By Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld
The other night, I watched a YouTube video showing “dueling protestors” confronting one another during a rally called in Brooklyn. The controversy regarded the recent matter of Agunah and a subsequent Facebook campaign aimed at eliciting a Get for Tamar Friedman of Philadelphia. This is an ongoing controversy, and I will not use this space to comment on this matter in any way. I have little uncontroverted information at my disposal with which to offer any thoughts to Matzav readers. I would like however to talk about Get and Agunah in the context of future deliberations. I believe there is much that has yet to be resolved in how we as a community deal with this matter.
Everyone’s experience is shaped by what they have personally observed. For a number of years in my adult life I have been involved in divorce matters as both a Menahel of a Bais Din and, more recently, as a divorce mediator. I believe there are usually five reasons why a spouse (husband or wife; the cooperation of both is needed for a Get to take place) will not cooperate in the Get process:
1. The spouse is battling mental or emotional issues. In such cases, there is even a halachic question as to whether a get can take place until mental health is established. The family and friends of the affected party (or the ex-spouse himself or herself), need to assure that there is proper therapeutic intervention for the “patient”. This may delay the Get process but it is a tragic situation which rises to the level of “ones” or unintended non-cooperation.
2. There are times where the party whose cooperation is needed is simply feeling the effects of the trauma of a dissolved relationship. They will not withhold the Get indefinitely, but they request additional time to deal with their feelings of being overwhelmed. It is likely that such a situation will need the proper testimony or documentation from mental health practitioners, but the request for more time before one will participate in the Get process, should be viewed with much seriousness by the involved Bais Din.
3. Some parties are simply spiteful. They wish to punish their spouse for the “audacity” of requesting a divorce. It always strikes me during mediations how it is so jarring to see how love for a party can turn, over time, into bitterness and hate. I have little sympathy for such spiteful parties and the Bais Din needs to remind such parties that it is time to “move on” in life. Bitterness and hate will not only consume the other spouse, it will affect the offending party, most of all. Living with hateful feelings will not make life very enjoyable for the party emitting this hatred. Perhaps this advice of the need to constructively plan for the future can be dispensed by the Bais Din in a manner that can be heard.
4. Some parties are going to use the Get process as a bargaining chip for money. There is nothing I can offer such parties in the way of understanding. This is the ultimate Chilul HaShem and it causes our community much embarrassment.
When I was in yeshiva high school, I had a history teacher who was Jewish but not known to be observant. He always suspected that there was cheating on his exams. His response was simple Before exams, he would remind us that we were yeshiva students. His words ring in my ears: “If you cheat on my test, you will be making a mockery of everything they teach you here in the morning.” There is little else that needs to be said about this category.
5. A party may be prepared to give a Get, but only after all matters in dispute have been resolved. Of late, I have seen many quoting Rav Moshe Feinstein as having been a proponent of such behavior. From my own review of Igros Moshe, I cannot say with definitiveness that was indeed Rav Moshe’s opinion. However, I do know that many Poskim offer such advice to those embroiled in divorce disputes. The only suggestion I would make is that perhaps Batei Din could see whether in such cases a Get could first be written and them kept in escrow until all conditions are met. However, I do not claim any special halachic expertise in this matter and all such questions need to be discussed with local Poskim and /or Batei Din should they arise. No two situations will be alike and these matters require much deliberation.
The above categories may not be all-inclusive, but I believe one can conjecture that more than 95% of Get disputes, fall into one of these categories. One category not covered above is the situation where one party is no longer frum and has little interest in cooperating. When I was a Bais Din Menahel I often advised non-observant Jews that the Get was needed to give them closure on the marital relationship. I was gratified to see how many parties told me afterwards that they believed that the Get process had indeed provided such closure, and they were happy that they had decided to participate fully in this process.
Now on to the Facebook campaign. Some think this was the ultimate “trump card” and some call it the ultimate Chilul HaShem. What can one do, and not do, after a Seruv has been issued and a spouse has been ordered to cooperate in the Get process? A Seruv does not always bring on the intended results of the Bais Din. I would like to make a modest proposal. A Bais Din clearly needs to schedule a hearing on the Get before any Seruv can issue. What happens post-Seruv? My proposal would be to then send the non-participating party a notice of a new Hearing. This hearing will review what actions the aggrieved party may take to publicize the Seruv. A party may not show for a hearing on the Get because s/he does not wish to go to that particular Bais Din. Perhaps they fear a pro-woman, pro-man, etc bias. This decision not to show led to the issuance of a Seruv. However, they should have the right to appear before this Bais Din or, at least, send documentation to the Bais Din, concerning any reasons for their non-compliance before rallies, writing campaigns may begin. If they choose not to appear, the moving party still needs to be guided by Bais Din mandates.
A Bais Din needs to consider that innocent parties may suffer from a Seruv. If a party is non-compliant, a rally outside their home may be halachically appropriate. Should the same apply to rallies before their Rav, their elderly parents, siblings, etc? All this needs to be under the direction of the Bais Din. If Get-related discussions will be reduced to writing, the text of such banners, petitions, should likewise be under the aegis of the Bais Din. It is simply wrong for everyone to shout in unison: “Ready,Fire,Aim”. These matters can harm the safety and well-being of children, family members, rabbanim. etc. Guidance of a Bais Din is absolutely crucial. Rav Yisrael Salanter once stated it succinctly: “Not everything thought has to be said. Not everything said has to be written down.”
The Batei Din are our bulwark against the potential of massive Chilul HaShem. They will guide us in proper halachic behavior. No activity regarding a get should be done without Halachic guidance that is specific and put in writing. The get process will be given a new sense of order and oversight. We will all benefit from this.
One last comment from Rav Yisroel Salanter. He described the person who in rushing to his seat in Shul, bumps into a fellow Jew and does not apologize. Rav Yisroel effectively described this as “Yotza Scharo B’Hefsedo”. (He has lost any gain he might have had.) The application of the above discussion to the YouTube incident described above is., I believe, self-evident. Every situation in family matters is unique. One size does not fit all in these delicate and charged Get matters. May we all be guided by our leaders and teachers
Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld is a divorce mediator and can be contacted at: Rosenfeld@Juno.com