By Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer
When we discuss purportedly “Orthodox” organizations that have veered off course, people sometimes react, “What has it got to do with me? That’s for people who are not really frum. It doesn’t affect me.” Well, we now have before us an organization that is permitting frum married women to marry second husbands without a get from their first husbands, and the children of these women are attending yeshivos and Bais Yaakov schools with our children. The threat posed to the yichus of the entirety of Klal Yisroel is immense.
Welcome to International Beit Din (hereafter known as “IBD”), an organization established in 2014 with the aim of using novel means to dissolve marriages without gittin. The women who go to IBD are typically well-intentioned frum ladies who cannot obtain a get from their husbands and who did not find relief at normative botei din. These women, often termed “agunos,” turn to IBD and frequently receive rulings that they may remarry without a get.
Two years ago, when the activities of IBD became known and were investigated by established poskim, these poskim issued a strong “Letter of Mecho’oh” against IBD. This letter was published by TorahWeb and is available here.
In their letter, the poskim explain that IBD was using specious heteirim (such as lack of yichud eidim, designation of witnesses, from the Ritva, which is a mere chumra l’halacha and does not invalidate a marriage). The poskim also stated that in previous generations, only gedolei hador, such as Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky and Rav Moshe Feinstein, could be mattir agunos, and that the IBD members, who are not anywhere near this stature and are three regular rabbis, were acting way out of their league by issuing such heteirim. The Letter of Mecho’oh referred to the IBD members as acting with “chutzpah gedolah” by doing that which only poskei hador are qualified to do.
IBD pushed back against the letter of the poskim and explained that a specific IBD p’sak which used lack of yichud eidim to permit a woman to remarry without a get was based on many other factors. Rabbi Yaakov Sasson, in an article published at here, compellingly demonstrated that these other factors are all interdependent and actually rely on the lack of yichud eidim, and that they all assume without proof that there were no kosher witnesses at the above wedding that the IBD ruling invalidated. Rabbi Sasson showed that the IBD ruling failed to establish the lack of kosher witnesses present, and that its last stated reason for permitting remarriage without a get in that case – that the husband later claimed he was not Jewish – was nowhere investigated nor substantiated in the IBD ruling. Rabbi Sasson also highlighted the dozens of logical and technical holes and errors in the IBD ruling, indicative of its lack of professionalism and coherency.
Rabbi Simcha Krauss, founding dayan and av beis din of IBD, penned a sharp retort to Rabbi Sasson, accusing him and other detractors of IBD as coming from a “culture of chumra” and harboring a “false sense of yirat shamayim.” This retort failed to address Rabbi Sasson’s substantive critiques. Here is a link to this attempted retort and its dismissal.
Following what seemed to be a very firm takedown of IBD, IBD was for the most part not in the Jewish news. IBD continued to pay visits to many cities, such as Los Angeles and several European capitals, to promote its activities, and the rabbonim in these locals did their best to warn their constituency to steer clear of IBD and to instead turn to more recognized and established botei din. For the most part, IBD was not heard of much, and things were assumed to be calm and quiet. In fact, two of IBD’s dayanim departed from IBD at the time of the 2015 Letter of Mecho’oh and ensuing controversy, and the IBD website had since that time not listed replacement dayanim. Only Rabbi Krauss and Rabbi Dr. A. Yehuda (“Ronnie”) Warburg, director and menahel of IBD, were listed as IBD staff. As IBD was not in the Jewish news, and it only had two dayanim, it seemed safe to assume that IBD was dormant and was not up to much of anything during this time.
Within the past several months, IBD regrouped, adding new staff and issuing new rulings.
One of IBD’s new dayanim is Rabbi Dr. Yosef Levi, chief rabbi of Florence, Italy. Rabbi Levi is not publicly known to be an experienced dayan for delicate divorce cases, or for any other matters.
Another new dayan is Rabbi David Bigman, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Maale Gilbo’a. Ma’ale Gilboa is considered to take a liberal approach to many things, and Rabbi Bigman is on the advisory board of Yeshivat Maharat, the Open Orthodox school that ordains “women rabbis.” [Rabbi Krauss is on the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) advisory board.] Rabbi Bigman is also on the advisory board of Beit Midrash Har’el, a co-ed Israeli “semicha” program.
Rabbi Bigman has expressed views that are not consistent with ikkarei ha’emunah. In an article titled “Reclaiming the Multi-Genre Perspective” that was written for a website that rejects Torah miSinai, Rabbi Bigman argues that the Torah was not dictated by Hashem to Moshe. Based on Biblical Criticism and Rabbi Bigman’s own reading of the Chumash, he professes that “there is no other option but to let go of the narrative of the dictation… ‘The Torah speaks in the language of human beings.’ We can understand this statement as merely a comment on the literary style of our Torah, but it can also be understood in a broader and more fundamental way.” In other words, according to Rabbi Bigman, as explained further in his article, the language of the Torah was written by men, not by Hakadosh Boruch Hu and told to Moshe Rabbeinu. According to the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:8), this is outright kefirah.
