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The Talmud in Gitten (84a) analyzes the validity of a get (divorce document) if there are strings attached. In the course of its analyses, the Talmud poses this question: What is the law if a man stipulates the divorce upon a condition that cannot be fulfilled? “You are divorced on condition that you ascend to the sky.” “You are divorced if you walk across the ocean.” Since these are conditions that cannot be fulfilled, it is considered according to the Talmud as if there was no stipulation, and the get is valid.

Then the Talmud asks what is the law if the husband requires the divorce to be valid only on condition that his wife eats pig, for example? Eating pig is doable, but it is forbidden; ascending to the sky or walking across the water is not doable. The answer to this query is a polemic in the Gemara. According to Abaayeh, any condition that requires a transgression of halacha is not a valid condition. Eating pig is as conceivable as walking across the ocean. Rava disputes this and argues that since it is physically possible for the condition to be fulfilled, even though it entails a prohibition, the get would be valid if and when the condition is fulfilled.


This seemingly esoteric and classically Talmudic argument has application to not just this hypothetical case. It is, as Rabbi Shalom Rosner explained, an outlook on life, arguably the outlook on life. It means giving halacha dominance in one’s worldview to the extent that our perception of reality is shaped by halacha. Two readily understandable examples would be the fact that kiddushin can render a woman who was permitted to marry any male now limited exclusively to her husband and forbidden to everyone else. Although everything remains the same, the halachic reality has changed. Another example would be that a sukkah wall is deemed kosher even if it does not fully reach up to the s’chach. The principle of gud asik extends the wall so that halacha sees a wall where there is no (full) wall. Again, a halachic creation which becomes reality.

The concept was never better explained than by the Rav, zt”l, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik in his work, Halakhic Man, which Rabbi Rosner invoked in his shiur to explain the opinion of Abbayeh. The Rav writes:

When halakhic man approaches reality, he comes with his Torah given to him from Sinai in hand. An entire corpus of precepts and laws guides him along the path leading to existence. The essence of the halakha, which was received from G-d, consists in creating an ideal world and cognizing the relationship between the ideal world and our concrete environment, in all its visible manifestations. There is no phenomenon, entity, or object in this concrete world which the a priori halakha does not approach with its ideal standard. Whatever you see, you see halakha.

When halakhic man comes across a spring bubbling quietly, he already possesses a fixed a priori relationship with this real phenomenon…. When halakhic man looks to the western horizon and sees the fading rays of the setting sun or to the eastern horizon and sees the first rays of dawn, he knows that this sunset or sunrise imposes upon him a new obligation and commandments… When halakhic man chances upon mighty mountains, he utilizes the measurements which determine a private domain, a sloping mound that attains a height of ten handbreadths; he explores every nook and cranny of physical biological existence; his deepest desire is not the realization of halakha but rather the ideal construction which was given to him at Sinai. And this ideal construction exists forever. The entire world is halakha.

It is unlikely that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, ever read the Rav’s essay, but the sobriquet and the concept were very much his essence. When enormous pressure was placed upon him to endorse a political party before an election, he refused to get entangled in a political issue for he feared that such involvement would disqualify him in certain quarters as an Ish Ha-Halacha – the title given to Reb Chaim Brisker, which he liked the most.

Here is an example to which I was privy. I was once troubled regarding a match I had arranged between a yeshiva student and a convert. I knew that if I apprised the boy of the girl’s background at the outset, chances were that he would be unwilling to date her. However, I was convinced that once they had met and gotten to know one another, the boy would realize how wonderful she was and would not reject her over extraneous factors.

I had reasoned that it was important to “stack the deck” as much as possible in this girl’s favor, but at the same time felt it was unfair to conceal information about her background from the boy until a commitment had already been made. I brought my dilemma to Reb Shlomo Zalman.

I could never have anticipated the Gaon’s reaction. He did not see any drawback at all in revealing that the girl was a convert. “On the contrary!” he said with genuine wonder. “Can you imagine how fortunate he would be? Tell him he would have the commandment to love the convert – every single day of his life!”

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Rabbi Hanoch Teller is the award-winning producer of three films, a popular teacher in Jerusalem yeshivos and seminaries, and the author of 28 books, the latest entitled Heroic Children, chronicling the lives of nine child survivors of the Holocaust. Rabbi Teller is also a senior docent in Yad Vashem and is frequently invited to lecture to different communities throughout the world.