Males who refuse a Gett; an appropriate response

The Rabbinic Council of America again leads the way on this matter. The pioneering work by noted Posek, Rav Mordechai Willig on this matter, will now become compulsory for member Rabbis. Rav Willig had discussed his method with leading Rabbis around the world some years ago and received  their Halachic agreement. In Victoria, Australia, I understand there are some local legal impediments preventing this method ‘having teeth’. I trust that the RCV, the Rabbinic Council of Victoria are working overtime with both parties to make sure this is overcome. It is high time the Rabbanut in Israel enforced the same on all its Rabbis. I don’t know what other Rabbinic groups such as the Aguda opine, but given the number of very public issues in that sphere of late, it would be nice to see them follow suit.

The text of the RCA Resolution reads:

A Powerful Advance to Prevent Using Jewish Law to Cause Human Suffering

Sep 22, 2016 — “The Rabbinical Council of America today takes a major step forward toward alleviating the suffering of those who cannot successfully end marriages due to the refusal of one of the parties to participate in effecting a Jewish divorce,” said Rabbi Shalom Baum, president of the RCA. A resolution adopted by the RCA now requires “each of its members [to] utilize, in any wedding at which he is the officiant (mesader kiddushin), in addition to a ketubah, a rabbinically-sanctioned prenuptial agreement, where available, that aids in our community’s efforts to ensure the timely and unconditional issuance of a get.”

According to Jewish law, both the husband and the wife must participate willingly in the delivery and acceptance of a get, a Jewish divorce document, without which neither party can remarry. Most divorcing couples understand the need for the get, and are cooperative and respectful of the process. In some cases, however, one spouse inappropriately uses the get as a bargaining chip to gain concessions in other areas surrounding the divorce such as financial settlements or child custody, or as a tool to torment a former spouse. This is an abuse of Jewish law as well as a form of spousal abuse that uses religious practice as a tool of manipulation and control. A rabbinic tribunal often does not have the authority or capability of forcing a recalcitrant spouse to cooperate, and there are those whose marriages have functionally ended but who tragically cannot remarry due to their religious convictions. A woman who cannot remarry is referred to as an agunah; a man is an agun.

One effective way to prevent get-abuse is the “Halachic Prenup.” Drafted by Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Sgan Av Beth Din of the Beth Din of America and a Rosh Yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University, in consultation with halachic and legal experts, the Halachic Prenup has been advocated by the RCA since 1993. The agreement received wide-spread endorsement of leading rabbinic authorities in Israel and the United States, and is based on much older documents, dating back hundreds of years. This prenuptial agreement both designates the rabbinic forum in which claims for a get will be adjudicated and creates financial incentives for both parties to effect the Jewish divorce in a timely manner. There are other prenuptial agreements that are used as well.

Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, Director of the Beth Din of America maintains that “”we have seen, over and over again, that the existence of a halachic prenup dramatically changes the dynamics of contentious divorce cases and virtually eliminates the risk that the get will be improperly used as a tool for leverage or extortion.”

Rabbi Jeremy Stern, Executive Director of The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), a group that seeks to eliminate abuse from the Jewish divorce process and which was instrumental in drafting and advocating for this resolution, reports that in well over 1,000 contentious Jewish divorce cases with which his organization has been involved, “we have never seen a case of get-refusal in which the halachic prenup did not work. In numerous divorce cases in which the husband began to posture that he would refuse to issue a get, the halachic prenup secured the issuance of a timely and unconditional get.”

While until now the vast majority of RCA rabbis have counseled their congregants to enter into halakhic prenuptial agreements, and while many of them refused to officiate at weddings in which these documents were not first signed, this new resolution now requires all RCA-member rabbis to require the use of prenuptial agreements. There is reason to believe that this new mandate will help to prevent or alleviate many agunah cases. Most importantly, it will remove any perceived stigma associated with signing the agreement. Requiring rabbis to officiate only at weddings with halachic prenups eliminates the concern often expressed by about-to-be married couples that signing a prenup casts aspersions on their characters or their marriage.

