Even when a beit din may not coerce a husband to give a get, attempts must be made to convince him not to withhold a get unfairly. Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (Eidut Leyisrael 46) writes that “one who withholds a get because of unjust monetary demands is a thief,” and compares such behavior to murder. Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky (in a letter from the beginning of Rav Tzvi Gartner’s Kefiyah B’Get) derides men who unfairly withhold Gittin as “oppressors,” and urges helping their wives.
The Rama describes one possible way to help obtain a get without coercion (Even HaEzer 154:21): “(In) any situation where the halacha does not permit the husband to be coerced with whips (to give a get), the husband may not be excommunicated. Nevertheless, (the beit din) can issue a decree that all Jews must withhold any favors from the recalcitrant spouse and refrain from engaging in business with him, circumcising his sons, burying his deceased relatives, and any other sanction which beit din wishes short of excommunication.”
Rabbeinu Tam initiated these sanctions, known as “harchakot d’Rabbeinu Tam.” The halachic basis for these sanctions is that a man cannot be coerced to give a get, but withdrawing favors from him is allowed. Coercion refers to threatening a husband with physical harm or having his property taken away. Here, no damage is done; things that might have been bestowed are withheld.
Not all authorities agree with Rabbeinu Tam and the Rama. The author of the Shach (Gevurot Anashim 72, cited by Pitchei Teshuvah, Even HaEzer 154:30) believes these sanctions are coercive. The Chazon Ish (Even HaEzer 108:12) rules per the Shach’s strict view. On the other hand, the Aruch Hashulchan (Even HaEzer 154:63) follows Rabbeinu Tam and the Rama that these sanctions do not constitute coercion. This is also the view of Rav Bezalel Ashkenazi (Teshuvot 6 and 19), Teshuvot Lechem Rav (31), the Maharam Lublin (Teshuvot 1), the Eliah Rabbah (13), Rav Yitzchak Herzog (Techukah Leyisrael Al Pi Hatorah 3:202, 209 and Teshuvot Heichal Yitzchak Even HaEzer 1:1) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:137).
Moreover, the Shach’s argument likely does not apply today. He argues that imposing harchakot d’Rabbeinu Tam in the Shach’s time (17th-century Poland) was as severe as excommunication (cherem). During that period, Jews depended on each other to earn a livelihood. However, sanctions in our communities have less impact than excommunication in previous generations due to our lack of communal isolation. Thus, it is very likely that even the Shach would not object to imposing harchakot d’Rabbeinu Tam in our communities.
Accordingly, a recognized beit din may impose strict sanctions on many recalcitrant spouses. An example of implementing these sanctions appears in Rav Ovadia Yosef’s Teshuvot Yabia Omer (volume 7, Even HaEzer 23) and Rav Eliezer Waldenberg’s Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer (17:51). Rav Ovadia and Rav Waldenberg present a decision of Israel’s Beit Din Hagadol where they—along with Rav Yitzchak Kulitz—imposed harchakot d’Rabbeinu Tam on a recalcitrant husband. The husband yielded shortly afterward and gave his wife a get.
The Knesset has enabled the state of Israel batei din to implement harchakot d’Rabbeinu Tam. A beit din is empowered under Israeli law to suspend the recalcitrant spouse’s driver’s license and bank account.
Turning to these shores, the Va’ad Harabbanim of Riverdale has also imposed such sanctions, led by Rav Mordechai Willig. They have successfully prodded the recalcitrant spouse to participate in a get ceremony. Rav Nota Greenblatt—a leading talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein and a dean of the American rabbinate until his passing in 2022—related (at a conference of Young Israel Rabbis) that a woman died in his Memphis community on Erev Yom Kippur. Her son—a beit din certified get refuser—arrived in Memphis for the funeral. Rav Greenblatt stunningly told the son, despite the soon-to-arrive Yom Kippur (!), that he would not allow the mother’s funeral to proceed until he gave the get. Finally, the son relented, and the funeral was completed in time for Yom Kippur.
Similarly, another dean of the American rabbinate, Rav Gedalia Schwartz, also related (at the Mesadrei Gittin conference of 2015) that he implemented harchakot d’Rabbeinu Tam in a Chicago case.
Both the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the American batei din impose—when appropriate—harchakot d’Rabbeinu Tam. There is no difference between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews in this regard. May peace reign in our homes and communities, and may disputes be peacefully resolved.
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.