Rabbi Dovid E. Eidensohn/Monsey, NY 10952/845-578-1917/1/16/14
When the Wife Demands a GET
When the Wife Demands a GET. 1
Six Disagreements with Rabbi Safran. 2
One: When the Husband Has Cogent Reasons to Withhold a GET. 3
Two: Coercion and Hate Can Produce Real Agunoth. 5
Three: Coercing a GET is Against the Torah in the Vast Majority of Cases. 5
Four: Shalom Bayis Beth Din and Prevention of Broken Marriages. 7
Five: Wickedness of Some Wives. 9
Six: When May a Woman Demand a GET?. 10
Marriage is Sacred and Holiness. 10
When the Wife Demands a GET
“Religious Divorce Must Not Be an Emotional Weapon” says Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran of the OU. In his newspaper article, Rabbi Safran devotes four pages attacking husbands who refuse to give a GET upon demand. He writes, “Too often, we are seeing men withholding a GET as an emotional – and practical – cudgel.” Translation: The husband withholds the GET to pain his wife emotionally. He tortures her with his “practical cudgel” to make her cough up whatever his “cudgel” can produce.
Could there possibly be a more charitable understanding of the husband’s motives? Not one word of that in this long article.
We are told furthermore that withholding a GET is because the husband “lashes out in anger and vindictiveness” because of the shame of the failed marriage. He tortures his wife “just to vent his hurt.” Husbands who withhold a GET for long periods are guilty of making for the wife “a kind of death imposed with more cruelty and horror than any evil Haman ever visited upon our people.” Here Rabbi Safran demonizes the husband as somebody worse than Haman the Amalek.
Such a husband “is a rasha, a wicked person.” Also, “such evil … is a cancer that will rot the community from within.” The article concludes, “Put down the cudgel. Grant the GET.”
Six Disagreements with Rabbi Safran
I disagree with this article for six reasons which I will state briefly and then later, elaborate:
One, there are situations where the husband refuses a GET not out of wickedness but for what he feels are cogent reasons.
Two, the idea that the solution for Agunoth is to coerce the husband and terrorize him is a popular idea, but it has its limitations. I will describe the destruction of two women whose families and rabbis pushed the coercion card.
Three, which should be the first item, but today is ignored even by some rabbis, is that the Shulchan Aruch and codifiers rarely give permission to coerce a GET. Any GET given without rabbinical permission is a “coercion against the law” that produces an invalid GET. When the wife remarries with such a GET her new children are possibly mamzerim. These matters will be presented in more detail later.
Four, the focus of concerned people especially rabbis of a major organization such as the OU should not be limited to hating husbands and terrorizing them. I have presented the idea of a Shalom Bayis Beth Din. Each community will have a Beth Din that does not deal at all in divorce, but in Shalom Bayis. A couple signs up with the Beth Din. In phase one the Shalom Bayis Beth Din offers them marital education and the ability to present problems to it, and in phase two, the Beth Din can fine husband or wife for disobeying the Beth Din’s rulings on how to make Shalom Bayis. Because both husband and wife can be fined, the situation whereby husband or wife refuse a GET will decline. To stay married and fight and get fined again and again is untenable. Therefore, either each party to the marriage improves the Shalom Bayis or they have to give a GET. But nobody in the Shalom Bayis Beth Din will talk about a GET. Only Shalom Bayis. This does away with the problem of a GET coerced by a prenuptial agreement that some feel is invalid.
Five, the four pages of the article don’t speak about anything wicked the wives do. But there are wicked things that wives do, and to just blame husbands for being wicked is simply not true. The playing field must be level. An article like this is the opposite of a level playing field in divorce.
Six, the article presents the pain of the woman. But there is pain and there is pain. A husband who is vicious is one thing. A husband who is not the exciting movie star of somebody’s dreams is something else. And yet, to the best of my knowledge, the two most famous wars between husband and wife in the Torah community are not about men who are cruel or insensitive. They may lack certain things that male virgins may lack. But there must be a standard to demand a GET besides “I could do better.”
Included in this is the absence in Rabbi Safran’s article about a true critique of the large number of Torah women with children who insist on destroying the family and possibly the children because they want out, even when most people would be shocked at this. Why does the article ignore this phenomenon which is the root of much of the misery?
Let us now elaborate on the above six points.
