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Rabbinic Violence

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I can’t even begin to express how embarrassed I am by the case currently getting massive exposure in the United States press and TV about a collection of religious Jews who have been charged with trying to arrange for a man who refused to give his wife a Get to be kidnapped, beaten, and tortured until he capitulated.

A sting operation took place. FBI undercover agents managed to get recordings of rabbis and fixers saying how and what they would do when they got hold of the recalcitrant husband. Graphic descriptions of electric cattle prods being applied to the victim’s private parts was simply icing on the cake of self-incrimination. But I must not prejudge the issue, innocent until proven guilty and all that. Some people have argued that there are worse dangers to be pursued and this was just a politically correct counterbalance to all those stings that have trapped Muslim terrorists. Others say the victim deserves it for being such an evil person.

There are several huge issues here that concern me and should concern anyone who takes the idea of Chillul HaShem, desecrating the Lord’s name, seriously. Maimonides, in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, makes it the first principle of Jewish behavior. This whole sorry story makes for a massive humiliation of Jewish law. Make no mistake about this, any normal average non- Jew hearing all this could not but conclude that Torah Judaism has a problem with violence and corruption, and that Jewish law on divorce makes the Taliban look positively progressive.

Why is it that so many men of limited intellect and capacity around the world carry out continuous and gratuitous rape and violence against women? The answer is that they have such a profound realization of their own inferiority that they have to take it out on someone even more vulnerable and who in many primitive societies is regarded as inferior. So they take it out on women, and the women in turn take often take it out on disadvantaged weaker women, and then on their own children. Violence begets violence.

One would like to think the Torah world is better. In many ways it is. But how else can one explain the amount of petty violence apparent in certain sections of the supposedly Torah world as the product of violence done to them. This year alone the non-Jewish public has learnt of apparently religious Jews setting other Jews on fire because they disagree religiously; Jews killing and sexually abusing other Jews; and I won’t even begin to enumerate the number of charges against Orthodox Jews for corruption, deception, and financial irregularities. What is wrong with these people? Indeed, what is wrong with their rabbis who seem so in love with money that blinds them to their moral responsibility to be seen to be upholding the law of the land? Kohelet was right three thousand years ago when he said, “And money covers up everything.” And the saddest point of all is that any time I come out and say this, instead of addressing the issue, people prefer to blame the messenger, attack me, argue that other societies are worse, anything but face up to the issue.

Torah is supposed to be pure, enlightening, and reviving, says the Book of Psalms. But this makes Torah out to be unfair and discriminatory. This whole episode revolves around the offensive fact that if a husband refuses to give his wife a religious bill of divorce she can never ever, ever remarry. How on earth can God’s law discriminate so against women, leaving them trapped and hopeless? And why do people then resort to violence outside of the law when one would expect the law to defend the disadvantaged?

A thousand years ago Rabbeynu Tam, the greatest rabbi of his day, forbade beating men up as a way of compelling a recalcitrant husbands to grant a Get. Why? Many argue because it created a very negative impression in a Christian world which any way at the time did not recognize or approve of divorce. Rabbeynu Tam was indeed worried about how we would appear to our non- Jewish neighbors. But at least the Christians found a way round it by annulling marriages, usually on spurious grounds. We too have this possibility. There is a principle in Jewish law “Whoever marries does so according to rabbinic law and therefore the rabbis have the right to annul a marriage.” But rabbis have consistently refused to make use of this power. Sometimes I wonder if its either pigheaded stubbornness or just male chauvinism. Sadly it lays women open to blackmail. But if we were really worried about making fools of ourselves and demeaning Torah in non-Jewish eyes, why are we not concerned about doing something about it?

According to Jewish law, if, after I have made a commitment, I discover something about the other party that had I known about beforehand I would never have bound myself in the first place, that agreement is null and void. Wouldn’t any woman say that if she had known what evil her husband really capable of before she married him she would never have married him in the first place? Isn’t that, equally, grounds for invalidating the marriage agreement? If, understandably, one doesn’t want to use this power cavalierly, why not at least occasionally, as a recent Beth Din in Israel did? This whole public relations fiasco would never have arisen if there had been a fair way of releasing a woman legally through the Torah.

