Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Talmud (Ketubot 9b; Shabbat 56a) relates, “Whoever goes off to war with the house of David writes a bill of divorce to his wife.” These “wartime gittin” were written to prevent one’s wife from becoming an agunah, literally a chained woman unable to remarry, in the event that her husband goes missing in action. Some explain that this was also done to obviate the need of chalitzah, should her husband die in battle and leave a brother who may be unreachable or unwilling to perform chalitzah (See Ba’al HaTurim to Bamidbar 32:21).

There is a dispute as to the nature of such a get. According to Rashi, this get was conditional and effective retroactively. Upon the death of the husband, the get would take effect from the moment it was written (Ketubot 9b, s.v. get keritut; Shabbat 56a, s.v. get keritut). But according to Rabbeinu Tam, the get was unconditional and effective immediately (Tosafot to Ketubot 9b, s.v. kol hayotzei; Shabbat 56a, s.v. get keritut). According to this view, the husband would remarry his wife upon his return from war (Tosafot to Gittin 73b-74a, s.v. amar).


And throughout Jewish history, gittin were written by soldiers before going off to war.

As a conditional get is shrouded in controversy, many poskim preferred instead a conventional get. Rabbeinu Yechiel Mi-Paris even isued a takanah that an individual on his deathbed write his wife a conventional get and not a conditional get (See Mordechai, Gittin 423, s.v. v’rabbeinu yechiel; Rema, Even HaEzer 145:9; Aruch HaShulchan, Even HaEzer 147:11). The Maharsha (Gittin 90b, s.v. l’maan yeidu) explains that this takanah is consistent with the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam, that soldiers going off to war would write a standard, conventional get to their wives.

In light of this, a number of contemporary poskim advocated the writing of a standard, conventional get during the wars of the last century (See Teshuvot Ivra, 80; L’ohr HaHalacha, new edition, pp. 64-83). Others ruled that before leaving for war a husband should appoint a Sofer to write the get, witnesses to sign it, and a shaliach to deliver the get on his behalf should he not return from battle (See Minchat Elazar 3:68; Divrei Malkiel 4:156; Heichal Yitzchak, Even HaEzer 2:35-41). Rav Moshe Feinstein added that the husband also leave a conditional get with the beit din (Igrot Moshe, Even HaEzer 4:111).

During Israel’s War of Independence, Chief Rabbis Rav Yitzchak HaLevi Herzog and Rav Meir Ben Zion Chai Uziel tasked the newly appointed Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Rav Shlomo Goren, with ordering all married soldiers to sign an authorization form before going off to battle, appointing a shaliach to give their wives a get should they not return. But Rav Goren had his concerns, and the order was not carried out.

Rav Goren was eventually summoned to a meeting of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, where he explained his concerns. Rav Goren was concerned that if a soldier is ordered to write his wife a get, such a get may be considered a get me’usah, given out of coercion or under duress, and invalid. He was also concerned about the toll it may take on family life, as the authorization of such a get may cause a soldier to be unfaithful to his wife while away at war. Another concern for Rav Goren was morale. Rav Goren felt that signing such an authorization before going off to war, recognizing that he may not return, would be a devastating blow to a soldier’s morale. There was also a concern that soldiers themselves would not comply with the order, as their widows and children may be denied benefits in the event of the soldier’s death, as the couple was technically divorced at the time of death (See Rav Goren’s Meishiv Milchamah, vol. 1, Sha’ar 1 and his article, “Takanat HaAgunot Shel Milchemet HaShichrur,” published in Mazekeret L’zecher HaRav Herzog, pp. 162-194).

Yet another concern for Rav Goren, as well as other poskim, was a soldier returning home from battle on furlough. Living with his wife would appear to undermine the husband’s intent to divorce his wife and thereby nullify the get. According to some, a new get would have to be authorized each and every time he returns before going off to war again (See Heichal Yitzchak, Even HaEzer 2:35-41. See also Tzitz Eliezer 11:90 and Igrot Moshe, Even HaEzer 4:111).

The Council of the Chief Rabbinate listened to Rav Goren’s arguments and decided to look for other ways to prevent women from becoming agunot during wartime. Rav Goren describes the great lengths taken to allow women to remarry, including the taking of testimony from enemy combatants and Arab shepherds. Over the decades, the status-quo has remained that the IDF does not require their married soldiers to write or authorize wartime gittin, but such authorizations are available through the IDF and other batei din.

During the current conflict, especially in light of the many soldiers captured and held hostage by Hamas, there has been renewed interest in writing wartime gittin. When asked, Rav Asher Weiss expressed his concerns, given all the potential problems that may creep into a conditional get, and even an authorization, as discussed above. Instead, he offered his blessings that soldiers need not write a get, as Hashem will surely return them home safely.

Today, thanks to advancements in science and technology, it is easier to prevent agunot, reducing the pain and suffering of wartime widows. Our hope and prayer is that our soldiers return home safely and speedily and that this entire discussion be halacha v’lo l’ma’aseh – merely theoretical and not practical.

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articlePoison Ivy: Too Smart For Their Own Good?
Next articleIsrael Through The Parashot
Rabbi Shimshon HaKohen Nadel lives and teaches in Jerusalem, where he serves as mara d'atra of Har Nof's Kehilat Zichron Yosef, rosh kollel of the Sinai Kollel and Kollel Boker at Hovevei Zion, and lectures at the OU Center.