One: When the Husband Has Cogent Reasons to Withhold a GET
The first critique of the article is: “There are situations where the husband refuses a GET not out of wickedness but for what he feels are cogent reasons.”
One reason a husband may refuse a GET is because he has children. A divorce means that the children may live with the mother, and the father will have very limited time with them. The children and husband suffer. So we have a moral issue. On the one hand the marriage is painful for the wife, who wants her freedom. On the other hand, the divorce will pain the children and husband. What then should a moral person do? Probably, the pain of children overweighs the pain of the wife. But even if we disagree, the Talmud is clearly against divorce when children are involved. Therefore, one who encourages divorce when there are children violates the rights of children and the wishes of the gemora.
And talking about pain, there is no inkling in this article by Rabbi Safran that the pain of the husband is at all important. A man who marries in his twenties and gets divorced in his thirties has basically given away the choicest part of his life. By the time he recovers somewhat from the divorce and manages to remarry he is far removed from what he was when he married the first time. And is the man supposed to just accept all of this without complaint?
It is important to emphasize something that the article of Rabbi Safran ignores. What does the Torah tell us about the right of a woman to divorce? We will discuss this with rabbinical sources soon, but for now, we want to talk about morality without codifiers. What does morality even without a Torah tell us about a woman who marries a man who loves her, who loves his children, and who has children who love her and her husband? What kind of moral and decent woman would destroy the life of a husband and child because she wants “freedom”? The idea that all women who want a GET do it because the husband is a fiend is a by-product of the Rabbi Safrans. But it is not true.
Let us return to discussing the wife without discussing the children or the husband. She wants out. The two most famous wives who want out today both came from exceptionally elevated families filled with great rabbis, etc. Both of them had children and demanded a GET. The husbands refused. Dodelson vs Weiss and Epstein vs Friedman have now been in the Jewish and secular media for years. The wives rely on rabbis such as Rabbi Safran who demonize husbands and Rabbi Schachter who is heard on media saying that a husband who will not give a GET can be beaten even to death. (This is the same Rabbi Schachter who told someone who complained about the policy of an Israeli Prime Minister regarding settlements to kill the Prime Minister.) These rabbis don’t seem to be interested in knowing why the wife wants a divorce when she has a child from the husband. And this creates a great evil, that girls growing up today are trained to hate. And the self-fulfillment of training in hate is divorce. And when you don’t get the husband to jump when you want him to, then Rabbi Safran’s article encourages terror for him and his family. The Dodelson family destroyed the family of the husband fiscally and got his father and uncle fired from a lucrative job. Then there was talk of destroying the Yeshiva of the grandfather. This is a holy war against men, against children, and against the Torah. And it is led by rabbis such as Rabbis Safran and Rabbi Schechter, but there are many others, and none of them know the laws of Gittin, as I will show here.
A father has a wife who ran to a different city and the husband has great difficulty visiting his children. He told me the following: When his child is by him he cries because he wants his mother. When he is by his mother he cries because he wants his father. Let Rabbi Safran tell the children about the rights of women to be free. The gemora says, “Children cannot forgive.”
A lady got an order of protection against her husband, so he could not come to the house. Then she called him up shouting, “The sink is broken and the water is flooding the house.” The husband raced over with two large wrenches. Waiting police cars arrested him for violating the order of protection and coming to the house and he was put in jail for the Jewish holiday that started the next day. When the husband got out of jail, he was not in a good mood. But who is the guilty party?
Then there are wives who violate the Torah and go to court. The court gives the wife the children and forces the husband to vacate the premises. Sometimes the wife accuses the husband of abusing the children even of pedophilia. A husband who knows that all of this is a lie may deny a GET. Or maybe the husband feels that he has suffered great damage at the hand of the wife and wants her to make restitution, fiscal payments, because of his ordeal. Would Rabbi Safran condemn him for that? He does not discuss any situation where a husband may be in the right and the woman in the wrong.
Two: Coercion and Hate Can Produce Real Agunoth
Two, the idea that the solution for Agunoth is to coerce the husband and terrorize him is a popular idea, but it has its limitations. The two most famous Agunoth in America are Dodelson and Epstein. Both wives are from wealthy families battling with non-wealthy husbands. And both wives humiliated and tormented the husband for years with the backing of prominent rabbis who were relatives and close friends of the girls’s family. What did the women gain from their terror? Nothing. Yes, they caused great humiliation, great loss of money, great aggravation to the husband and his family. But no GET. In fact, in both of these cases, there may never be a GET. The terror did not break the husband’s resolve. And the bitterness remaining may never be healed. There may never be a GET.
