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The following letter was sent in response to Pidyon Shevuyim: Redeeming The Agunah, a column by Cheryl Kupfer (12-21 On Our Own):
Thank you for your voice of concern in your recent article in The Jewish Press, entitled Pidyon Shevuyim. You are obviously a selfless woman to be publicly involved in the deplorable situation of agunot. I would like to add another viewpoint, one that is unlikely to be received kindly in the frum world, but necessary for me to share.
Throughout the years, I have read many leaflets and articles, heard radio programs and speeches about how to isolate the misfit husbands who insist on chaining women. Sometimes the blame is put on the husbands, sometimes on the rabbis, sometimes on the community, and even sometimes on the agunot themselves. I see it differently…. I see the blame squarely on the Torah itself.
It is the Torah that Jews have held dear throughout the millennia, the Torah that helps us through our troubles and shines light into our lives, the Torah from G-d at Sinai that chains women. It is these ancient halachot that do not allow a woman to divorce her husband; only a man can divorce his wife. This highlights the inferior status of women in halacha. You can try to put a band-aid on appendicitis, but it won’t work.
Some people say, “Well, in the old days, rabbonim used to beat a husband nearly to death to force a get.” This is irrelevant since it cannot be done today. Or, as you state article, “When a get wasn’t forthcoming, the husband became an outcast–a pariah…until he granted a divorce.” This is also not a solution, since today a man can be self-sufficient and ignore the pressure of a community.
The halachos of gittin do not jive with modern day thought, in societies where women expect to be treated as citizens with rights. The pain of the agunah is actually a product of the Torah, as I stated earlier. In ancient societies men dominated women. We cannot blend Torah into every aspect of modern day life, as much as we would like to. It cannot always be done. The only real answer would be if a woman could give a get to a man. If he doesn’t accept it, she should be able marry a second husband. Just like a man can do—marry with heter meah rabbonim.
Sincerely, Joyce Lieberman Queens, NY
Rabbi Ozer Glickman, Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS was kind enough to respond to the letter writer.
When Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi, whose teachings continue to illuminate and uplift, lamented the neglect of the Torah, the great Amora and Darshan supplied us with one of the most inspiring statements of the purpose-driven life of B’nai Torah. c day a Bas Kol, a heavenly voice, issues from Har Chorev, declaring, “Oy lahem la-b’riyos mei-elbonah shel Torah, The insult of the Torah is a calamity for all God’s creatures.”
The Torah-driven life is an opportunity, Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi explains, for the Jew to achieve true freedom, as the Torah teaches us: “v’ha-michtav michtav Elokim hu charus al ha-luchos (the script was the script of the Lord engraved on the tablets). Al tikrei charus elah cheirus (Read not ‘engraved’ but ‘freedom’).” If a Jew must come to the defense of the Torah when it is neglected in the Beis HaMidrash, how much more so when it stands accused of being not the source of freedom but its polar opposite.
The plight of the agunah, the chained woman, has been a primary concern for poskim and rabbonim for centuries. This includes not the only the case of the abused wife whose husband willfully withholds a get but the tragic cases of husbands who have disappeared in war, natural calamities, and most recently in a terror attack. While the successful procurement of a get from a recalcitrant husband has been for me sublimely satisfying, the anguish I feel for the women I have not been able to assist is deep and abiding.
The vast majority of the cases I have encountered involve recalcitrant husbands who seek to punish their wives by withholding the opportunity to remarry. On occasion, the wife may have received, almost always from a secular court, what appears to her husband to be an inequitable division of community property or unrealistic custody agreements. In these cases, the husband can exercise his power by refusing his wife a get.
No matter how wronged the husband may consider himself to be, exploiting the Torah as an instrument of pain is evil. It results in elbonah shel Torah, the insult of the Torah, as we have read in the letter.
It is not, of course, the Torah that is causing the pain but the husband himself. Evil people or even just resentful people seeking revenge can exploit a complex legal system to hurt others. This is a characteristic of every legal system in the world.
What should be done about it? The suggestions offered in the letter are misguided and unworkable. Kiddushin as defined by the Torah is a basic feature of halacha that cannot be controverted. Deliberately subverting it renders it meaningless. What we require is a solution that permits all Jewish women to enjoy a complete marital relationship with a loving husband and children.
More knowledgeable observers have, over the centuries, suggested more workable solutions. One of these was kiddushin al t’nai, conditional marriage. There is a vast literature on such solutions. Unfortunately, they proved unworkable, too.
So can anything be done short of abrogating the Torah, rachmana litzlan? Yes, there is a solution that has been approved by leading poskim, the Halachic Prenuptial Agreement. The Prenup has historical antecedents that go back centuries. Under the terms of the Prenup, the couple agrees to submit to the decision of Beis Din in the event their marriage effectively disintegrates. To my knowledge, in every case in which the Prenup has been properly filed with Beis Din, the agreement has done its job. For more information, you may visit theprenup.org or contact the Beth Din of America at +1-212-807-9042.
The Prenup is another example of Torah scholarship in service of Am Yisrael. Letters like this one are a reminder that Talmud Torah remains vital to prevent elbonah shel Torah and promote free and fulfilled lives for everyone.
About the Author: Rabbi Ozer Glickman is the Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS.
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