Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tamar Epstein's heter: A summary of the case

A guest post 
בקש שלום ורדפהו
There is a fire[1] raging in the Jewish world. From Eretz Yisrael to the US, from the Edah Hachareidis to Yeshiva University, there has been wall-to-wall condemnation of a psak that was given to an eishes ish to remarry without a get, and her subsequent remarriage.

Here are the undisputed facts:
Dr. David Epstein was an active supporter of the Talmudical Academy of Philadelphia[2]. He was close to the roshei hayeshiva, especially Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky, and later Rav Sholom Kamenetzky.
When his daughter Tamar left her husband Aaron Friedman, it was the Kamenetzkies who rallied for her support. A seruv of the Aggudas Harabbanim against Mr. Friedman was uncharacteristically signed by Rav Shmuel, although he is not a member of that Bais Din, simply because he was active in the case.
The parties brought their case before the BD of Baltimore. At one point they left BD and ended up in court. The BD insists that the case is still pending and retains jurisdiction on it.
Later, after a protracted campaign - spanning over five years – to pressure the husband to give a get was unsuccessful, a new idea arose: to nullify the marriage based on mekach ta'us[3]. Subsequently, it was announced that "Tamar is Free", and about two months ago she married one Adam Fleischer. When it became known that the mesader kiddushin was Rav Nota Greenblatt of Memphis, he was questioned by Rav Aharon Feldman as to the basis for the heter.
Although many suspected that Rav Shmuel and Rav Sholom were somehow behind the heter, and at the very least supported the heter, they insisted all along that they had nothing to do with the heter. When approached by Rav Aharon Feldman and others, Rav Shmuel wrote a clear declaration "I was never matir…" All the blame was put on Rav Nota.
However, the documents speak for themselves. The paper trail of this saga is available on the internet. Although Rav Shmuel was indeed not matir her to marry without a get[4], he did advise her to go to Rav Nota Greenblatt to be matir.[5] Rav Sholom wrote letters to many rabbanim, detailing the grounds for annulling the marriage. As far as is publicly known, only one posek, Rav Nota Greenblatt, was matir and even officiated at the marriage ceremony.
Rav Nota Greenblatt has told a number of people, and penned a letter to assert that, never did he independently investigate the facts relating to the husband's condition that were the premise for the mekach ta'us, nor was he ever informed that a Bais Din had been involved, a factor that he says might have precluded him from getting involved. Even the psychiatric report, so crucial to the basis of the heter, was not properly read by Rav Nota. All fact-finding in this case was supplied by Rav Sholom Kamenetzky, upon whom Rav Nota relied blindly.
Rabbi Mordechai Willig tried numerous times to reach Rav Sholom unsuccessfully. Rav Chanoch Saltz spoke to Rav Sholom, who told him that he refuses to discuss the case with anyone who has negius, only with someone like Rav Dovid Feinstein.
According to Rav Sholom's family, Rav Dovid told Rav Sholom that Rav Nota is a bar-samcha. However, this only helps if the question is halachic. Rav Nota, however, is claiming that the facts were never determined by him, but by Rav Sholom. What does it help that Rav Nota is a bar-samcha if he was not the one who determined the facts?
It is clear from Rav Sholom's letters to Rav Nota that:
1.      More than merely "sending the woman to Rav Nota", he actively pursued Rav Nota until he procured from him a heter in writing.
2.      He writes clearly that his father saw all that he had written as a basis for the heter, and "approved him to sign his name", which clearly gave the impression to Rav Nota and others that Hagaon Rav Shmuel was already mattir.
3.      Rav Nota in his first letter to Rav Sholom writes that he understood that Rav Sholom was relaying a message from Rav Shmuel to state his opinion on the matter. Rav Nota in his reply is clearly being "mitztareif" to other "baalei horaah" who are matter. This indicates that Rav Nota was under the impression that Rav Shmuel was mattir and was only approaching Rav Nota to be "mitztareif".  
The obvious conclusion from this should be that Rav Nota was mattir only based on the facts provided him by Rav Sholom, and only because he understood that Rav Shmuel was mattir.
Another important point: Rav Sholom wrote specifically to Rav Nota that "it has already been paskened that he must give a get", an extremely controversial assertation, considering that the Baltimore Bais Din, the only BD accepted by the parties, refused and still refuses to pasken such. Rav Sholom is referring to a psak written by the Agudas Harabbanim, at the request of Rav Shmuel, against all standard halacha, to write such a psak without having met the husband.

The question now is:
Rav Shmuel is either mattir or not. If he is matter, let him come out and say so, and let him explain what he meant when he insisted all along, and even put it in writing that he was never mattir[6]. If he is not mattir, then he should say that clearly too, so that Rav Nota can then decide if he wants to retract from his heter or not.
The same is for Rav Sholom. He should either:
(a)    deny Rav Nota's claims that Rav Sholom, and only Rav Sholom, determined the facts upon which the psak is based,
(b)    acknowledge that he determined them and accept responsibility for the psak,
(c)    shift the blame for the fact-finding on someone else whom he relied on.
But hiding is not going to work.
Rav Nota has been forthcoming; Rav Shmuel and Rav Sholom is hiding. Whom do we believe?
Whoever can must ask the Kamenetzkys and anyone else who has an influence over Tamar:
1.      Where is the maaseh bais din and gvias edus establishing that she is muteres?
2.      Who met the husband and established his mental condition?
3.      Who determined that this mental condition existed before the marriage?
4.      Why did tamar never mention Aaron's mental health disorders in Bais Din, or in court, when she could have challenged his custody rights based on mental illness?
5.      Where is the makom igun that warrants such an extreme and rare psak according to the Igros Moshe, when the sole bais din that was agreed upon by the parties never paskened that he is obligated to give a get?
6.      Was she savra v'kibla?
7.      Why did Rav Shmuel lead this poor woman to do such a foolish move which would predictably end in such controversy, making her problems even greater than before?
How can we remain silent, when the Torah is being undermined by those who are supposedly protecting her? Is the Torah any less an agunah than Tamar?

[1] See Mishlei 6:27-29
[2] archives
[3] According to Rabbi Willig, the idea was the brainchild of her lawyer Goldfein.
[4] As he has insisted numerous times, and even wrote (see below).
[5] Heard from a Kamenetzky family member
[6] Bearing in mind that a talmid of Philadelphia who cheats on his Regents exam is expelled because a shakran is the worst.

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