Three: Coercing a GET is Against the Torah in the Vast Majority of Cases
The Talmud and codifiers permit coercing a GET in very limited circumstances, such as when the couple is forbidden to marry, or when the husband develops a terrible body odor that people can’t tolerate. These “level one” reasons to negate the marriage allow a very severe coercion, even a physical beating, until the husband agrees to give the GET. The reason that a coerced GET is permitted is because the Talmud demands a GET in these “level one” cases. The Talmud explains that since “It is a mitzvah to obey the sages” one gives the GET willingly, even though he did not utter the words “I want it” until he was beaten.
A lesser level of a marriage that must be negated is when the husband is unable to be a man. In this lesser level the kind of coercion is less than in the first level. The Rashbo, Radvaz, Beis Yosef and Chazon Ish and others rule that in this case no humiliation is permitted. It is forbidden to put the husband in Nidui and it is forbidden to hit him. It is, however, permitted to warn him that if he defies this law taught by the rabbis in the Talmud, it is permitted to call him “wicked.”
These cases are rare. Most demands made by wives for a GET are because the wife claims that the husband repels her to the extent that she cannot tolerate marital relations with him. This is known as מאוס עלי. Whether or not to coerce the husband when the wife claims she cannot tolerate having relations with him has been a heavily contested issue in the post-gemora periods. That is, almost everybody agrees that the Talmud would not permit coercion with מאוס עלי, and they bring strong proofs for this. But for several centuries after the Talmud, the Gaonim of Babylonia who were the senior and accepted rabbis of the entire world in their time, and the direct disciples of the Talmudists who lived in Babylonia or Iraq, had a reason to permit any woman who demanded a GET to have one, and the husband was forced to give the GET. We don’t know what exactly happened to cause this ruling, but it would seem that it had something to do with the arrival of Islam. It is known that Moslems were trained as conquerors and were very free with other women. But we don’t know for sure what exactly took place to force this change.
At any rate, after the age of the Gaonim, in the age of the Tosafists, Rabbeinu Tam and the Ri led the rabbis to return to the standard of the Talmud and not to coerce the husband to give a GET when the wife claims the husband repelled her in marriage. Some generations after the above Tosafists and their disciples, beginning with the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch, the rabbis ruled in general against coercions when the wife demanded a GET because the husband repelled her in marriage. The Vilna Gaon says that nobody (that is, in the past few centuries before his time) permitted coercion in such a case. And such is the accepted opinion.
We have today woman who are not repelled by their husband but feel they settled too soon. Nobody would permit a coercion of a GET in this situation. But ORA just terrorizes and terrorizes and says that Rabbi Schachter permits it.
Furthermore, a coerced GET is invalid and it is very possible that if the woman remarries her children from the second man will be mamzerim. The major rabbis and experts on Gittin in the world such as Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, Rav Nissim Karelitz and his Beth Din, Rav Tuvia Weiss the Rov of the Aido in Jerusalem and others have ruled that a GET coerced is invalid and the children are mamzerim. Rabbis who disagree with this don’t know the laws of Gittin and besides that have a tremendous chutzpah to disagree with the Gedolei HaDor when all of the sources back them and not the rabbis who permit coercion.
Today there is an organization ORA under the direction of Rabbi Hershel Schechter that boasts of terrorizing dozens of men and forcing a GET. Those women have a forced GET and the children of these women in the next marriage are very likely mamzerim. Rabbi Schechter has even stated that a husband who does not give a GET when the marriage is over can be beaten and even killed. There is no source for this. And other rabbis who are cousins or friends of “agunoth” have also published letters calling on everyone to humiliate and bankrupt husbands who don’t give a GET and their families.. Everyone who did this does not know the laws of Gittin. What they did and what they still do is a terrible crime against the mamzerim born and against the husband and his family.
Posek HaDor Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashev zt”l in his teshuvose is very strict about the rights of husband to refuse a GET when the wife demands it (unless it be one of the very rare cases we mentioned earlier, not just that the wife wants somebody better and not even if she claims that the husband repels her.)