In another article on that same website titled “Refracting History through the Spiritual Experience of the Present,” Rabbi Bigman argues that one need not accept the Torah’s narrative of Yetzias Mitzrayim as historical fact. And in an article on that website titled “Moderating the Stark Truth of the Written Torah,” Rabbi Bigman maintains that Chazal actually fabricated the drashos and halachos of Torah Shebaal Peh in order to make the mitzvos of the Torah more palatable. To deny the miSinai quality of Torah Shebaal Peh is categorized by the Rambam as kefirah (Hilchos Teshuvah ibid. and introduction to Peirush HaMishnayos).
Hence, since a member of IBD espouses kefirah, this places a pesul upon any rulings of IBD.
The newest ruling publicized by IBD is Case #122 of February 2, 2017. IBD issued a summary of the case and the IBD’s decision:
“The wife alleges that prior to the wedding, her husband transgressed the Shabbat, did not observe the laws of kashruth, and she had fights with him when he brought non-kosher food into the house. Her allegation concerning his Shabbat transgression was corroborated by six individuals, his consumption of non-kosher food was corroborated by two individuals, and although two of wife’s friends informed us that he was respectful of the wife’s right to keep a kosher home, one of the two women admitted to us that the respect may have disappeared with their deteriorating marriage.
“One individual who knows the husband for over two decades witnessed on innumerable occasions that he was being ‘mehalail Shabbat’ by driving his car, digging and planting in his front lawn, and occasionally mowing his grass on Shabbat. Two neighbors who knew him for over a decade have seen him leaving his house in a car as well as mowing his lawn on Shabbat. Another individual told us that after the family Shabbat lunch meal was finished, he would proceed to backyard to engage in planting in his backyard. Another individual told us that sometimes he would sit at the Shabbat lunch table and sometimes would get up and go to work at his computer. A third individual as well as one of the two individuals mentioned above observed him many times coming out of his car with bags from McDonald’s, which led them to believe that he doesn’t keep kosher.
“He resided in the midst of an Orthodox Jewish community for 25 years, and on his own block over 75% of the block was composed of Orthodox Jewish families, and more than ten Orthodox adult Jewish males who reside in the community know of his violation of Shabbat. For decades, every Shabbat, the Orthodox Jews who lived in the neighborhood, including some who were next door neighbors, were privy to his public conduct. In fact, one of his neighbors claims that he intentionally waited for him to pass his house prior to engaging in his non-Shabbat activities. Two neighbors told us that a few individuals attempted to influence him ‘to change his ways,’ but it was to no avail.
“Summary for resolution:
“Given that he refused to give a get over two years ago, based upon the cumulative evidence submitted (including his own admission) that he rejected Judaism prior to their marriage which places him in the category of ‘a mumar,’ therefore his marriage was halakhically invalid.”
IBD ruled that since the marriage was invalid because the husband was a mumar, an apostate, there was no need for a get. This IBD ruling is contradicted by the Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha’ezer 44:9), which states: “The marriage of a mumar is a full marriage (Kiddushin) and requires a get (in order to undo the marriage).” This is from the Gemara in Maseches Yevamos (47b), as brought by the Rambam in Hilchos Ishus (4:15), who writes that even if a husband intentionally worships idols, his marriage is fully valid and requires a get for dissolution.
IBD’s conclusion thus contradicted halacha and allowed an aishes ish to marry someone else. (There is an opinion of the Ba’al Ha’ittur, brought in Bais Yosef on Ever Ha’ezer ibid., that the kiddushin of one who works the ground on Shabbos is not valid. As shown to me by Rabbi Sasson, this is a daas yochid that is rejected by the Acharonim and by the Shulchon Aruch.)
And Yet Another Heter
It is clear from a review of IBD’s cases that IBD clients are frum people who are in search of a heter from a bais din. In some cases (such as Case #147), the wife had already gone to another bais din, which ruled that a get was needed from her allegedly mentally ill husband, but when the get was not forthcoming, despite a prenuptial agreement that required it, the wife went to IBD, which overruled the earlier bais din and permitted the woman to remarry without a get. In other cases (including Case #111), IBD permitted women to remarry without a get due to video footage of the chupah, which indicated that there were not two kosher witnesses under the chupah. This heter is puzzling, as kosher witnesses may have been in the audience, thereby creating at least a sofeik kiddushin, even if these witnesses could not view the giving of the ring close-up.
Clear and Present Danger
The women permitted by IBD to remarry without a get are part of the frum community, and any children born from their second husbands may very well end up marrying our children. Yes, this is a left-wing Orthodox problem that impacts the entire Torah community acutely and head-on.
With kashrus, consumers are always urged to be careful to only purchase products that bear reliable kosher certification. Now, more than ever, we must insist on a “reliable hechsher” on all botei din as well.