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29 Sivan 5765 - July 6, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Eliashiv Protests Improper Methods Of Coercion In Gittin

by Betzalel Kahn

Letters of Rav Eliashiv and Rav Miller

A number of serious incidents have sparked a stormy debate among the halachic authorities of America and gedolei haTorah have asked HaRav Eliashiv to express his opinion. He responded, "They have permitted married women to remarry contrary to Torah law Rachmono litzlan . . . I join the aforementioned rabbonim and geonim in protesting this breach in the ranks of Beis Yisroel. It is quite clear that any discussion about coercing a husband to grant a get should only be held in a beis din composed of rabbonim who are expert Torah scholars, that has an established reputation and whose authority the public accepts."

The furor currently rocking American Jewry has long since spread beyond America and Canada. It has now reached Eretz Yisroel, where the opinion of HaRav Y. S. Eliashiv was sought with the intention of preventing serious damage to the yichus of the Jewish people through the activities of American rabbinical figures who have been scandalously granting married women permission to remarry on the basis of gittin obtained by coercion.

"The situation in America is absolutely terrible in this respect; it is possibly worse than the case of the mamzerim that took place in Eretz Yisroel around thirty years ago," says a pained HaRav Shlomo Eliyahu Miller, Rosh Kollel and Av Beis Din of Kollel Toronto, Canada, in a special interview with Yated Ne'eman. HaRav Miller has undertaken the task of rectifying the situation in order to avert tragic long-term consequences.

Several weeks ago Rav Miller sent HaRav Eliashiv a letter to which many American gedolei Torah and halachic authorities affixed their signatures: HaRav Eliyahu Levin, Rosh Kollel Choshen Mishpot of Lakewood, HaRav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, rosh yeshivas Lakewood, HaRav Eliyahu Dov Wachtfogel, rosh yeshivas South Fallsburg, HaRav Meir Hershkowitz, rosh yeshivas Stanford, HaRav Yechiel Tauber Av Beis Din of Kollel Machon Hora'ah of Monsey and HaRav Dovid Shustal, rosh yeshivas Lakewood.

The issue under discussion — serious practices involving gittin, to the point where married women have been permitted to remarry while they are halachically not yet divorced.

The text of HaRav Miller's letter reads:

"To his honor, Maran . . . HaRav Eliashiv,

I am writing to Maran with a request that we hear his opinion on a matter of the utmost importance. Untenable things have already been done in America to free married women through coerced gittin after a beis din convened and deliberated in the husband's absence and ruled that he should be coerced, though he was not present (even in a case where he was agreeable to appearing before another beis din that the woman's side did not want to go to).

"Maran has already ruled that no discussion should take place in the absence of the parties, following the ruling of the Shach in Choshen Mishpat siman 13:8. Such a get [extracted after an unlawful discussion] is therefore an unlawfully coerced get, even if there were halachically valid reasons for the coercion. In fact, it seems that the coercion itself was carried out unlawfully, apart from the [problem of the] discussion about it having been held in the husband's absence, in that they conduct their deliberations in secret and do not reveal their reasons for [allowing] the coercion. Now everything is done in secret, without [even] revealing the name of the beis din that permitted the coercion.

"If we do not issue a public declaration stating that no discussion on [implementing] the law of coercing the husband may be held in his absence, the time will soon come when it will be considered permissible to do just that. We will have a situation where it will be absolutely impossible to repair the breach. The situation in America with regard to permitting married women to remarry is dreadful. Irresponsible individuals dissolve the serious prohibition of a married woman's entering into another relationship on the basis of retroactive dissolution of her first marriage, invoking all kinds of feeble supports as well as by issuing rulings in the husband's absence that he should be coerced and by invoking a whole range of weak arguments.

"I am therefore asking Maran his opinion, to be issued as a notice in a similar form to the above, announcing publicly that any and all rulings to coerce the husband that beis din issued in his absence are unlawful and have no validity, to be signed by roshei yeshiva and rabbonim who obey the Torah's call.

"I close with blessing to . . . that HaKodosh Boruch Hu should lengthen his days with goodness and pleasantness."

The American and Canadian rabbonim sent the letter to HaRav Yitzchok Sheiner, rosh yeshivas Kamenitz, and asked him to visit HaRav Eliashiv and hear his verdict on the matter. HaRav Sheiner told us last week that HaRav Eliashiv wrote a letter supporting the position of the American rabbonim. After giving the matter extensive consideration, HaRav Eliashiv sent his reply to the American and Canadian rabbonim. He wrote:

"The gaon HaRav Shlomo Eliyahu Miller and the rabbonim and geonim with him wrote to me about the terrible breach whereby people who are not fit to do so, presume to become involved in coercing the giving of gittin and that there have already been cases where they have ruled that the husband should be coerced when he has not been there to hear the case against him, and they have unlawfully permitted married women to remarry Rachmono litzlan. They have asked me to join them in publicly protesting this breach.

