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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Jewish Nationalism and the Challenge of Its Uniqueness: Yeshiva Students and the Draft

With the development of what we may term modern Zionism, an issue arose as to the nature of the nationalism that was being asserted through this movement. Traditionally, the desire to return to Israel had religious roots and reflected an understanding of the unique nationality of the Jewish People. The goal through the ages was to return to the land but as a distinct Torah nation that would then meet these religious goals in the land given to the nation by God. This objective still found reflection in religious modern Zionism through the Mizrachi movement. Am Yisrael im Torat Yisrael b'Eretz Yisrael. To Mizrachi, the Jewish nation was not simply just another nation. The predominant secular elements of modern Zionism, however, did not see the desire for return in this manner. 
To Secular Zionists, the Jewish nation was a nation like any other -- and, to them, this is just what it should be. It was in this spirit that they demanded that the Jewish People itself should take action to re-gain the land of Israel and not just wait for Divine redemption. As a nation like any other nation, they declared that Jews should stop simply waiting for God to act on behalf of His Chosen People but rather should themselves do whatever is necessary to establish a state, just like any other nation would do whatever it deemed necessary. This comparison to all other nations was, though, not just a call to action, to act in the service of the nation as other nations would act in their own service. It was a further vision of nationhood. "David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel once quipped: 'We will know we have become a normal country when Jewish thieves and Jewish prostitutes conduct their business in Hebrew.'" The goal was a normal country like any other country and not a unique country in any way, let alone a unique Torah country. It removed God from the equation of Jewishness -- emphatically declaring that Jewish nationalism was like any other nationalism. A Jewish state should be like any other state.

We thus had was two visions of what Israel should be – and, on the surface, it would seem, these two visions of Jewish nationalism co-existed with each other, over the years, in the furtherance of a joint goal to create and preserve the State. The result was not a harmonious blending of values but rather an acceptance of a dichotomy of results as certain secular conclusions were reached in some areas of the State’s social being and other religious conclusions were reached in other areas. The result, however, did endure – and was able even to include the Charedi population as well. There was tension but there was also co-existence. What, however, was really the basis of this co-existence?

To answer that question, we have to further ask, what, in the mind of the secularists, was their vision of a Jewish state which was also like any other state? In defining the country as Jewish, and not just generic, there must be something unique about it, in any event, which inherently would distinguish it as Jewish. By definition, a Jewish State could not be a state like any other for it would be Jewish. The secular Zionist ideal, in fact, did include a powerful infusion of what it believed to be the essence of this Jewishness, which it derived from, actually, the Tanach. It, in fact, called for a re-focusing on our ancient historical roots -- as presented in the Biblical literature with individuals such as Dovid HaMelech (specifically, as presented, solely within the actual books of Tanach) as our models -- and a distancing from the model of the Diaspora Jew who was associated with the influence of the Talmud. The most powerful philosophical voice within the movement was that of Ahad Ha’am, the accepted thinker of modern Zionism – who clearly defined a Jewish ethos for modern secular Zionism. So being a state like any other state did not mean, to the secular Zionist, to not be a Jewish state – so what did they mean by a Jewish state still like any other state?

The answer, of course, lies in culture. All countries have their own individual culture; being a state like any other state does not mean that all states share the exact same, generic culture. It is thus expected that a Jewish State would have a unique Jewish culture – and in this regard even secular Zionists wished Israel to reflect Jewish culture. Israel should be like any other state with its own unique culture just as all states have their own unique culture.

It is in this regard that religious Zionists and secular Zionists could find some point of agreement for, even within the secular vision of Jewishness, so much of Jewish culture flows from the religious roots of Jewishness. It was within this perspective that, perhaps, the secularists were able to make peace with themselves for adopting religious initiatives into the law of Israel – these demands of the religious were still a part of Jewishness. Shabbat, kosher, the kippa – these were all parts of Jewish identity in the eyes of the world – could one really imagine a State of Israel that did not include these images? There were grumblings over the impositions of Halacha upon Israeli life – but there was the begrudging acceptance that it still did reflect Jewish culture. In this regard, there was overlap between the religious and the secular. The religious and secular Zionist could co-exist in a disagreement over the implementation, within the State, of Jewish culture – but it would still be Jewish culture.

