Most readers have heard of the Miracle on the Hudson, where a skilled and courageous pilot saved his passengers and crew by landing his plane on the Hudson River in January 2009. Please permit me to introduce the “Miracle on the Hutch,” which took place only a few weeks afterward.
In order to comprehend the story, a bit of an introduction to the concept of a get zikui must be explained. In relatively rare circumstances, the halacha permits acquiring a get on behalf of an apathetic wife who is uninterested in receiving a get. It must be verified by the beit din that she is already civilly divorced, not observant of Jewish law and already (civilly) married to another man.
In such cases, mainstream Orthodox batei din follow the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein who permits administering a get zikui, conferring a get on behalf of such a woman. A get zikui is based on the halachic principle of zachin l’adam shelo b’fanav, that one may confer a benefit on behalf of someone, even not in the presence of the beneficiary. The benefit conferred upon the wife in such circumstances is that she is spared from the sin of adultery with her new husband, and children born from the second marriage are spared from the status of mamzeirut.
To illustrate the cogency of this procedure, I share the following incident that occurred during my service at the Beth Din of Elizabeth, where I have served as a dayan for the past 25 years. A 25-year-old man approached me with a concern that he was a mamzer since his mother did not receive a get from her first husband. Upon research it turns out that his mother (who was already civilly married to the young man’s father) was not interested in receiving a get from her first husband. A respected beit din, in turn, performed a get zikui on her behalf. The man was thus spared the status of mamzer due to a get zikui that had taken place 26 years before.
Returning to the Miracle on the Hutch: A gentleman from southeastern Connecticut contacted me to administer a get, but his wife turned out to be uninterested in receiving one. She told me that she (civilly) remarried and did not have the time for a get. I was unsuccessful in persuading the wife to receive the get despite investing considerable effort. We thus made an appointment to meet the man at the Young Israel of New Rochelle (the YINR is very kind to host our Beth Din even when we do not service their congregants) where we executed the get zikui. The wife told me that she had no objections to the zikui, she was merely uninterested.
While writing the get, an idea crossed my mind to reach out one more time to the woman in the very slim chance that she would be willing to receive the get. Incredibly, just as I called she was riding in the Hutchinson River Parkway, just south of exit 16, which is a two-minute drive from the Young Israel of New Rochelle. The woman agreed to cooperate since she would be going only a few minutes out of her way. The woman entered the shul (together with her new husband) and the get was completed without resorting to the less-than-ideal get zikui. This was the Miracle on the Hutch!
Me’eit Hashem hayata zot, hi niflat b’eineinu! Incredible timing is a tell-tale sign of Divine intervention subtly influencing the course of events. We are familiar with this regarding Megillat Esther, where the incredible timing of Achashverosh happening to read about Mordechai saving his life just as Haman entered the palace courtyard, and Achashverosh re-entering the palace just as Haman fell on Esther’s bed are clear manifestations of Hashem’s subtle hand.
We witnessed similar incredible timing involved in the establishment of the State of Israel. Historian Paul Johnson writes (Commentary Magazine, May 1998):
Another paradoxical aspect of the Zionist miracle, which we certainly did not grasp at the time and which is insufficiently understood even now, is that among the founding fathers of Israel was Joseph Stalin. Stalin had no love for Jews; quite the contrary, he murdered them whenever it suited his purposes. In his last phase, indeed, he was becoming increasingly paranoid; had he lived, he might well have carried out an extermination program rivaling Hitler’s. Moreover, like Lenin before him, Stalin had always opposed Zionism. He did so not only as a Great Russian imperialist but as a Marxist, and he was consistent on the matter up to the end of World War II and again from 1950 to his death in 1953. But during the crucial years 1947-48, he was guided by temporary considerations of Realpolitik, and specifically by what he saw as the threat of British imperialism.
Stalin ignorantly supposed that the way to undermine Britain’s position in the Middle East was to support the Jews, not the Arabs, and he backed Zionism in order to break the “British stranglehold.” Not only did he extend diplomatic recognition to Israel but, in order to intensify the fighting and the consequent chaos, he instructed the Czech government to sell it arms. The Czechs turned over an entire military airfield to shuttle weaponry to Tel Aviv; the Messerschmitt aircraft they supplied were of particular importance. Then, in mid-August 1948, Stalin decided he had made a huge error in judgment, and the obedient Czech government ordered a halt to the airlift within 48 hours. But by then the war had effectively been won.
The fledgling Israeli state was equally fortunate when it came to America, benefiting from a phase of benevolence that once again might not have lasted. President Truman was pro-Zionist, and he needed the Jewish vote in the 1948 election. It was his decision to push the partition scheme through the U.N. in November 1947 and to recognize the new Israeli state (de facto, not de jure) when it was declared in May 1948. But the contrary pressure he had to face, both from the State Department under George C. Marshall and from his Defense Secretary, James V. Forrestal, was immense. If the crisis had come a year later, after the cold war started to dominate the thinking of the West to the exclusion of almost everything else, it is likely that the anti-Zionist forces would have proved too strong for Truman. As it was, American backing for Israel in 1947-48 was the last idealistic luxury the Americans permitted themselves before the realities of global confrontation descended.
Thus, in terms of both Soviet and American policy, Israel slipped into existence through a window that briefly opened, and just as suddenly closed. Once again, timing—or, if one likes, providence—was of the essence.
Incredible timing, whether in Megillat Esther, the Miracle on the Hutch or the establishment of the State of Israel, is the spiritual detective’s guide to Divine manipulation. The more one studies the history of Israel’s establishment (Benny Morris’ “1948” is highly recommended reading) the more an individual blessed with a spiritual eye will notice the Divine fingerprints spread all over these incredible events. The more one learns about Israel’s creation, the more one can proclaim with utmost sincerity and wonder on Yom Ha’atzmaut: Me’eit Hashem hayata zot, hi niflat b’eineinu!
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a Rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a Dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.