Divorce in the Modern Orthodox World
On my brother’s blog Daattorah.blogspot.com about a hundred comments are raging, between pro-men and pro-women in the divorce situation. There is no way to resolve the debate and there is no way to see how we in the future will resolve it. The Modern Orthodox World, in which I include those in the Haredi world who invent the laws of Gittin when they have a cousin or friend’s wife who needs a GET, especially the famous Rosh Yeshiva who permits a woman to remarry without a GET because she is the daughter of his close friend, have their Torah, which says that a WOMAN MUST HAVE A GET and the rest of us have a Torah that says this isn’t so. The result of this standoff is that children born from the Modern Orthodox and Orthodox with relatives and friends who need a GET will not be accepted by regular Orthodox Jews. They will be considered possible mamzerim. We are going around foaming at the mouth about child abuse, but when it comes to the greatest of all child abuse, the creation of a child as a mamzer, the very people who are making the mamzerim do the most screaming about abuse of women and abuse of children, not realizing who the culprit is.
Here I want to do two things: One, to show how the Modern Orthodox World got to this point, to challenge the clear teachings of the Shulchan Aruch about Gittin, and two, to provide a solution for the Modern Orthodox. We will also touch on the problems of the Rosh Yeshivas of the Haredi world who have cousins or friends who need a GET and so they invent the laws of Gittin, but that is really a separate problem that requires its own discussion.
I was born in 1942. By the time I was able to run around by myself and play, WWII was over, and America was the refuge for many great rabbis who miraculously travelled through Communist Russia to China and Japan during the war and eventually came to America and Israel. As a child of twelve I was enrolled in Yeshiva Or Torah DiBrisk, founded in Washington, DC by two sons of the Brisk Dayan, the Malin Brothers. There were three rebbes and four students. For three years I learned there and then I went to Baltimore and Lakewood, to study from others who had escaped the war. These great rabbis Rabbi Yaacov Bobrowsky in Baltimore and Reb Aharon Kotler in Lakewood just picked up a gemora and went to work in America. They never talked about the war or anything other than just plain learning. By the time I turned twenty, and Reb Aharon departed the world, I had many years of the Torah of Europe.
But had I been born earlier, I would have entered a Torah desert. True, there was Yeshiva Yaacov Yosef and Torah ViDaas, but the vast majority of Americans had nothing to do with a true Torah, and they had very little interest in it. Then people who considered themselves Jews wanted an Americanized Judaism, Reform, Conservative, or nothing. In those days, most men had nothing to do with Judaism, but many women joined Jewish secular clubs.
For the very few who wanted a real Torah education, very early on, Yeshiva University beckoned. Indeed, the greatest American Torah stars of the Yeshiva world came from Yeshiva University such as Reb Nosson Wachtfogel and Rav Mordechai Gifter. Yet even they did not become established Haredi Torah leaders in New York City. They went to Europe where they suffered the great privation of European Yeshivas to achieve greatness in Torah. But the fact that they had a beginning in America was due to Yeshiva University.
Yeshiva University had two giants who created a mighty institution for Modern Orthodox Jews: Dr. Revel and Dr. Belkin. They created an American Yeshiva experience that provided a thorough college and secular education with a Torah and Talmudic training from the greatest Torah scholars. Those who taught Torah in YU were the son of Reb Chaim Brisker, Reb Moshe Soloveitchik and his son Reb Yosher Bre Soloveitchik; the senior European Rosh Yeshiva Reb Shimon Shkub, and the Meitseter Ilui genius. Dr. Belkin himself in Europe was known in the Yeshiva world as the Radiner Ilui genius. When he came to America he used his genius to do great things for Yeshiva University. He also regularly picked up more and more doctorates, and was known as a major scholar in Greek studies.
All of this was critical at a time when successful Orthodox Jews would often leave the Orthodox synagogue to go to a Conservative or Reform temple, because Orthodoxy was for the poor and those who could not speak a good English.
But there was a price for all of this success in YU. A young American who spent hours a day listening to a shiur in Yiddish from a European Torah great, and then spent hours a day listening to a lecture about apikorsus from an American in English, absorbed from both of them. This was the formula for the reality of Modern Orthodox. People were not ashamed to be Modern Orthodox, but they would be ashamed to be associated with the poor Orthodox Jews and those who could not speak a good English. Modern Orthodox trumpeted the greatness of having your cake and eating it too. Be Orthodox and be Modern. But in reality, the cake you had was not the same cake as was eaten by a Torah Jew in the pure European style. It was a cake leavened with treifeh, and inevitably, it produced Treifeh.