So what, then, did the secularists really mean to exclude through its cry for a State like any other? From some thoughts I heard in regard to Gush Katif, I began to understand what the secularists really meant.  Their focus really was the issue of God-consciousness, which they, sadly, wanted absent in their Israel. They wanted a country that acted practically like any other, where the processes of thought in the furtherance of the country were similar to those processes applied by other countries. This reflected the initial break the secularists had with the religious – that Jews should act on their own rather than wait for God. It’s nationhood first, with religious observance the culture of the nation; not God first with commitment to nationhood part of His directive. (Further on this distinction, albeit in somewhat of a different context, see my National Identity, Nishma Introspection 5767-1.) Religious behavior per se was not the real concern of the secularists. Of course, they would like less imposed restrictions from Halacha but, as an argument within the parameters of Jewish culture, you win some, you lose some. But theocracy, and a perception of God-consciousness actually being part of the State’s functioning, that they could not tolerate. In the religious Zionists, who also took action to create the State, they did not perceive a force that would promote this view of theocracy – and thus they could work with them. Their disagreement with them, they could define as cultural.

What about, though, the Charedim? They clearly saw such commitment to God-consciousness as the purview of the Charedim but that they could tolerate, and even consider in such legislation as the exemption from the draft for yeshiva students. This, most likely, had something to do with the small size of the Charedi population. The Charedim were on the fringe. The actual functioning of the State was within the realm of the secularists and the religious Zionists who co-existed, in the minds of the secularists, in a battle over culture.
The yeshiva draft exemption was thus safe in this world. The perception was that the two groupings in charge – the religious Zionists and the secularists -- both still shared a vision of a nation like any other directed by humans. These two groups would both serve in the army. The God-conscious Charedim could be tolerated on the fringe. They were not in the mainstream of what Israel was in any event – and so they could have their yeshiva exemption from the draft. As the Charedi numbers swelled, however, some concern did develop within the secularists. It would not be easy for them to co-exist with a stronger expression of God-consciousness. With the growth of the Charedi population and their further involvement in Israeli society, the old concern of the secularists in regard to the religious was beginning to re-surface. This was an element that put pressure on the Charedim and the draft exemption. 

This, however, was not the only issue of God-consciousness and Jewish nationalism that was now flowing to the surface. This speaker on Gush Katif that I mentioned above posed the following question: why did secular Israeli society come down so hard on these settlers from Gush Katif who, eventually, were forced to leave their homes? The answer presented was that it was their specific mentioning of reliance upon God that angered the secularists. A state like any other state makes decisions through political and strategic analysis – and this was what, it was argued, was done in regard to Gush Katif. If the settlers were in disagreement with the conclusion reached through that process of human deliberation that would be one thing. But, according to this speaker, when the settlers started to say that there was no need to pack up as God would never let anyone move them from their homes, the secularists became inflamed. This was doubly so because these settlers were religious Zionists. They sounded, in the minds of the secularists, like the religious of old who argued that Jews must wait for God to take them out of the Diaspora.  The secularists could accept such an argument from Charedim, who they tolerated as a small minority reflecting the quaint religion of old, but not from their partners in the actual building of the nation. They saw a powerful God-consciousness in the religious Zionists which they previously chose to ignore. This left the secularists wondering about their partners in running the State.

