The Doubtful Mamzer by Rabbi Dovid E. Eidensohn

Rabbi Dovid E. Eidensohn/Jewish Outreach Congregation/Monsey, NY 10952/845-578-1917


My Experience with the Doubtful Mamzer

                The following story reveals the maximum chutzpah a person can use when dealing with gedolei hador (my chutzpah) and the greatest yiras shomayim I ever saw (from a sofek or doubtful mamzer.) If you want to know why I spend so much time and energy fighting the invalid divorces that produce mamzerim, this story is why.

Now to the story.

About thirty years ago I was heavily involved in Shimush. Now there is learning and there is Shimush. The Talmud says that Shimush is greater than learning. Shimush means  a student talking to a Torah scholar and discussing with him various issues of Torah. The Torah scholar disagrees, corrects, or agrees. This relationship and personal discussion molds the student as no learning can. Learning simply encourages your own level; but Shimush reveals a much higher level, that of a great rabbi.

Since my teens, when I studied under the great European refugees who came to America after the war, or during the war, I learned from them, but tried also to speak to them, asking questions, presenting Torah thoughts, etc. Had I know that they would tell me the truth I may not have gone to them! When I found out the hard way the cost of Shimush, I called upon my obstinacy and chutzpah to hang in there.

I came one day to a Beth Din. The dayan would tell me a question that came up and I would try to say something about it, and he would correct me. This time, the dayan got a phone call from a very agitated person and afterwards turned to me and said, “I am not going to answer that question. Go to the Strassberger Rov who is in Monsey, and ask him the question.” I went to the house where the Strassberger Rov was staying and told him the question that the Dayan sent me to ask. Now, in shimush, my job is not to tell somebody what to do, but to tell the posek my opinion so he can correct me, or, maybe, just maybe, accept what I said as a good thought. So after I told the Strassberger Rov my solution to the question of the Dayan, I anticipated being corrected or maybe accepted.

But I got neither. The Strassberger Rov, the dayan in charge of marriage and divorce in the Aido in Jerusalem, said nothing. I repeated my statement. No comment.  I repeated myself a third time. No answer. So I just sat back and waited.

The Rov then replied, “A Rov never says those words.” I was stunned. I later repeated this conversation to a Monsey Rov and he told me that he once sent a couple to Reb Yaacov Kaminetsky about something that is painful to talk about. Reb Yaacov never told them to do anything but when they left, they understood that they were to do it. But nobody could say that Reb Yaacov approved of such and such because he never said those words.

Okay, I learned something new. Sometimes, you have to proceed without words. Okay. Then, the Rov said to me, “I have a shaaloh that I have to bring to Reb Moshe, but I don’t know how to get to him.”

Now, if I was a bit more sensitive, I would have seen a red light flashing. What? The Rov does not know how to contact Reb Moshe? Surely, he has done so many times. And if he has not, he surely knows how to find out a way to contact him, which almost everybody knows anyway. But I ignored the red light so much that it flashed green. I thought to myself, oh boy, this is wonderful. And then, I said, “I am a close talmid of Reb Moshe and will be happy to bring the shaaloh to him.” The Rov accepted this. He then discussed the shaaloh, about a doubtful mamzer and how he and senior rabbis in Israel were about to deal with the problem.  But it seemed that they wanted Reb Moshe’s opinion on their solution.

The next day I was walking up the stairs of Reb Moshe’s house, when somebody confronted me and asked “Where are going?” I said, “I have a letter from the Aido’s Beth Din to Reb Moshe.” The man quickly waved me upstairs, and I delivered the letter.

In those days, I went once a week to Williamsburg for shimush at a Rov a Gadol HaDor. I would prepare some material and my solutions and he would correct me or accept it. Now I came to him with the question of the Aido, the question presented to Reb Moshe, and my Shimush. The Rov became agitated. He told me that this doubtful mamzer was ruined unless the shaaloh was asked to Reb Moshe.

I was awaiting an answer from Reb Moshe, and called every day for it. I was told, Reb Moshe permits the doubtful mamzer, and the letter will be forthcoming. But it never came. Finally, I went to Israel to visit my rebbe, the Kabbala genius Reb Shmuel Toledano zt”l of Jerusalem. I had called Reb Moshe’s office and said that I would soon be in Israel. When I came to my rebbe I stayed a few days and then Shabbos was approaching. On Friday, I went to the Strassberger Rov. He welcomed me and said, “You will be by me for Shabbos.” He then told me that we would now go to the Mikvah. He added, “You will go to the regular Mikvah and I will go to the section reserved for Rabbonim. I will be out faster than you will.” Thus, I was not to wait for him, but I was to return immediately to his house.

When I arrived at the Rov’s house he was reading a letter. “This is the letter from Reb Moshe” he said. Then he asked me, “When you went to Reb Moshe, did you speak respectfully to him?” I was stunned. I replied that of course I spoke respectfully to him, as I did all of the years that I was meshamesh him. The Rov then showed me the letter. I was bewildered. Reb Moshe was annoyed and wrote it in a way that people should realize his irritation.