There was however, some control over the Treifeh. When the rabbis trained in Yeshiva University wanted to introduce a change in sensitive marriage laws, Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik thundered, “It is the end of all ends.” That was the end of it. The rabbis of YU had to get professional synagogue and other Torah jobs, and for this they needed semicha. The Yeshiva and the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Soloveitchik, controlled who was recognized as a rabbi. So Rabbi Soloveitchik had a certain control over things.
But today, the new Rosh Yeshiva is an American fellow who is himself introducing treifeh in sensitive marriage laws. He has called for coercing the husband to give a GET whenever the marriage is broken. Furthermore, he states in a recorded tape, that the husband should be beaten and beaten, if necessary to death. That tape was removed from the Yeshiva University website after the arrest of rabbis for torturing husbands to force a GET. But we see the picture.
Add to this the terrible gender war in America, and the fact that in the finest Torah homes divorces end up in secular court amid the worst accusations and Chilul HaShem, and we realize that our time is designed for desecration of family law. The reason for this is that the Torah in the rishonim and the Shulchan Aruch makes it very clear that a marriage is a sacred thing that cannot be broken easily. Surely a man cannot be forced to give a GET to his wife just because the wife complaints about him. It is possible, in very rare circumstances, to force a husband to give a GET. But the vast majority of divorces are not ones that can be coerced. See Even Hoezer 77 paragraphs 2 and 3 that coercion and pressures are forbidden, and the Gro #5 that nobody disagrees. None of the commentators there disagree either. Coercion is forbidden, period. Posek HaDor Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashev zt”l even has in his teshuvose proofs that it is not a mitzvah upon the husband to give a GET, even if the marriage is broken. Such a terminology is quoted in the Shulchan Aruch and is rooted in the Rashbo VII:414.
But today, you cannot sell these things to the secular world, and much of the modern Orthodox and even much of the Orthodox world will not tolerate it either. Therefore, it is no wonder that the head of the modern Orthodox rabbis, Rabbi Herschel Schechter, has openly called for beating any husband who refuses a GET once the marriage is broken, even if it is necessary to kill him. This is not amazing in of itself. Rabbi Shechter once told somebody to kill the Prime Minister of Israel because of his settlement policies. Now, of course, when he said this he didn’t mean it, etc. But it surely sounds like he meant it on the tape that was made of his remarks, a tape that was removed from the YU website after the FBI captured rabbis who tortured husbands for money to give a GET. Whether he meant it or not, only he knows. But to even say such a thing says a lot about the state of things today, where the demonizing of men has reached such a level that you make points in your Modern Orthodox audience by calling for a husband’s murder.
The Gedolim have called for people to understand that many Beth Dins and rabbis are coercing divorces and that these divorces and the Beth Dins are not recognized. As Rav Elyashev told me, “I take away chezkas beth din from them.” That means that a woman who has a GET from a Beth Din that does not honor the Shulchan Aruch because it coerces Gittin that may not be coerced, must go to a kosher Beth Din and make a new GET. Failure to do this could lead to problems with her child if she remarries without an accepted GET. In the next generation, many children will be problems. Making a mamzer or a doubtful mamzer is the ultimate child abuse.
For this I have called for Modern Orthodox and Haredi Orthodox who rely upon such rabbis who coerce Gittin that may not be coerced, never to marry with Kiddushin. It is forbidden to accept Kiddushin unless you accept that if you are a married woman, you cannot remarry until you have a non-coerced GET or the death of your husband. Otherwise, you may not marry with Kiddushin. I have suggested that such people marry with a marriage that is not Kiddushin, but as Pilegesh. The husband and wife are married; it is not zenuse. They live in the same house and have children who are completely kosher, as long as they both maintain the marriage. If the wife steps out and has a boyfriend other than her husband she is considered a Zona and the marriage is over, but no GET need to be given. And if she sins and has a child the child is not a mamzer. This is the obvious path for people to take who want to marry but will not commit to kiddushin, which includes a large segment of the Modern Orthodox world and even some Haredim.
On my website at torahhalacha.blogspot.com I have a post about Pilegesh, for People who cannot have Kiddushin that explains this in more detail. Anyone who wants to discuss this with me can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.