“There is no more relationship — they have gone their separate ways. The husband doesn’t want to give the get unless he gets money. It’s not true that he doesn’t want to give a divorce, but he wants money. Deep down, he wants to be free and pursue his life.”
New “International Beit Din” Hopes To End Agunah Crisis One Case And One Loophole At A Time
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
A new international beit din (religious court), the International Beit Din, has begun to hear divorce cases, the Jewish Week reported.
The beit din, formed in June, is headed by Rabbi Simcha Krauss, who previously headed an Orthodox synagogue in Queens and was a leader of Religious Zionists of America before moving to Israel in 2005. It has already heard ten cases, Krauss reportedly said, and is the process of writing up rulings freeing all ten women.
The new beit din intends to find ways to free agunot, women “chained” to marriages they want to leave but cannot because recalcitrant husbands refuse to grant them a Jewish divorce known as a get. Many of these recalcitrant husbands are actively extorting their wives and their wives’ families, demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars is cash buyouts and favorable custody arrangements in exchange for giving the get.
Without a get, women are forbidden to remarry or to have sexual relations with another man. A woman who transgresses and has children with another man before being divorced condemns her new children and all their descendants after them to the status of mamzerim (bastards) who are forbidden to marry untainted Jews in perpetuity.
A husband, however, can cohabit with women who are not his wife, and any children from that new relationship do not carry the stigma of mamzerut – or any other halakhic penalty.
“These women have been in pain for too long. In many of these cases, their husbands have already moved on with their lives and gotten remarried, while they are still trapped,” Krauss, who moved back to New York from Jerusalem to direct the new beit din, told the Jewish Week.
The new beit din is reportedly using “methodological innovations” to free the women – primarily get zikui, an exceedingly rare halakhic legal procedure which allows a beit din to rule that the husband would have wanted to give his spouse a divorce if he were able to give testimony, but because he is physically ‘unable’ to testify or mentally or emotionally unable or unwilling to do so, the beit din acts in his place and grants his spouse a divorce.
“There is no more relationship — they have gone their separate ways. The husband doesn’t want to give the get unless he gets money. It’s not true that he doesn’t want to give a divorce, but he wants money. Deep down, he wants to be free and pursue his life,” Krauss told the Jewish Week in an email.
The new beit din won’t use get zikui to the exclusion of other methods, Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Yosef Blau, the second of of the three judges on the new beit din, told the paper.
“A number of tools can be used,. Each case will be evaluated on its own merit. The goal is to free women in a way that the decision will be accepted in the broader community.…A piece of paper is just a piece of paper,” he said. “Acceptance is what sets an agunah free,” Blau said.
Krauss claimed his new beit din has the support of Israeli senior haredi Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, who is also the chief dayan (rabbinic judge) of the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem, and of Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen, the former chief rabbi of Haifa.
But the top rosh yeshiva of YU’s rabbinical school, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, and its number two, Rabbi Mordechai Willig, reportedly oppose the methodology of the new beit din. Neither rabbi, however, would speak tot he Jewish Week about it.
The new beit din also has a policy mandating transparency.
“People today assume that the rulings of a beit din are corrupt or uninformed. That is why explaining every decision is necessary. We will present our reasoning clearly and openly,” Rabbi Ronnie Warburg, director of the new beit din and the court’s third rabbinic judge, told the Jewish Week.
The new beit din also appointed a psychologist. Dr. Giti Bendheim, to head a special committee to help women feel secure during the beit din process.
“We want to make certain that there is always a woman in the room [besides the agunah]. Some of the agunot are very young, and they would benefit from having a strong female presence available,” Krauss said.