There was an article in the New York Times about an apartment building in Manhattan peopled by the up and coming. Those people had the good jobs, great futures, and wonderful marriages. One day, people in the building were shocked to discover that a couple divorced. After a while, a neighbor of that couple divorced. And so it spread like a contagion. Those near a divorced person began to divorce, until the entire building was shaking with divorce. The purpose of the article obviously is to describe the poison that emanates from a bitter person who wants to spread the salvation that divorce brought to them. But this is wrong. If you talk to somebody filled with hate, you are going to learn hate. Never talk to such a person. Your marriage and your life hang in the balance.
Now let’s talk about the average couple in the Torah world who have a problem. The husband or wife is very angry, but who can they talk to about it? Well, the closest people to them such as parents soon are brought into the secret. Maybe the way the complaint is expressed, filled with bitterness, influences the parent or close friend. Somebody has just lit a match in a very sensitive area. Eventually, the bitterness becomes open and both parents jump in and the marriage is over with.
I spoke with a major rabbi in Israel not long ago and told him that telling parents of your problem with your spouse is very dangerous, because parents have no balance and can really mess up a marriage. He agreed enthusiastically.
Now let us go to the solution.
Let us assume that every marriage has its problems. The key to survival is to know what to do with these problems. We just described the folly of getting parents to back your hate, until both parents are firing away and the marriage is dead. So what should be done? Our solution is as follows.
First of all, marriage today is too delicate to wait until it falls apart to look for counseling. Then it may be too late. My idea is that before marriage and surely in its early phases the couple sign up with a Shalom Bais Beth Din. Now, this is not the ordinary Beth Din that enters the picture after all of the dishes have been smashed. This Beth Din does not deal with divorce or punishment for destroyed marriages. This Shalom Bais Din is only about Shalom. What is its function and how does it do its work to make Shalom?
The couple signs up with the Beth Din preferably before the marriage. A program of education is begun. Education covers those areas that impact upon Shalom Bayis, such as earnings, being tired or exhausted, unrealistic ambitions and expectations, etc. We straighten out the road before it is filled with potholes. We don’t ignore the basic problems that make pressures and confusion and disappointment in marriage, but we educate that they are here and must be faced and dealt with. And we educate the couple how to face and deal with them.
In other words, the Beth Din looks for trouble before it erupts. Most of the trouble is easily identified and can be dealt with, so we are far ahead of our program in the initial educating process. But yet, there can still be problems of personality, sensitivity, family, etc. So we come to phase two, not anticipating trouble, but leaning about it and dealing with it. As soon as husband or wife has a complaint, they are taught how to deal with it, and if they can’t settle it themselves, they must bring it to the Shalom Beth Din. The Shalom Beth Din will try to organize things, although this is easier said than done. Nonetheless, the fact that a Beth Din is involved, not in dividing up the children and money, but in settling things and making shalom, puts us far ahead of the usual process of problems in marriage.
We thus have phase one of pre-marital and early education, phase two of dealing with problems that erupt despite the education, and we come now to phase three, when one of the couple doesn’t listen to the Beth Din and the marriage is in trouble. Phase three is the power to fine, not to force a GET, because this Beth Din is not about divorce, but about Shalom Bayis. The fine is levied for violating Shalom Bayis. The couple signs a paper that is legal in Jewish and secular law that they will obey the Beth Din’s suggestions to make Shalom in the house. And if someone defies the Beth Din, the Beth Din has the power of fining the guilty party.
Now let us jump ahead to a marriage where the husband is tough and continues torturing his wife and refuses to listen to the Beth Din. He is fined, and fined again, and fined again. If it continues, and these legal obligations pile up, threatening his car, his house, his gulf clubs, his seforim, he may decide that he can’t afford this marriage and ask for a divorce. Note, he asks for the divorce to spare himself the fines. At least, this marriage will not make an Agunah. There is no problem of GET MEUSO a forced GET because the Beth Din is not interested in divorce; it wants Shalom and its fines are directed at creating Shalom not at creating Gittin.
In very rare cases a husband may be a candidate for a forced GET, but this is not the purpose of the Beth Din, whose purpose is Shalom. If the husband is a candidate for a coerced GET, which is extremely rare, the Beth Din can make recommendations how to proceed, but its basic function is to make Shalom, and if it makes a GET it is a failure and a wrong turn in the process. Thus, there is no problem of forced GET because the Beth Din does not want a GET. Preferably, if there is to be a coerced GET another Beth Din should be involved, and should be under the direct guidance of Gedolei HaDor, as a letter from Rav Wosner states.
To summarize, one should not marry with Kiddushin unless they are cognizant of the chance of being an Agunah and the sin of doing something in violation of accepted halacha to coerce a GET or to annul the marriage. My brother told me that this was the opinion of HaGaon Rav Moshe Shternbuch shlit”o head of the Beth Din of the Ado in Jerusalem.
Each community should establish a Shalom Bais Din and see that various procedures are implemented to improve the marriages and prevent broken marriages and Agunose.
Such a Beth Din should be founded with the guidance of senior Gittin poskim, although the purpose is not to make a GET but to make Shalom Bayis.
If anyone is interested in such a project they can contact me at 845-578-1917.
Musmach from Posek HaDor HaGaon Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashev zt”l to be Rosh Beth Din of Gittin