To review, in the mind of the secularists, the reason they were able to form a coalition, of some nature, with the Mizrachi was because they believed that these religious Zionists, albeit that they were still religious, accepted a similar model for Israel – that the nation must make decisions as any other nation would make decisions. The secularists knew that the Charedim did not accept this vision but, given the size and influence of the Charedim, they were not deemed to be a problem – and as a minority within the State, they provided some diversity within the culture. The issue was active God-consciousness. To the secularists, Israeli policy had to be absent this. In the religious Zionists, the secularists thought that they had religious elements of the people who shared this vision. With Gush Katif, the secularists began to recognize that this was not so. When the settlers first went to Gush Katif, while they invoked God’s vision of Israel, the secularists only saw this chant as existing once the pragmatic, political decision to settle this land was already reached. Those who settled Gush Katif -- in fact, all who settled Yehduda and Shomron -- were still seen as on-side politically and strategically. When elements of the inhabitants of Gush Katif refused to leave, the secularists saw that this was not true. These religious Zionists, even as they also declared that the Jewish People should take steps on their own to settle Israel, the secularists began to recognize, also had a God-consciousness even similar to that of the Charedim. They both shared the existence of a God-consciousness that Avinu She’b’shamayim, Our Father in Heaven, guides the Jewish People. The issue between the Charedim and the religious Zionists was in how God does so guide His nation, not that He does. The fact is that, over the years, the religious Zionists have become more vocal in proclaiming their unique God-consciousness. With Gush Katif, it was emphatic. This presented an issue for the secularists but the vocalization of this God-consciousness within the religious Zionist community had been strengthening for a while. In this regard, it was also presenting an issue in regard to the Charedim and the yeshiva draft exemption. There was a different God-consciousness developing that specifically did not exclude the draft.

Israel was perceived to exist of three groupings – the secularists, the religious Zionists and the Charedim with, seemingly, the two former entities forming some type of partnership in governing the nation that, to the secularists, was based upon a principle of, it would seem, human responsibility. As such, it was perceived that the religious Zionists would join the army just like the secularists – with the Charedim, given their God-consciousness, not doing so. This understanding, though, was a mistaken one. The involvement of the religious Zionists in the army was not without a God-consciousness – in fact, it totally reflected a God-consciousness albeit different than that believed by the Charedim. This became more and more evident with the growth of the Hesder movement – army service was more and more seen to be in fulfillment of God’s demands upon His people. Gush Katif was, in a certain way, a case of how secularists confronted this recognition of a devout God-consciousness, albeit it different from the Charedim, within the religious Zionist population. The fact is that this unique God-consciousness of the religious Zionists was already existent albeit that the secularists may have not perceived it or not wanted to perceive it. 

What is now occurring with the issue of the draft for yeshiva students may also be, in certain way, a further reflection of this difference in understanding of God-consciousness – which is now coming more and more into the forefront. In that there are religious Zionists amongst the proponents for change in the draft law, an issue may also be a further enunciation of their understanding of what God wants. The issue in this regard is not the absence or promotion of God-consciousness (the issue for secularists) but rather what this vision of God-consciousness should be. What is now also occurring, on one front, in this present battle over the draft, is a battle over God-consciousness. The religious Zionists are no longer willing to ignore their vision of God-consciousness or to see it as anything less than the Charedi vision. In fact, their belief is that theirs is the optimum manifestation of proper God-consciousness. Hesder is correct; total exemption from the draft is not what God wants. The world is changing. Previously, the secularists were willing to accommodate the Charedim, as a small population, with their God-consciousness. The religious Zionists were also willing to do so for they inherently respected the God-consciousness in the Charedim. Now the religious Zionists may, though, be placing a priority on their own value of God-consciousness.

So, one of the root issues in regard to the yeshiva draft exemption may be the role of God in Jewish nationalism. The secularists have a problem with that role and, while willing to tolerate a little voice of God-consciousness within Israel, are concerned about a more dominant voice. With the growth of the Charedi population, the yeshiva draft exemption can be an issue for them in this regard. There is also, however, another debate over God-consciousness aside from that initiated by the secularists – a question of defining God-consciousness. The yeshiva draft exemption could be an issue in this regard as well; the exemption clearly challenges the religious Zionist view of proper God-consciousness. This question of defining God-consciousness, though, may also not just be an issue within the context of the Charedim and the religious Zionists. What we may be defining as the secular population in Israel may also be dealing with their own issue of God-consciousness. 