What could Reb Moshe be angry about in the letter? Obviously, he was angry for the same reason Reb Fischel Herkowitz was angry. The letter of the Israeli gedolim did not really solve the problem of the doubtful mamzer. It was not a real solution. Reb Moshe therefore insisted that the shaaloh should come to him, so the boy would be able to remarry without the complications proposed by the Israeli rabbonim.

The boy came from a certain tribe that had been in India for centuries without proper rabbis. Nobody knew for sure if he was Jewish or not. And if he was Jewish, nobody knew if somebody in his family married without a proper GET and made a mamzer. So, when he first came to Israel, the Steipler converted him to Judaism with a Beth Din and said that he would not deal with the problem of mamzeruth. When the boy came of age and wanted to marry, the rabbonim of the day would deal with the problem.

The Strassberger was not fazed by Reb Moshe’s rebuke. He told me, “We will do what we want to do, but first, there is a question in what we want to do, and so go to Reb Shlomo Zalman and ask him. (It seems that the main Rov in Israel dealing with this was Reb Shlomo Zalman who wrote a teshuva on it.) It was already getting late on Friday afternoon, and when I got into a taxi to go to Reb Shlomo Zalman, the driver took a while to find it. Finally, I came to Reb Shlomo Zalman and gave him the letter and told him the question of the Strassberger that he was to answer. He immediately answered that question, and I should have thanked him and left. But I did not thank him and leave. I remembered what Reb Fischel had told me, that the Shaaloh must be brought to Reb Moshe or else the boy will have no easy solution. I said to Reb Shlomo Zalman, “Rebbe! This is an Agunah shaaloh.”

Reb Shlomo Zalman became infuriated. He said to me, “Somebody started up with this and was almost put in Cherem.” I felt that somebody had hit me with a baseball bat. But suddenly, I felt a hand reach into my skull, split it open, and push something inside, where it travelled into my mouth and came out. I found myself saying, “The Rov should pasken, not advise, that the bochur should ask Reb Moshe the shaalah.” I looked up and saw Reb Shlomo Zalman. He was no longer looking at me in anger. He was not looking at me at all. He was obviously looking at somebody I could not see and was treating him with proper respect, as if he was speaking to a colleague. Then he turned to me and said, “Yes, that is fine.” And I repeated, “This is not advice, but a pesak, that the bochur should ask the shaalah of Reb Moshe.” And he nodded his head in affirmation. When I saw what a delightful mood he was in I jumped him for some Shimush. I was there for too long, after all, Shabbos was coming, but finally I got to the Strassberger Rov’s house and reported what happened. I then got him to agree to “pasken, not advise” that the bochur should ask the shaaloh of Reb Moshe. I then went to Reb Yisroel Dushinksy, at that time the head of the Aido, and he, too, agreed, and I also got some Shimush from him. I recall from the rabbonim that I spoke to that custody of children in a divorce is granted on the standard of welfare for the child, regardless of age and gender.

I got a letter from Reb Moshe permitting the boy.   On the back of it I wrote, I Dovid Eidensohn, spoke to rabbonim in Israel, and the following have ruled that the bochur should ask his shaaloh to Reb Moshe. I then wrote the three rabbonim, Reb Shlomo Zalman, Rav Dushinksy and the Strassberger Rov.

I found the bochur and gave him the letter, congratulating him that now he could marry anyone he wanted. As Reb Moshe ruled that he was not a doubtful mamzer. The bochur replied, “I am an Israeli. I obey the Aido and the great rabbonim of Jerusalem. Why should I ask Reb Moshe? I don’t want this letter.” I almost collapsed. Here is a boy who, if he asks the other rabbonim, will probably never marry. And now, he can marry freely and easily. And he refuses?!

This is the greatest display of yiras shomayin that I ever saw.

I then found a Rov who spoke to the boy and convinced him to take Reb Moshe’s pesak.

Thus I fight to prevent mamzeruth, after I saw a person faced with the problem, and the great difficulties in resolving them.

What will happen in the next generation when many children will be born from various mothers divorced with this questionable Get and that questionable GET? And some “rabbis” permit remarrying without any GET! And now, there is no Reb Moshe to decide, somebody whose word is accepted by Israeli and American rabbonim at the highest levels. Consequently, there will be many rabbis saying many things. Not only will it be difficult for a questionable child to marry a regular Jew, but even to marry a mamzer or a doubtful mamzer will be a problem, because some rabbis say he is a complete mamzer and some say he is doubtful and some say he is kosher. If so, he can marry no Jew.

Where is the protest? Where is the anguish? Well, if you want protest and anguish, just wait for the next generation. There will be plenty of questions, plenty of protests and plenty of anguish, unless we wake up right now before it is too late.