Frankly, I’d love to beat up any bastard who so cruelly ruined a woman’s life and made her suffer till her dying day. But I cannot because I fear the consequences, I hate violence, and because it would be a terrible Chillul HaShem.

So I blame the rabbis who refuse to find ways of releasing women whose husbands withhold a Get for this public humiliation of Judaism. It isn’t enough that we have bred a generation of religious toughs who use violence as a way of resolving differences, but that we actually encourage them to do so because the law as currently applied is giving no alternative.

If the Talmud is so authoritative and important, and if there are religious authorities who rabbis simply ignore it when it suits them, how in Heaven’s name can I call them anything else but those who assist in desecrating the good name of Heaven and Torah? The Talmud says in Yoma, only death atones for anyone guilty of desecrating the Name of God. By refusing to act within the law we are only encouraging others to break the law.

8 thoughts on “Rabbinic Violence

  1. כתב רש"י (ספר האורה ח"ב ס' קמ"א וכ"ה באיסור והיתר שלו ס' קל"ה ובשו"ת מהר"ם ב"ב דפוס פראג ס' תתנ"ד וד"ק ס' צ' ובהגהות מיימוניות תשובות השייכות לספר קנין ס' כ"ו) לגבי הא דאסמכתא קניא אם קנו מיניה בב"ד בזה"ל והוא דקנו מיניה בב"ד חשוב ואפ' יש חשובים מהם בשאר מקומות אין לנו אלא ב"ד חשוב של אותו מקום דא"כ אין לדבר סוף שאין לך ב"ד חשוב שלא יה חשוב ממנו ואומר "אל השופט אשר יהיה בימים ההם" (דברים יז:ט) וכל שלשה שנתמנו שופטים על ישראל הרי הן כב"ד של משה (ר"ה כה.) לענוש נכסים ולהיות הפקרן הפקר וכו' עכ"ל. הרי שלך לפניך שכל ב"ד חשוב אמרינן בהו הפקר ב"ד הפקר. וכ"כ הריטב"א כאן בשם הרמב"ם דכל ב"ד חשוב בכל מקום ובכל זמן הפקרן הפקר. הרואה יראה שהרמב"ם (שמיטה פ"ט הי"ז) כתב דרק חכמים גדולים יותר כבית דינו של רב אמי ורב אסי הן הראויין להפקיע ממון בני אדם והם בלחוד כותבין הפרוזבול וכתב המהר"י קורקוס (מובא בכס"מ וכ"כ בב"י חו"מ ס' ס"ז) דר"ל כל ב"ד החשוב בדורו כמו שב"ד של ר"א ור"א היה חשוב בדורו. וזהו כדברי רש"י הנ"ל. והנה לכאורה ה"ה לגבי הפקעת קידושין שיכולים הב"ד בזה"ז להפקר הכסף שבו נתקדשה האשה ולעשות נתינת הכסף לה כנתינת גזל ונמצאת דאשה שנתקדשה באופן שאין דעת הב"ד נוחין המינה תהא קידושיה מבוטלין ונשארה כפנויה בעלמא. כך עולה לדינא להלכה ולמעשה בדיני ממונות אבל בקידושין מחמת חומרא דעריות לא סמכינן על זה וצריכה ממנו גט כ"כ בשו"ת הריב"ש (ס' שצ"ט) וכ"כ תלמידו בשו"ת תשב"ץ (ח"ב ס"ה) וכ"כ בנו בשו"ת הרשב"ש (ס' רי"א) וכ"כ בנו בשו"ת יכין ובועז (ח"ב ס' כ') וכן פסק הרמ"א (אה"ע ס' כ"ח סעיף כ"א) ומקורו בדברי התשב"ץ הנ"ל (כ"כ באבני מילואים שם ס"ק נ"ח). הנה אחרי שכתבתי כל זאת מצאתי באוצה"פ (אה"ע ס' כ"ח סעיף כ"א ס"ק קי"ב-קי"ג) שהאריכו בזה שמשא ומתן ובמקורות נאמנים הן לקולא הן לחומרא. וראה שם כמה פרטי דינים וביניהם שיש לעיין האם החמיר הרמ"א גם כשתיקנו להדיא שיופקע הקידושין אם עבר על חרם הקהל (שם אות ג') ועוד דנו האם מהני ספק בפסק זה להצטרף לעוד ספיקות וצדדים לקולא. ואין בידי להאריך בזה יותר מדי.