While the early non-religious Zionists were secular and wanted no part of religious consciousness within its national vision of Israel, this is not the case anymore. Even amongst the non-religious – or, for a better term, the non-observant or non-Orthodox – there is also a present issue with God-consciousness. It permeates through Jewish identity more than was thought. Yair Lapid, in his address at Kiryat Ono College, basically admitted, in his opinion, that the secular vision of Jewish nationalism had ultimately failed. What secular Zionist leaders, such as his father, failed to understand was the unique God consciousness which permeated the beings of most Jews. In the minds of this majority of Jews, there was always Avinu She'b'shamayim, Our Father in Heaven, Who had a unique relationship with His People, Am Yisrael, the nation of Israel. Regardless of the observance level of any singular Jew, this was part of the general Jewish consciousness of the majority of the people. While it took on many different manifestations, in thought and action, this consciousness was inherent to Jewish identity -- and thus had to be inherent to a Jewish State. As much as the early leaders of secular Zionism may have wanted a country like any other, they could not -- for the people who were forming this country were unlike any other people. They had this unique God consciousness that permeated their very national identity, even in the absence of Orthodox observance. There is now a growing population in Israel, outside of the Charedim and religious Zionists, who are also clamoring for the incorporation of their view of God-consciousness. This may also be affecting the issue of the yeshiva draft exemption – but it is clearly being felt in many aspects of Israeli life beyond that. 

This religious consciousness, in the nation as a whole, is perhaps seen in regard to issues such as those presented by the Women at the Wall. It is also seen in the growth of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel. The demarcations between religious (of this type) and secular are not so clear. This may be related to the fact that secular values and liberal religious values often overlap, Nevertheless, there are different formulations of what is termed religious being promoted throughout the country. The result is a lessening of a respect for the Charedi model especially as the only expression of religious consciousness, of God-consciousness. There may have been a time when secularists tolerated the quaint religion of the Charedim, allowing them, as a small group, in the observance of religion, to be exempted from the draft in the pursuit of their yeshiva studies. Nowadays, though, those being asked to accept the Charedi exemption are no longer just the secularists and these others may have an even stronger force of disagreement with this Charedi stance. Secularists, themselves, may also have problems today due to the Charedi numbers but the real issue in Israel today is this further recognition of God-consciousness in Israel and in Jewish identity in general. The challenge over the draft may be that many different elements in Israel are voicing different perceptions of Jewish God-consciousness, challenging the Charedi perception as the only one or the predominant one. This is extending beyond Orthodoxy.

The Secularists involved in the founding of Israel wanted a State like any other. What they did not recognize was that Jewish national identity was unlike any other national identity. There was inherent, for most Jews, a recognition of a special connection between the nation and Avinu She’b’shamayim. Recognition of this connection is growing in Israel but it is a connection that has many different shades of understanding – and, in our modern world, some not Orthodox. We, in many ways, are now experiencing in Israel, the first stages of how the country will respond to this shift. The further challenge to Orthodoxy will be that this new, open God-consciousness will not necessarily meet the parameters of Orthodoxy. It may also be less tolerant of Orthodox God-consciousness than the pure secularist. Looking on the positive side, one could say that the uniqueness of Jewish nationalism with an inherent God-consciousness is still being more and more enunciated. The reality, though, is that this also has its problems. The question is how to go ahead.