"I join the above rabbonim and geonim in this protest against the breach in the ranks of Beis Yisroel. It is quite clear that any discussion about coercing a husband to grant a get should only be held in a beis din composed of rabbonim who are expert Torah scholars, that has an established reputation and whose authority the public accepts."

What has led to this uproar? Have matters in America really reached the point where rabbonim permit married women to remarry on the basis of gittin that have been unlawfully obtained?

"The letter only contains a small example of the terrible state of affairs in America," HaRav Shlomo Miller told us, in a special call to Yated Ne'eman from Toronto. "Various people exert pressure to permit agunos [women who are separated from their husbands but are still lawfully married to them] to remarry in such a way that it is done in a very serious manner, without witnesses."

America is no exception to the problem of husbands deserting their homes and leaving their wives agunos for many years — an issue that plagues Jewish communities the world over. The phenomenon is sadly a familiar one in many places and very forceful means are employed for dealing with it. In Eretz Yisroel for example, the botei din are assisted by the secular authorities in dealing with husbands who refuse to release their wives. This has been successful, to the point where the number of agunos has been reduced to a minimum with the entire procedure being carried out according to halochoh and under the beis din's authority, as required by the Shulchan Oruch and the poskim.

There are also a number of very special Yidden who devote all their time to tracing husbands who have vanished. They have succeeded in tracking down dozens of such men across the world and through ad hoc sessions of beis din have managed to persuade them to grant a get to their wives.

In America, some rabbinical parties have found "simpler" ways of freeing agunos. A number of cases that have taken place over the past few years have drawn tremendous protests against the methods employed, as the letters on this page show. These parties have "discovered" two ways of "freeing" agunos, enabling them to move on with their lives and remarry. According to halochoh however, as HaRav Eliashiv has ruled, such divorces and methods of permitting the women lack any halachic basis and have thus been a means of permitting women who in reality remain married to their first husbands according to halochoh, to marry other men.

One device that they employ to free agunos is to look for ways to invalidate the original kiddushin by "discovering" that it was contracted on the basis of a mistaken assumption. Many such cases have come to light in recent years, prompting HaRav Miller to express himself in the strongest terms.

"I have the record of the words of a dayan in a beis din about such a case — absolutely shocking! — he writes that there was an act of kiddushin but that it was `mistaken kiddushin'! There is no doubt however, that it was not so. It's nonsense. One of the `rabbis' who permitted many agunos to remarry on the basis of the kiddushin having been mistakenly contracted used to be a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, which in my opinion is a worse organization than the Mizrachi. When a complaint was lodged with the RCA about his use of the mekach to'us trick, they were in no hurry to expel him. They only fired him when stories started coming in about other shameful things that he'd done. These are absolutely terrible things.

"Someone wrote that a woman was permitted to remarry without a get because after the husband had been gone for fifteen years he was undoubtedly dead. The woman concerned had once been part of the Torah community but had drifted away over the years. But what kind of rov gives such rulings? HaRav Eliashiv's ruling states quite clearly that no discussion can be held about coercing a husband to give a get so long as he is not present. These people are doing the very worst things. Who knows what will be in thirty years time? If we don't stop the trend now the situation could get a lot worse."

Rav Miller notes the uproar that surrounded Goren's permitting mamzeirim to marry thirty years ago. The vehement protests at the time ensured that nothing like this happens today in Eretz Yisroel. "In America today though, everyone does what he wants. There are rabbonim who say quite explicitly that they do whatever they want. There is no accounting and no accountability. Each of these American rabbonim, who are motivated by various factors (e.g. financial — B.K.) imagine that they have the authority of the Beis Din Hagodol whereas they are in fact doing worse things than Goren did."

Again and again in the course of our conversation, Rav Miller reiterates Maran's ruling that no discussion about coercion can take place in the husband's absence. "If it's not possible to have the hearing in his presence, that means that the get cannot be extracted through coercion."

The American rabbonim who have signed the letter intend to add the signatures of all the rabbonim of America and Canada to it, in order to exert pressure on the parties who are acting contrary to halochoh. If their plan succeeds and these activities cease, it will be a great improvement. Many rabbonim agree with the letter and this has already brought pressure to bear on the parties concerned.

"In the days following the dispatch of my letter to HaRav Eliashiv, one of the relevant parties heard that the letter had been sent and he immediately refrained from allowing the giving of a get that had been obtained through coercion when the husband had not been present at the discussion," notes HaRav Miller.

We asked Rav Miller whether it might become necessary to open separate genealogical records in view of the current practices that have become so much more common in recent years. By way of reply, he pointed out that many have recently been thinking that such a step needs to be taken in Eretz Yisroel in view of the attempts to assimilate gentiles into the Jewish population through fictitious conversions. "But in a large place like America it would be extremely difficult to do so," he added, "for various reasons, one of which is a ruling of the Rema concerning baalei teshuvoh. When Eliyohu Hanovi comes he will render everyone fit. Until then, we must be on our guard to ensure that there is an absolute end to steps that are contrary to halochoh, as HaRav Eliashiv states in his ruling."


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