Rav Hershel Schachter’s public letter of protest against the International Beit Din (IBD)—also signed by Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Rav Nota Greenblatt, Rav Avrohom Union, and Rav Menachem Mendel Senderovitz—has come to our attention.
In June 2015, Rav Schachter met with Rav Simcha Krauss and Rav A. Yehuda Warburg, members of the IBD, in the presence of Rav Mordechai Willig. At the time, Rav Schachter critiqued the thought and work of the IBD which he repeats in his letter to Torahweb. In his letter, he raises, among other things, three substantive criticisms which call for a response.
In his letter, Rav Schachter described an essay by a member of the beit din on get zikui as “mistaken from beginning to end.” The essay seeks to explore whether a get zikui may be used against the wishes of the husband but it was not written to represent the position of the IBD. It is the position of the IBD that get zikui may only be used with the consensus of all the dayanim and after additional rabbinical approval. The fact is the IBD has not used a get zikui.
At the above-mentioned meeting, Rav Schachter voiced his opposition to implementation of the technique of get zikui in the well-known case adjudicated by Rav Uriel Lavi, the av beit din of the rabbinic court of Tzfat, Israel. Furthermore, he stated unequivocally that “no one permits a get zikui when the husband refuses to give a get.”
When further challenged by a ruling of Rav Shalom Messas, the former Sepharadi Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, where he advises the use of get zikui even against the expressed will of the husband (see Shemesh U’magen, Even Ha’ezer, volume IV, #100), Rav Schachter responded “I haven’t seen that.”
At the meeting, Rav Schachter also criticized a psak rendered by the IBD because it relied upon the opinion of Ritva, a minority view. In fact, the decision relied in part upon the position of Ritva in the name of his teacher Ra’ah, which is cited authoritatively by two rishonim, namely Rabbeinu Peretz and Rav Yehuda, the son of Rosh. Moreover, the late Rav Eliezer Waldenberg and Rav Tzion Boaron, author of Teshuvot Sha’arei Tzion and a rabbinical judge serving on the highest beit din in the Chief Rabbinate’s network, namely the Beit Din ha-Gadol in Yerushalayim, have both endorsed Ritva’s position.
To be sure, there are many authorities who disagree with Ritva’s view and contend that his position may be utilized only as a senif (lit. an appendage), and therefore cannot be relied upon as the sole grounds to void a marriage. However, in careful reading of the entire psak, it becomes clear that the IBD decision also offered five other reasons in support of its leniency, including the husband’s admission that he is not Jewish. This psak din as well as other IBD decisions are available for public scrutiny on our website.
Rav Schachter further argues in his letter of protest that adultery is unlike aveilut, mourning, in that the concept of leniency does not apply. In fact, the Talmud states in a number of places that “because (of the harshness) of igun, the rabbis have ruled with leniency in relation to an agunah.” Namely, that leniency in igun is a Halachic value and must be weighed in the calculus of Halachic options in dealing with an agunah.
The Resignation from the IBD
In his letter, Rav Schachter referred to the resignation of one of the members of the IBD, suggesting that he resigned because he disapproved of the IBD’s methods and decisions. In truth, he resigned because he was pressured to do so by some of his own colleagues at YU. Furthermore, our dayan agreed to do so in exchange for an agreement that there would not be a public attack on the IBD. He also reassured the IBD that he stood by all the decisions he had co-signed prior to his resignation.
Rav Schachter has every right to disagree, even publicly, after carefully studying and then sharing the substance of his disagreements so that all can learn from them, respond to them, and, perhaps, change their opinions. The Jewish community can only benefit from leadership models that conduct communications and handle disagreements with civility and mutual respect, especially on such crucial Torah issues as get denial and agunot.
We ought to heed the words of Rav Moshe Feinstein: “And it is a major prohibition to leave a wife chained to her husband if one has the ability to address her situation and does not resolve it.” (Iggerot Moshe, EH 1:117) And in the words of a well-known Teshuvot HaBach HaHadashot volume 2:64 (cited by Har Tzvi, Introduction to EH): “Anyone who frees one agunah it is as if he has rebuilt one of the ruins of Jerusalem.”
About the International Beit Din
The International Beit Din (IBD) was established in 2014 to help resolve the continuing problem of get refusal, abuse of Halacha by extortion, and the resultant public disaffection from the halachic process that leads to chilul Hashem. The IBD follows in the footsteps of poskim who have offered solutions to free those who suffer unjustly from modern igun, from spouses who deny them a get.
For further information about the International Beit Din and its dayanim, please visit our website: www.internationalbeitdin.org