(Note: Within this issue of God-consciousness, I specifically did not deal with sincerity or propriety. What I am trying to identify is a matter of language, thought and/or form. A distinction between Halachic God-consciousness, within the parameters of eilu v’eilu must still be recognized – and my intent is not to place a non-Halachic God-consciousness in the same category as a Halachic one.
I also avoided dealing with the issue of whether some are invoking God to further their agenda or whether they really believe what they are saying. The very fact that these people are invoking a God-consciousness still must be noted.)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Agunot -- The Real Issue is Beit Din

The issue of agunot, again, sadly, has filled the Jewish and -- perhaps even more problematically - the non-Jewish media within the recent past. There is indeed a problem -- and it must be addressed. What I have noticed, though, is that the language that surrounds the discussion, rather that furthering a solution to the problem, actually, in many ways, only extends the problem. We talk about the agunah outside of its proper context and, to find any basis for a solution, we must, rather, define the issue within this proper context. The agunah problem must be placed within the general issue of Beit Din -- and to fully develop a proper and effective response to the matter, we must inherently deal with the modern issues in the place and structure of Beit Din in general. It is only then that we will be able to deal effectively with this specific issue. This, of course, is not to say that the patently criminal behaviour that is found linked to the agunah problem will be solved simply with this recognition but I do believe that by properly structuring the issue within its proper context, we would be able to better develop a method of responding to it. 

Right from the beginning, though, what one may find strange with my assertion is the implicit assumption therein contained that the challenge of Beit Din is not already being addressed. Beit Din would seem to be an essential part of the get process and thus, it would seem, any attempted solution to the agunah problem must already include the matter of beit din. The issue, however, is how we view get issues and, thus, the role of beit din within this process. What I am advocating for is the need to actually see beit din within its proper halachic parameters and this is not presently being done.

We should, perhaps, begin our investigation with how we presently look at the issue of the agunah and, more specifically, the connected perception most have of the giving of a get. In a general way, most people look at the giving of a get as simply a religious act -- an individualistic religious ritual done by a person, who wishes to do religion, in a totally personal context. Beit Din is then simply seen as part of this ritual. Defined as such, the giving of a get is, thus, simply seen to be a religious ritual that has no context outside of the person's religious desire to do the ritual -- albeit that there may be possible, powerful consequences for this individual who feels bound to this religious practice. The result of such a perception is that the one who is blocking the get procedure -- be it the man who does not wish to give it or, and there are cases of this, the woman who does not wish to receive it -- is solely seen as one who is blocking another from fulfilling this personal ritual, that is, meeting this religious obligation -- something deemed to be problematic because of the consequences to the one blocked who, within the context of his/her religious perceptions, cannot go on with their lives, specifically in terms of finding a new relationship. While this description may be applicable, on some level, in many cases, as a base for further movement on the issue, it must be recognized that, structurally, this is not really the way that Halacha actually sees the giving of a get in totality. Seeing the get process within this sole and narrow perspective may actually cause further havoc in the attempt to truly solve the overall agunah issue. We must see the issue within its actual halachic perspective.  

Within the context of Halacha, the get is part of the general divorce proceeding. It is not an isolated personal act but an action undertaken within the context of the court's, i.e. Beit Din's, overview of a divorce. This is not to say that a get necessarily needs a Beit Din, (on this issue, see Encyclopedia Talmudit 3:159) but the minhag [custom] is that it does. Beyond this, practically, the get is part of a process – i.e. the divorce litigation -- that often clearly must involve a court. This is so because of the outstanding issues which are necessarily included in a divorce break-up. Chinuch, Mitzvah 479, in defining this mitzvah of the get, enunciates this perception. The mitzvah is that when a man wishes to divorce his wife, he should do so through the halachic process of a get. The get, within the context of Halacha, is the concluding procedural element of a divorce process.

