(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com)
“Yes, Rabbi, my wife has refused to allow me to give a Get for the past nine years. I understand that you do heter meah rabbonims. Can I meet with you?”
“Yes, I was told about this case. Sure, let’s meet. Why is she not allowing you to give a get?”
“She is meshugah.”
“I am so sorry for you.”
The conversation above, or some version of it, has transpired a number of times in recent months here in both America and in Eretz Yisroel where the Rav at the other end of the line was a prominent Posaik or Rabbinic personality. Most of the Poskim have seen right through it. Sadly, some have not.
Shockingly enough, the husband has emerged from some of these meetings with a letter in hand stating what a great Mitzvah it is to help him obtain a Heter Meah Rabbonim (HMR).
The problem is that in this particular case the wife has been begging for a get for the past nine years and the husband has refused to give it. The sheer audacity in lying to Rabbonim straight to their faces and pretending to be the victim rather than the victimizer is beyond the imagination.
The husband, in fact, has been placed under a siruv (a type of Cherem) by Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l and his Bais Din (see Yoreh De’ah 334 for the implications) for precisely this very reason – not having appeared before a Beis Din to give a Get.
How was he able to convince some of these Rabbonim to write a unilateral psak without seeking out the other side of the story?
The truth is that the Gemorah (See Shavuos 31a and Saanhedrin 7b) derives an absolute prohibition in deciding on a case without the other being present from two different Psukim: “Do not take the Name in vain” and “listen between your brethren.” The halacha is found in Choshain Mishpat 17 (See Beis Yoseph there) and is Mitzvah number 74 in the Sefer HaChinuch.
In this particular case, the husband’s own family Rav, one of the Gedolei haPoskim in the entire North America, issued a ruling that he should issue a get immediately. When someone obtains a fraudulent Heter Me’ah Rabbonim – and refuses to give his wife a get – the Heter Meah Rabbonim is completely worthless.
This is the position of Gedolei HaPoskim. In this case, there were unscrupulous people who told these Rabbis that the wife is unwilling to accept a get. Sadly, they did not bother to verify it. Had they done so they would have realized that it was a complete fabrication.
Unfortunately, this case is not the only one. There are a number of Heter Mei’ah Rabbonim out there that stand in pure violation of halacha and common decency.
Throughout the ages, many of Klal Yisroel’s Gedolim have worked tirelessly to free Agunos. This can be seen with even cursory look at the sheer volume of Rabbinic literature and Teshuvos on the matter. These people are, however, creating them.
A HISTORY OF THE HMR
Historically, marrying more than one wife was not forbidden until the time of Rabbeinu Gershom (960—1040?). In Chumash and Navi we find that Avrohom Avinu, and Yaakov Avinu had more than one wife, as did Elkanah, Dovid, and Shlomo. The entire tractate of Yevamos also deals with numerous wives.
Roughly in the year 1000 CE, Rabbeinu Gershom of Mayence issued a decree forbidding the taking of more than one wife. This is known as the Cherem Rabbeinu Gershom. Aspects of the decree and subsequent halachic developments concerning it are found in the Prague Edition of the responsa of the Maharam MiRottenberg, siman 1022 (see also Be’er HaGolah, Y.D. 334).
REASON FOR THE PROHIBITION
What was Rabbeinu Gershom’s reason for prohibiting polygamy? The Meforshim provide a number of possibilities:
- The Rashba (cited by the Maharik #101) explains that people were mistreating their wives and taking them for granted.
- The Mordechai (Kesubos 291) explains that the rationale was to avoid the excessive fighting that multiple spouses bring on.
- There is a third opinion that it was to prevent siblings from two different countries marrying each other by accident.
- Others write that it was on account of economic reasons (Maharam Paduah #14).
- The Yaavetz write that it was on account of socio-religious factors in that the surrounding Christian gentiles only married one wife (Yaavetz Vol. II #15; it is not a violation of ‘chukas ha’goyim’ because it is a non-action rather than an action).
NEW REPERCUSSIONS OF THE PROHIBITION AGAINST MULTIPLE WIVES
With the prohibition against men marrying more than one wife firmly in place, as well as a second prohibition forbidding the giving of a get against the wife’s will– there are new repercussions that did not exist prior to the Cherem of Rabbeinu Gershom.
For example, there will be times when the woman will be unable to receive a get due to illness – the husband would thus be unable to remarry. There will also be times when a woman would refuse to receive a get, or will have run away and the husband will be unable to give a get. These three factors will cause a situation where the husband will be unable to remarry based upon the new decrees of Rabbeinu Gershom. Therefore, in order to enable the husband to remarry in these three situations, the heter mei’ah rabbanim was enacted.
REQUIREMENTS FOR HETER MEI’AH RABBONIM
There are a number of requirements for the heter mei’ah rabbonim.
- One hundred rabbis from at least three different countries must sign on to giving the husband permission to remarry.
- They must be scholars and may only do so after having looked into the details of the situation to ensure that the heter not be abused.
- They must also issue a get and place it with a third party, along with the money that they had originally promised the first wife in the kesubah.
WHO CREATED THE HETER?
There is great debate regarding who exactly first promulgated the leniency of the heter mei’ah rabbanim.
- Rabbi Yoel Sirkes (Bach old responsa #93) explains that the heter mei’ah rabbanim was handed down orally from Rabbeinu Gershom himself. The Mordechai in Yevamos #108 also indicates that it was Rabbeinu Gershom himself who promulgated its use.