With the adoption of this new resolution, signing the prenup is now no longer about the couple and the expectations that its rabbi has of them, but is about the rabbi and the professional standards that he must maintain. Rabbi Shalom Baum announced that the RCA will embark on a number of initiatives to help rabbis better implement this new mandate, as well as community programs to encourage the understanding and signing of prenups.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin, Vice President of the RCA said, “Seeing that there is a halakhic prenup at every wedding is everybody’s responsibility. Mothers and fathers should not walk their children to the chuppah unless a prenup has been signed. Friends should not let friends get married unless a prenup is signed.”

Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President of the RCA said, “Supporting members of the community and relieving their distress are among the top priorities of rabbis. If the definition of a religious scholar is one who increases peace in the world (Berachot 64a), then rabbis must certainly step into the forefront when use of halachically acceptable tools are available to prevent the abuse of the vulnerable. Otherwise, we forfeit our claim to the title ‘rabbi.’

Chalav Yisrael by Video Surveillance

Contrary to what many may have assumed, this issue, and allied issues of non direct eye-ball supervision, have pervaded in various guises in Halacha.

Some examples include:

  1. Testimony of the appearance of the new moon through a reflection (Rosh Hashono 24a. the Rambam 2:5 Kiddush Hachodesh and Acharonim)
  2. Sound waves for promulgation of Brachos or Megila reading (Igros Moshe (vol 2 and 4, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Minchas Shlomo 1:9), Minchas Elozor and more.
  3. Amen to a Brocho (Rav Kook in Orach Mishpot 48)
  4. Gett via webcam (Beis Yitzchok Even HoEzer 2:13)
  5. Photographs and Aguna (Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, Ein Yitzchok Even Hoezer Vol 1:31)
  6. “Digital witnesses” for Kiddushin (See Ketzos (241:1)
  7. Webcam based Chalitza to release a lady from marrying the brother of a dead husband (Shevus Ya’akov (Breish, 126)
  8. Brachos over Royalty via a TV (Chida 22 regarding through a glass view)
  9. Protection against Yichud

Consider though why one would do this in the context of Chalav Yisrael. Let’s assume, which it is according to some authorities (cf Chasam Sofer Yoreh Deah 107), a valid substitute for a human being watching the milking. Even Reb Moshe who is one of the two prime permissive positive rulings in respect of Milk from Companies, explicitly says that a Baal Nefesh, (someone who is extra punctilious) should be Machmir.

In Melbourne at least, and I assume throughout the world, it is mainly Chassidim who are careful and do consider themselves as Baalei Nefesh  not relying on the permissive rulings of the Chazon Ish and Reb Moshe Feinstein regarding government supervised milk. Those people, will follow their Poskim. Their poskim have shown in allied issues that they are often not prepared to rely on video surveillance as a halachic mechanism. Note: just as there is Chemical Halacha, Kashrus Chemistry, Shabbos Chemistry, there are also Kashrus stringencies. These are adopted by communal organisations so that there is a unified acceptable standard. On several occasions Rav Schachter of the OU disagreed with Rav Belsky ז’ל of the OU on matters of Psak, however, when it came to Paskening for the OU, something which a mega-community could rely on, they adopted the less inventive stance. This is sensible unless one wishes to branch off. Branching off may mean less supported Kashrus ends up not being accepted and then it creates situations where people are forced not to eat at houses where the non standard form of supervision or maverick schemes are adopted. A pirud, a limitation of joining one’s friends at the table ensues. This only benefits those non standardised more maverick supervisory bodies, many of which are also run as personal financial fiefdoms.

The only application I can think of is export. But those Hashgachos don’t export. Note, for example, if you go to Costco, you will find the plain Lay’s chips with an OU, but the barbecue do not have an OU. Instead the triangle K is the Hashgocho (this is also true of other products with Triangle K; be careful) . In general, the frum world does not trust the standards of the triangle K (and we don’t bring it in the house). It has a place. Where there is a need to find leniency so that people have access to food! This is similar to the law of Pas Palter, if you will.

Let us not forget that Chassidim ascribe a supernatural concern with ingestion of questionable milk and will be unlikely to consider compromise. The others simply rely on the Chazon Ish or Reb Moshe anyway!

I remain baffled by the motives behind the venture, its clientele, and the motive of those who seek such innovations when the prospective clientele are already the Baal Nefesh and won’t accept the Psak. Is this just grandstanding?