Let's expand this context. Indeed, originally, a get could be given unilaterally -- and even against the wife's will -- by a husband wishing to divorce his wife. This would, indeed, imply that the act was solely a personal one and not part of a court proceeding (except, perhaps, to ensure that the form of the get is executed correctly). Subsequent to Cherem Rabbeinu Gershon, however, which prohibited a get being given against a wife's will, this would seem to be clearly not the case anymore. The fact is, though, that it was also substantially not the case even prior to the establishment of this Cherem. T.B. Ketubot 39b informs us that the reason why the Rabbis instituted the concept of the ketubah was to limit unilateral action by a husband in this regard. If a husband would unilaterally give a get, he would be liable for the full payment of the ketubah, a substantial amount of money. A husband would thus either re-consider his desire to divorce or wish to go to Beit Din to get permission to give a get without being responsible for the ketubah -- thus clearly bringing the get into the realm of Beit Din. In that T.B. Ketubot 10a presents divergent opinions as to whether the ketubah is of Rabbinic (d'rabbanan) or Biblical (d'oraita) origin, it may even be that this was always an inherent issue within the Torah divorce system. The get was part of the Torah divorce proceedings -- and especially in cases of contested divorces, this necessitated a Beit Din.

This role of Beit Din is reinforced through other aspects of the halachic divorce system. It may be true that Biblically a man could divorce his wife against her will but since Cherem Rabbeinu Gershon this is no longer an option. Unless a wife consents to receiving a get, i.e. consents to the divorce, there is nothing that can be done outside of the Beit Din -- for it is only a Beit Din who can take action if it determines that a get is appropriate and a wife refuses to take one. This is similar in the opposite case as well. While it is the husband who must initiate the get procedure, and this must be done of his own free will, a wife has the right to petition a court for a divorce -- that is to petition beit din to declare that the husband should give a get. See Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer c. 154. If the beit din does so order and the husband refuses, the beit din can then take any action to force the husband to do so -- and this is deemed to be a good get given by the husband pursuant to his free will. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Gerushin 2:20.

Given all this, how can we now understand the get process? In the case where both parties wish the get, there would seem to be no issue -- it would seem similar to any other case, within any other legal system, where there is mutual consent to the divorce. You may even want to define it as a personal matter. The fact is, though, that even in cases where the parties have mutually consented to a get, there are batei dinim who would still be reluctant to proceed, believing that a get in such circumstances is inappropriate within the parameters of Torah thought. This would be similar, in certain ways, to other societal legal systems who would only allow a divorce with cause. Divorce is actually not inherently solely about personal consent. By extension, a get is not really, in any circumstance, simply a personal, religious issue but rather – as with divorce issues within, actually, any legal system – a matter that also inherently involves the society and, thus, societal institutions. A get is a divorce, with all the contextual meanings of this word – and a fundamental role of beit din in the process is as this legal representative of Torah society.

Let us continue with the case of mutual consent, when the parties have agreed to wishing a divorce. We can assume that, in such a case, if there is any other outstanding issues, the parties would have also agreed on how these issues will be reconciled or the parties would have accepted that they would be adjudicated pursuant to given methods of conflict resolution. Like any other litigation, there will be a resolution. By definition, in the interests of society, a divorce will not be granted until these other matters are worked out; the disagreement between the couple will naturally postpone the divorce, regardless of how much the parties may wish for one. Divorce in terms of separating the bond between the two members of the couple is part of a greater realm of divorce in which many additional matters -- custody, property -- must also be adjudicated. Sometimes the marital bond between the couple can be severed before this adjudication but the process for these further determinations must be in place or is inherently in place. If they are not, the severing of the marital bond will, simply, within any normative legal system not occur – not until the court has ruled on these matters. Within the Torah society, this falls also under the role of beit din.

Let us now apply this further to the get. The two parties, in desiring the get, may not be thinking of these additional issues but the fact is that they are there and they have to be addressed. This is part of the process of divorce. The fact is that when a couple, together, approach a beit din solely to arrange for a get, the couple have effectively agreed upon a method of dealing with all the other substantial issues -- thus the only matter before the beit din may be the get, seen in solely religious terms. Essentially, though, from the halachic-legal perspective, with the giving of the get, the beit din is inherently accepting the conclusions reached about the other divorce issues. 