Four: Shalom Bayis Beth Din and Prevention of Broken Marriages
Published in Daattorah.blog.com 11/25/13
Years ago, somebody told me he was upset with his wife. He had no specific complaint against his wife, but he was very upset. Finally, I asked him who he was talking to that got him in such a mood. He told me so and so. I asked, isn’t that person recently divorced? He said yes. I told him, “Get that person out of your house.” After that it was quiet.
There was an article in the New York Times about an apartment building in Manhattan peopled by the up and coming. Those people had the good jobs, great futures, and wonderful marriages. One day, people in the building were shocked to discover that a couple divorced. After a while, a neighbor of that couple divorced. And so it spread like a contagion. Those near a divorced person began to divorce, until the entire building was shaking with divorce. The purpose of the article obviously is to describe the poison that emanates from a bitter person who wants to spread the salvation that divorce brought to them. But this is wrong. If you talk to somebody filled with hate, you are going to learn hate. Never talk to such a person. Your marriage and your life hang in the balance.
Now let’s talk about the average couple in the Torah world who have a problem. The husband or wife is very angry, but who can they talk to about it? Well, the closest people to them such as parents soon are brought into the secret. Maybe the way the complaint is expressed, filled with bitterness, influences the parent or close friend. Somebody has just lit a match in a very sensitive area. Eventually, the bitterness becomes open and both parents jump in and the marriage is over with.
I spoke with a major rabbi in Israel not long ago and told him that telling parents of your problem with your spouse is very dangerous, because parents have no balance and can really mess up a marriage. He agreed enthusiastically.
Now let us go to the solution.
Let us assume that every marriage has its problems. The key to survival is to know what to do with these problems. We just described the folly of getting parents to back your hate, until both parents are firing away and the marriage is dead. So what should be done? Our solution is as follows.
First of all, marriage today is too delicate to wait until it falls apart to look for counseling. Then it may be too late. My idea is that before marriage and surely in its early phases the couple sign up with a Shalom Bais Beth Din. Now, this is not the ordinary Beth Din that enters the picture after all of the dishes have been smashed. This Beth Din does not deal with divorce or punishment for destroyed marriages. This Shalom Bais Din is only about Shalom. What is its function and how does it do its work to make Shalom?
The couple signs up with the Beth Din preferably before the marriage. A program of education is begun. Education covers those areas that impact upon Shalom Bayis, such as earnings, being tired or exhausted, unrealistic ambitions and expectations, etc. We straighten out the road before it is filled with potholes. We don’t ignore the basic problems that make pressures and confusion and disappointment in marriage, but we educate that they are here and must be faced and dealt with. And we educate the couple how to face and deal with them.
In other words, the Beth Din looks for trouble before it erupts. Most of the trouble is easily identified and can be dealt with, so we are far ahead of our program in the initial educating process. But yet, there can still be problems of personality, sensitivity, family, etc. So we come to phase two, not anticipating trouble, but learning about it and dealing with it. As soon as husband or wife has a complaint, they are taught how to deal with it, and if they can’t settle it themselves, they must bring it to the Shalom Beth Din. The Shalom Beth Din will try to organize things, although this is easier said than done. Nonetheless, the fact that a Beth Din is involved, not in dividing up the children and money, but in settling things and making shalom, puts us far ahead of the usual process of problems in marriage.
We thus have phase one of pre-marital and early education, phase two of dealing with problems that erupt despite the education, and we come now to phase three, when one of the couple doesn’t listen to the Beth Din and the marriage is in trouble. Phase three is the power to fine, not to force a GET, because this Beth Din is not about divorce, but about Shalom Bayis. The fine is levied for violating Shalom Bayis. The couple signs a paper that is legal in Jewish and secular law that they will obey the Beth Din’s suggestions to make Shalom in the house. And if someone defies the Beth Din, the Beth Din has the power of fining the guilty party.
Now let us jump ahead to a marriage where the husband is tough and continues torturing his wife and refuses to listen to the Beth Din. He is fined, and fined again, and fined again. If it continues, and these legal obligations pile up, threatening his car, his house, his gulf clubs, his seforim, he may decide that he can’t afford this marriage and ask for a divorce. Note, he asks for the divorce to spare himself the fines. At least, this marriage will not make an Agunah. There is no problem of GET MEUSO, a forced GET, because the Beth Din is not interested in divorce; it wants Shalom and its fines are directed at creating Shalom not at creating Gittin.