  2. Reb Chaim HaQoton has sent a learned reply to me giving the sources and opinions that would not allow for the Beth Din to cancel a marriage and why a Get is the only acceptable dissolution. And I appreciate the time and effort he has put into his reply.

    I will not argue that this is the overwhelming opinion amongst authorities today.

    However were there to be agreement that something needed to be done it would be possible either to revisit the issue on the basis of minority and other halachic opinions even if they have not been accepted up to now by the majority. Or to find other ways of dealing with the issue. The Charedi world for example has refused to accept the idea of pre nuptial contracts that hands over authority on such matters to a Beth Din. But that is only one example of a refusal to find ways of dealing with the issue.

  3. Hear hear, Jeremy.

    And so on and so forth with so many other issues where common sense comes up against a religious status quo. It seems that great intellects are wont to apply their ingenious methods to manipulating texts. I think the problem is more a lack of will and bravado. These are the qualities required for someone to say "No. Just because its been done like this before, and sometimes for a very long time, it doesn't make it right".

  4. Couldn't agree with you more. Whether it is out of fear of others, a desire to protect an inner core or simply to preserve ones reputation, it amounts to a dereliction of duty and responsibility.

  5. I love reading your blogs. They are a breath of fresh air.

    I think in this blog, you are condemning those rabbis who resort to violence because, as you say, though their motivation is decent, their method of action is not.

    I would like to go a bit further though. Suppose there were no other ways; let's say that there was no other way to obtain a get from the recalcitrant husband. What to do in this case? We have a few options: We can follow the Torah and allow a husband to hold his wife hostage, thereby tolerating an injustice to the woman; or we can force a Get out of a man, thus violating secular law and depriving the man of his Torah given right; or we can simply disregard the Torah by simply saying that the law no longer applies. Here, we will have given a woman her due, and do it without force. But here, we have walked away from a Torah law.

    It seems to me that no matter what we do we either will deprive a woman’s right, or violate secular law, or violate a man’s God given right. Now one way out might be to use a ‘frusball’ of some sort – a way to wiggle our way out of the Torah law without actually saying that we are violating the Torah law. Something like selling Hametz on Passover, for example. Something like selling a store every week to allow it to stay open on Saturday. I think it requires rabbis to be a little creative. Maybe they can use a little less muscle and a little more brain power?

  6. Yes, that is precisely what is needed, a way "round" the law while preserving its essential message. I think in recent times of "selling" the land in Israel for Shemitta. But we simply must act. However in Orthodoxy we are hampered by "consensus" and the current fear of being tarred with the brush of leniency. And therefore all one can do at the moment to is to cry out in public and keep on crying out until eventually the penny drops.

  7. This is a major problem I have with halakhot concerning divorces. I never understood why the rabbis who codified these laws did not include more effective safeguards to prevent these situations from occurring. I remember when I was younger and studying gittin and the commentaries on it, it seemed bizarre to me that there was even a question of whether or not torture is permitted in acquiring a get. If it's acknowledged that such a possibility exists and other tactics may be ineffective at preventing it from coming to it, then shouldn't the laws have been written in a way which allows a bet din to pass around the consent issue?
    I'm assuming loopholes shouldn't be too difficult if the rabbi/witnesses on the ketubah aren't orthodox, since an orthodox court could theoretically invalidate the whole marriage by claiming that they would not be valid witnesses.
    I actually wonder if this is even possible within Orthodoxy as well. If some rabbis aren't "kosher" enough to vouch for a conversion, then by that same silly haredi logic, their ketubot should be questionable as well. Unless it doesn't count if it makes the lives of Jews less difficult lol

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