When the two parties, however, do not, together, approach a beit din requesting a get, the full -- and true -- matter of divorce in all its complexity, it must be recognized, is really the issue, not just the get. From a halachic perspective, the issue is not simply that one wants a get and the other does not (or is trying to use the get as an unfair bargaining chip). The issue, from the perspective of Torah, is that one wants a divorce and the other does not. Or the issue concerns the corollary issues that accompany a divorce. The issue is thus really litigation before Beit Din. It is important to note that this litigation before beit din would also include whether the parties are bound to any previously determined decision concerning the divorce, even by a secular court. Once it comes to the get, it is beit din that is halachically the final court of record. By proceeding with the get, it is inherently accepting the other decisions as binding. It can, though, decide not to do so and thus demand a re-adjudication of these issues before overseeing the get.

No one, in our present halachic reality, has what you may term a right to a get. Inherently, a get is only good if the husband gives it of his own free will. The corollary of this is that a wife does not have a legal right to simply demand a get. Theoretically, a husband can refuse to give a get. Of course, it may be unethical for the husband to so refuse – and moral suasion can be brought upon the husband to give a get – but this does not mean that the husband does not have this right. He does. The only exception is when beit din declares that a husband should give a get -- and a wife can request such a ruling. In such a case when beit din, properly convened, gives such a ruling – that is a ruling through proper adjudication that a divorce is appropriate -- the husband should not refuse and can be forced to act upon the court’s direction. The truth is that even in cases where moral suasion is being used to cause a husband to give a get, this really still necessitates a ruling of beit din. It is only a properly done adjudication before beit din that can clearly declare the husband to be incorrect in withholding a get. Until that point, one really can’t declare the husband wrong in refusing to give a get. The fact is, also, if the moral suasion is done without the sanction of beit din there may be further problems in the get being defined as one given through coercion and thus invalid. The result of all this is that an agunah case that demands public reaction should be, generally, really only one that has been properly adjudicated in beit din with the husband still refusing to follow the direction of the beit din to give the get. This is why proper adjudication in beit din is often the real issue. In many cases, the problems of agunot begin in the lack of a proper beit din adjudication process – including the determination of the forum. (Post Cherem Rabbeinu Gershon, this same argument, with halachic emendations, applies in the opposite model of a wife refusing to receive a get.)

Two recent articles reflect the problem that I am trying to address. This is not to say that the articles do not have legitimate points but, I believe, they are lacking in that they do not include this perception of beit din in their approaches. One, at http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial-opinion/opinion/withholding-get-between-leverage-and-extortion, does not reflect on the role of an active beit din at all. The beit din, as with any court, is theoretically an imposing voice of authority with the power of adjudication. A get is not solely a matter of negotiation; there can also be judicial determination. While, truthfully, there may still be a problem due to the limitations on the enforcement capabilities of beit din within our society, I would argue that it is still important to define the issue correctly. In terms of the article, a beit din’s decision would also play a significant role in the determination of whether the withholding of a get is leverage or extortion.

In the other article, at http://5tjt.com/false-accusations-and-the-withholding-of-a-get/, the question posed is whether there is ever a legitimate reason for a husband to withhold a get. The answer of the posek asked is yes, in very particular circumstances – but this demands a ruling by a posek as such. While the author does also refer to beit din in this context, the use of the term posek in this discussion only reflects the problem I am noting and adds to the confusion. A posek responds to an individual’s question; he responds to the person asking what he/she may do. This answer, however, does not extend to another who did not ask this posek, especially if the other person asks a different posek. In cases that involve conflict between individuals, the forum for such resolution is solely a beit din, albeit that if two people agree to a single dayan to resolve a conflict, that is also generally halachically acceptable.  The person being asked, though, should then be seen as an individual dayan and not as a posek. The author, to be honest, actually addresses the need to hear both sides by referring to the fact that the posek should only render a decision upon hearing from both husband and wife. There is still, though, the problem in this language for what is missed is the inherent litigious nature of the issue. This is a court procedure. This is not a time to send one party off to his or her posek. This is a time for both of them to go before beit din