- Rav Menachem Mendel Krochmal, author of the first responsa of Tzemach Tzeddek (#67), writes that a subsequent beis din was the one that initiated the concept. The Mishkenos Yaakov (siman #1) explains that the beis din that first promulgated its use was acting on behalf of Rabbeinu Gershom.
- Finally, a third theory is presented by the Chasam Sofer (Responsa E.H. Vol. I #3) that Rabbeinu Gershom outlined a general path for a future beis din to undo the prohibition against polygamy on an individual basis through 100 rabbis, and the parameters of this general path were further expanded upon.
PRESTIGE OF THE SIGNERS
Must the rabbis who sign the HMR be communal leaders? The response of the Noda BiYehudah explains that there is no such requirement. They must, however, be worthy of ruling.
In the United States, some rabbis have utilized the heter mei’ah rabbanim in a manner that has never been discussed in the poskim. They use it to allow husbands to remarry while not giving the first wife a get. This, in effect, keeps her chained to him – with
no prospects of her ever being able to remarry, while he is already remarried.
The greatest of our Poskim have ruled that these Heter Meiah Rabbonim are completely invalid.
But what if it was the woman who is at fault? Is there then a rationale to hold back the get? There is a fascinating Chasam Sofer (Nedarim 29) that even in an extreme case where a wife sinned with an extramarital relationship, “Ein lanu le’agein osah–we are not to make her into an agunah.” The Chasam Sofer continues that this is both obvious and clear.
What should our reaction be when we see an agunah? The Responsa Yeshuas Malko (E.H. #54) by Rabbi Yisroel Yehoshua Trunk (Poland 1920—1893) writes, “All of Israel is obligated in trying to help such a woman.”
Rav Moshe Shternbuch of the Eida HaChareidis in Jerusalem (Teshuvos v’Hanhagos Vol. V #44) writes regarding someone who is refusing to give a get to his wife, it is “permitted and proper to publicize” that “no one should have anything to do with him.”
The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 1:11) rules that it is proper to enact laws and stipulations regarding marrying an additional wife (this was according to those that had not adopted the ban of Rabbeinu Gershom on polygamy). The Vilna Gaon explains that the Shulchan Aruch writes this in order to avoid situations that may cause or tempt the husband to make his first wife an agunah.
Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l (Igros Moshe, Y.D. Vol. IV #15) in a letter to Rabbi Chanina Simcha Posner written in the summer of 1976, writes categorically that no one party has the right to be me’agein the other party for financial purposes. (Me’agein is the verb form of making someone into an agunah.)
Elsewhere, the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is generally forbidden to judge on Shabbos (Orech Chaim 339:1). The Rema adds that even if someone needs to be punished it is forbidden to place him in jail so that he not run away. The Mishnah Berurah (329:14), written by the saintly Chofetz Chaim, rules that this ruling of the Rema does not apply to husbands who are refusing to give their wife a get. He writes that one is allowed to put such a husband in jail over Shabbos so that he will not run away and will thus be present on motzaei Shabbos to give a get to his wife.
Not one of these sources is denying the right of a husband to present his side of the story to a beis din. These sources demonstrate that the refusal to come to the table and the withholding of a get to inflict psychological harm or pressure to capitulate in other matters is an abominable form of behavior that causes people to lose their share in the World to Come and justifies jailing them on the Sabbath itself.
THE PHONY HETER MEI’AH RABBONIM DOCUMENTS
Gedolei HaPoskim have cried out against these Rabbis who set up shop making Heter Mei’ah Rabbonim documents and do not give the woman a get. What do these “beis dins” that perform the heter mei’ah rabbanim do about the fact that the get must be given to a third party? They claim that the husband did indeed issue a get. However, they will not be forthcoming with that information unless the first wife agrees to certain demands.
The requirement of a Heter Mei’ah Rabbanim is to give a Get without conditions – a get bli t’naim. One cannot receive a HMR if there is a side demand for a half a million dollars – or any other demand as well.
It is clear that the use of the heter mei’ah rabbanim in such a matter is not at all in keeping with the halachos and underlying reasons for the heter mei’ah Rabbonim. Regardless of the claims or allegations on either side of a marriage, or that fault for a marriage’s dissolution may lie with either side, it is unconscionable to chain up any person out of spite. Anyone with a shred of decency should not be party to any such abuse of Torah. The withholding of a get is a grave Chilul Hashem.
This author would like to add another point as well.
SUCH A PERSON IS A DENIER OF OLAM HABAH
The Chezkuni (Bereishis 3:16) cites a Midrash and writes that if someone is betrothed to a woman and leaves her stuck as an agunah, then he is a denier of the World to Come. Consequently, he loses his share in Olam HaBa–the World to Come. The Ba’alei HaTosefos cite the same exposition and come to the very same conclusion: Making an agunah causes one to lose Olam HaBa. Presumably, this would apply to the enablers of such activities as well.
There, the status of the agunah was created at the very beginning of a marriage–upon halachic betrothal. Nonetheless, the idea is the same–these Rishonim hold that the husbands have lost their share in Olam HaBa. Their fate and future no longer lie with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their grandparents and great-grandparents for generations. Rather, the fates of husbands who improperly use the heter mei’ah rabbanim are with the likes of the evil Bilaam and Gechazi.
The author can be reached at email@example.com