Monday, December 05, 2022

Recent events reported in the media focused the public’s attention on methods employed to deal with recalcitrance in the get process. In most end-of-marriage situations, even in the State of Israel where the rulings of a beit din may be enforced by civil authorities, a beit din is not empowered to rule that a husband may be coerced, either physically or monetarily, to give his wife a get. Illicit coercion absent a beit din ruling permitting it would invalidate a get written subject to such pressures.

Nevertheless, in a situation in which a beit din has ruled that a husband should give his wife a get, according to many authorities a beit din may determine that some forms of communal pressure against the recalcitrant husband are appropriate. Similar measures may also be employed when a husband refuses to appear in front of a beit din when summoned for adjudication of any dispute.

The package of communal measures that a beit din may impose is referred to as harchakot d’Rabbenu Tam, literally the distancing methods of Rabbenu Tam (1100-1171). Rabbenu Tam, in his work Sefer Hayashar (24), writes that in a situation where a husband refused to comply with the ruling of a beit din to give his wife a get, the members of his community were proscribed from speaking with him, doing business with him, hosting him, providing him with food and drink, escorting him and visiting him when he is sick. [Rema (Even Haezer 154:21) adds to this list not burying the individual and not performing brit milah for his son.]

Rabbenu Tam reasons that such social pressures are permissible because they fall short of physical or financial coercion; these methods serve to not provide benefits that the husband is not objectively entitled to rather than remove something that he already has (either money or physical health) (see Responsa Binyamin Zev 88 – 16th century). Another version reasons that the husband could always move to a different community or a different country where he would not necessarily be subject to the same sanctions (R’ Joseph Colon ben Solomon Trabott, 1420-1480, Mahari”k 135, citing Rabbenu Tam). Arguably, this reason may apply in fewer situations in our more mobile, contemporary society with enhanced communication abilities.

While some authorities opposed applying harchakot d’Rabbenu Tam absent a beit din ruling allowing for coercive measures (see for example Chazon Ish Even Haezer 108:12), both Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 7 Even Haezer 23) and Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 17:51) advocated withholding communal honors from a husband who refused to comply with the ruling of a beit din to give his wife a get. In the particular case referenced in Rabbi Yosef’s responsum, the Beit Din Hagadol (Supreme Court of Appeals) declared that the synagogues in the husband’s neighborhood should not allow him to enter or give him an aliyah, and that his neighbors should not inquire as to his welfare until he complies with the beit din’s directive.

The State of Israel, in a law emended in 1996, provides for removing some privileges from a recalcitrant party when instructed to do so by a beit din. This law allows for preventing the non-compliant spouse from leaving the country, receiving an Israeli passport, receiving or renewing a driver’s license, and opening or withdrawing funds from a bank account. This law has engendered discussion in the rabbinic literature as to whether it is more sweeping than what would be allowed as part of harchakot d’Rabbenu Tam (see, for example, R. Yosef Goldberg, Get Meuseh, appendix 5-6). If an Israeli beit din ruled that actual coercion is appropriate, the recalcitrant party may be jailed for not complying with a beit din’s ruling. In a 2008 ruling, the Beit Din Hagadol ruled that a husband incarcerated for refusing to comply with a beit din ruling to give his wife a get (in which the beit din ruled that he could be forced to do so) could be denied mehadrin food, in the spirit of harchakot d’Rabbenu Tam.

Although American batei din lack the enforcement mechanism of the Israeli justice system, the application of communal pressure when called for by a beit din can serve as a halachically warranted and effective mechanism for implementing the beit din’s ruling.

Rabbi Michoel Zylberman serves as S’gan Menahel (Associate Director) of the Beth Din of America. Information about the Beth Din may be accessed at www.bethdin.org.

By Rabbi Michoel Zylberman

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