In very rare cases a husband may be a candidate for a forced GET, but this is not the purpose of the Beth Din, whose purpose is Shalom. If the husband is a candidate for a coerced GET, which is extremely rare, the Beth Din can make recommendations how to proceed, but its basic function is to make Shalom, and if it makes a GET it is a failure and a wrong turn in the process. Thus, there is no problem of forced GET because the Beth Din does not want a GET. Preferably, if there is to be a coerced GET another Beth Din should be involved, and should be under the direct guidance of Gedolei HaDor, as a letter from Rav Wosner states.
To summarize, one should not marry with Kiddushin unless they are cognizant of the chance of being an Agunah and the sin of doing something in violation of accepted halacha to coerce a GET or to annul the marriage. My brother told me that this was the opinion of HaGaon Rav Moshe Shternbuch shlit”o head of the Beth Din of the Ado in Jerusalem.
Each community should establish a Shalom Bais Din and see that various procedures are implemented to improve the marriages and prevent broken marriages and Agunose.
Such a Beth Din should be founded with the guidance of senior Gittin poskim, although the purpose is not to make a GET but to make Shalom Bayis.
If anyone is interested in such a project they can contact me at 845-578-1917.
Musmach from Posek HaDor HaGaon Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashev zt”l to be Rosh Beth Din of Gittin
Five: Wickedness of Some Wives
Are some wives wicked? Well, some husbands may be wicked, and some wives may be wicked. But there is a caveat to our name-calling here. People are confused when the marriage declines. They are easily influenced by others. The wife may be frightened, confused, or mistaken. And yet, what she does may be wicked.
One of the major good points of the Shalom Bayis Beth Din is that when the marriage is far gone there is less confusion and fear than usually takes place. Whatever people decide to do or whoever they decide to discuss the issue with, they begin with a strong basis of trust in the Shalom Bayis Beth Din to guide them to the limits of Shalom Bayis and then help them find another Beth Din or individuals to deal with “beyond Shalom Bayis” chas vishalom.
My disagreement with Rabbi Safran and others in the Agunah movement is that it is wrong to assign blame to men and not to women. When ORA stages a demonstration against someone who does not give a GET, have they heard that person’s ideas or are they in there like a sledge hammer? And what of the rabbis and Rosh Yeshivas who distribute letters that everyone must humiliate a certain husband for not giving a GET: Have these rabbis and Rosh Yeshivas spoken to the husband? If not, they are wicked for adjudicating by hearing one side.
I know that in one case the wife was the Rosh Yeshiva’s relative and in the other the father of the wife was a supporter of the Rosh Yeshiva’s Yeshiva. But this is corruption, not Torah.
Six: When May a Woman Demand a GET?
Six, the article presents the pain of the woman. But there is pain and there is pain. A husband who is vicious is one thing. A husband who is not the exciting movie star of somebody’s dreams is something else. And yet, to the best of my knowledge, the two most famous wars between husband and wife in the Torah community are not about men who are cruel or insensitive. They may lack experience in marriage that can be helped with counseling. But divorce when the wife/husband haves a child is not necessarily to be encouraged. To encourage and coerce a divorce when there is a child and even if there is no child, have we reached a point where we encourage women to just fly away from a sacred thing like marriage for flimsy reasons? Perhaps a good therapist or similar person may get things back together again.
Marriage is Sacred and Holy
The great fault of this article and similar articulations to defend “Agunoth” is that people reading them are not being taught other ideas, such as the rights of children, the rights of the husband, and we have discussed these rights. But here we conclude our article with another idea. The success of marriage and indeed society is when marriage is sacred and holy. Jewish marriage is KIDUSHIN meaning sacred holiness. This has two aspects. One, the joining of husband and wife is holiness. It is not just an instrument of producing the next generation. Marriage is the highest level of humans in holiness, as creators of people, and of creating in the couple a unity that pierces the highest heavens when done right, and that plunges people to the lowest depths when done improperly.
 Pesachim 87b, 113b
 Teshuva VII:414
 EH 154 page 73b
 Gittin 108:12
 EH 154:21
 Kovets Teshuvose 174