The direction of an individual posek must be for the parties to go to beit din. What does it mean that the husband is withholding the get? It is only a case of such withholding if beit din has so ruled; the role of beit din does not begin just in the technical procedure of giving the get. A contentious divorce proceeding demands a court and that is what beit din is. If that article is discussing a case where there was a secular decision on custody which is being challenged and the posek believes that the challenge has a halachic basis, this only reinforces my point. Beit din is the halachic forum for adjudication and it is within this structure that a get is to occur. If a posek is being asked if there is any legitimate basis, within the case, for challenging a secular court decision on custody – that may be a proper question. But that question can only arise because of a perception that a get is solely a ritualistic undertaking. If the matter was before beit din within its proper definitions, the issue would already be before it. What is thus necessary is a clear structure for such adjudication. (The author actually does conclude with the need for a protocol for determining forum – which emerges from a recognition of the proper role of beit din.  While this is to be commended, I still believe that the language of the article would still promote the present incorrect understanding of the process and the subsequent difficulties.)

Of course, in some agunah cases, there is such a proceeding and a husband still refuses to give a get – and gets away with it because of the limited power of beit din to enforce its findings within the secular world and the husband often believing he can do better by ignoring beit din (not to ignore the cases of vice versa) – and we still have to consider how to better respond in such cases. I have mentioned this and do so again. Yet, in many cases, just like the one noted in this second article, the problem would seem to be really at the beit din level. Without a clearly defined beit din to which the husband and wife have to go (agree to go), the two parties – sometimes, sadly, just trying to forum shop and find the beit din that would be most approving of their side; other times, however, because of rifts in hashkafa reflecting the tensions in the Torah world -- remain in contention because there is a lack of a properly adjudicating beit din in the case. This role of beit din is actually an issue in regard to all litigious matters within the Torah society. It is unfortunately most pronounced in the case of agunah.
Within the general rules of our societies, if a couple – or individuals within a couple – wishes to divorce, they go to court. If they are able to work out the issues on their own, there is no need for an adjudication on the matter by the court; the court merely rubberstamps it. If they cannot, then the court must intervene to render decisions on the matter. There are no games -- for the court that has jurisdiction is a given. The parties are bound by it and know that they are bound by it. This is the first challenge in the case of the get and the agunah. Effectively, the Torah believes strongly in the role of beit din as the tribunal of adjudication within the Jewish People. From the Torah perspective, you do not go to beit din simply for a get. You go to beit din to adjudicate the matter of a divorce. When this procedure is not working effectively, problems are clearly going to ensue. This is an essential base issue in the case of agunah

Practically, even with this recognition, problems still will ensue. I don’t have all the solutions – or, practically, even some. My goal in this piece is simply to define the issue in a manner which will, hopefully, be more truthful to its essence and, as such, better serve it. I was involved in one agunah case where the problem was simply that the husband went to one beit din and the wife went to another. My solution, when I was asked to intervene, was simply to find a beit din to which they would both agree to go. I was actually able to do so quite quickly and within the week the matter was resolved. I know that this was a relatively simple case and what happened in that case will not be duplicated in every other agunah cases. What astonished me, though, was that no one involved in this case previously came up with such a solution. I believe it was because I saw the issue as a beit din issue and defined the problem jurisdictionally. This was the opening of the solution in that case.
Beit din is part of Torah life and structure. This permeates the whole Torah system but is perhaps most felt, presently, in the case of the agunah. To solve problems in that matter, the answer may be found in this recognition of the structure of beit din. That may be the place to start – at least in how we speak of the issues.

Rabbi Ben Hecht