree that he was dangerously emaciated – to one of the world’s leading hospitals for a check-up? Do you agree that doctors’ have a role in our lives in making some physical and psychological determinations?
Rather than resorting to violent riots that have turned off even people sympathetic to your love for Shabbat and the integrity of the family, you should have copied God the way we are supposed to: with love and kindness – midot hachesed – the loving traits of God. Wouldn’t it have been far more effective to have shown up at the parking lot on Shabbat with grape juice and challah rolls and offered people driving into Yerushalayim the ability to celebrate Shabbat just a little? Had you offered them cholent and kugal, don’t you think word would have gotten out that Shabbat is a beautiful thing? After all, these people driving into Jerusalem are choosing to spend Shabbat in the Holy City, not at the beach in Tel Aviv or Ashkelon! We all need to think of how we can reach out to our brothers and sisters even when they are sinning in our eyes, and rather than making them park dangerously all around Jerusalem, endangering pedestrians who are not violating Shabbat, make them realize that you are willing to interrupt your Shabbat to spend some time with them! Maybe the next time some of them would be willing to drive into Jerusalem on Friday night, spend the night in a hotel – even an Arab hotel in the Old City! – and experience a full Shabbat in Jerusalem. Why didn’t you suggest to the city that parking overnight in Jerusalem – from Friday night till Shabbat is over – should be made free, to encourage people to drive in before Shabbat? All these moves would have made Jerusalem, Shabbat and the religious way of life something beautiful, not ugly – God’s name would be glorified, not sullied by the dirty rubbish that you have been throwing at city workers.
Rather than rioting against what seems to be saving of a child’s life – piku’ach nefesh – didn’t you question for a moment what is going on? What are the names of Chareidi organizations that protect children – and spouses – from abuse? The Chareidi community in America has such organizations which serve the entire Jewish community – have you set up yours? I haven’t seen them involved or consulted. No, instead of blaming Hadassah hospital, the doctors and the media of a conspiracy, maybe you should begin a process of coming clean and accepting that domestic abuse occurs in all types of communities – from the most religious to the most secular, Jewish and non-Jewish. And that sometimes the police and the authorities have to be brought in to protect children and spouses. That would be the appropriate response, one that would be a Kiddush Hashem, which would win the respect of Jews and non-Jews for Torah and for Judaism.
My brothers and sisters in the Chareidi community: God’s name is not sanctified by you showing how much political muscle you have to close parking lots, to maintain the ‘status quo’, or to show that you can do whatever you like to your kids without the authorities intervening: that’s not the way to sanctify God’s name, or even your name. The way to Kiddush Hashem is for all of us to place God and God’s kindness above our own agendas, and to show that we are willing to sacrifice even your own serenity on Shabbat, our own control over our families, in order to protect the weak and make God’s name something beautiful and desirable, not something which people cannot run away from fast enough.
July 17, 2009 | 4:20 am
Posted by Rabbi Hyim Shafner
The Mishna in Berachot (53b) states: “With regard to one who ate a meal and forgot to say the bircat hamazon (grace after meals), Bais Shamai says they must return to their place and say the grace, Bais Hillel says they should say grace in the place they are when they remember.”
The Talmud on this Mishna comments: “We learned in a Berita (an uncannonized Mishna), Bais Hillel said to Bais Shamai, “According to your opinion, if one ate on top of a hill, are you saying they would they have to climb back up to recite the grace after meals?” Replied Bais Shamai to Bais Hillel, “If someone forgot their wallet on top of a hill would they not climb back up for it? If one would return up the hill for their own honor, for the honor of heaven how much more so should they.”
This is an interesting and surprising argument between Bais Shamai and Bais Hillel. Isn’t Bais Shamai right? If we would go back up the hill for ourselves, should we not return to say the grace after meals for God? What is Bais Hillel’s reason for disagreeing with Bais Shami’s opinion?
The following piece of Talmud (Betza 15a) may shed some light: “They say about Shami the elder that all his days he would eat in honor of the Shabbat. If he found a nice animal one day he would say, “This one is to eat for Shabbat.” The next day if he found another one that was better than the first he would put aside the second one to save for Shabbat and eat the first animal. But Hillel the elder had a different path, all of his deeds were for the sake of heaven, as it says in the verse, “Bless god each day.”
Though Hillel and Shami were both great sages they had very different takes on how to live a Jewish life. To elucidate I will rewrite the preceding two arguments in the form of a conversation.
Bais Hillel: You can bench (say grace after meals) wherever you remember.
Bais Shami: No, you must bench where you ate.
BH: That may be better, but I’m sure you don’t really believe that, for, what if someone ate on a hilltop, surely you would not ask the person to schlep back up the mountain to bench?
BS: Wouldn’t you do that for your wallet? So certainly you should for God’s honor; to bench!
BH: Who says this is about honoring God by schlepping? Maybe we honor God by benching well, not after sweating up a mountain (with Yiddish accent)!
BS: Eating is very physical, Shabbat is holy, let us use the holiness of Shabbat to sanctify even the weekday meal.
BH: God is right here, everywhere, in every step, in every meal, not just on Shabbat and not just back up on the mountain top. God must be an inherent part of our everyday lives!
BS: It’s better to go back up the mountain to bench….
BH: No, it’s better to let people bench and have some kavanah and not hock them to climb back up a hill…
BS: Climbing back up a hill is a great religious act since it enables one to bench in the best way. Shouldn’t we make that sacrifice for a mitzvah?
BH: No, benching is a great religious act since by it we thank God for our food. Yom Kippur for instance or giving up one’s life for the sanctification of God’s name, these are acts of sacrifice, benching though is thanking god for our everyday food in our everyday, real lives. God is already a part of that. Its what benching is.
BS: We fundamentally see religion and the way in which it can effect life differently, don’t we?
BH: Yes we do, at least we agree about that.
Both opinions are the word of the Living God, but the halacha (the law, the path) follows Bais Hillel, (Aruvin 13b).