Wednesday, August 23, 2023

English translation of Rav Aharon Feldman's detailed letter to Torah scholars and poskim - regarding Tamar Epstein's heter - and asking for a response

October 20, 2015

To all great Torah scholars and poskim,

A very serious matter occurred a number of weeks ago that threatens to undermine the sanctity of Jewish marriage. Since the details are known to me and I feel a strong responsibility to Heaven to do all which is in my power to correct the matter - I am turning to you with this letter to present the details before you in order that I might receive your views on the issue.

The subject is the case of Tamar Epstein - the wife of Aharon Friedman. For many years he has not agreed to give her a Get because of a dispute between them concerning custody of their daughter. A few weeks ago, one of the most authoritative and distinguished rabbis in America [Rav Nota Greenblatt] permitted her to marry another man - and even performed the ceremony himself - without her receiving a Get from her husband.

I asked this great rabbi what was his justification? He responded that the basis of his ruling, that she could marry another man, was an expert psychiatrist's report that had been given him. The psychiatrist had concluded that the husband (Aharon Friedman) suffered from the personality disorders of Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD) and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) from the beginning of their marriage. Furthermore the psychiatrist claimed that these personality disorders were incurable. On the basis of this information, the distinguished rabbi concluded that the marriage was retroactively annulled based on the halachic principle of mekach ta'os (mistaken acquisition).

I have a number of objections to his conclusion which I will now present one at a time.

First concerning the claim that the husband had these personality disorders from the time of marriage

1) I have determined that this woman had gone before the Beis Din of Baltimore a number of years ago to obtain a Get from he husband. This beis din carefully questioned her as to why she wanted to get divorced. At no time did she claim that the reason for her request was because her husband suffered from personality disorders. In fact the opposite is true. She only claimed before the beis din (according to the testimony of two of the members of the beis din - the third is no longer alive) that she wanted to divorce him because he was not socially adept. 

In addition during the proceedings concerning custody of their daughter, she agreed that their daughter could be given to her husband for specific periods of time. This clearly implies that she did not view her husband as not normal. In addition according to the official report of the secular court  regarding custody which was produced afterwards - she never claimed that he was not normal. 

All of this demonstrates that he in fact did not have mental health issues. And even if you want to claim that he did have personality disorders - she clearly felt that she could live with them [as she made no mention of them in the proceedings to either the beis din or the secular court]

2) Secondly one of the members of the Baltimore Beis Din told me that Tamar told the beis din that at the beginning of the marriage she was taking birth control pills - but that after 8 months she decided that she wanted a child and she stopped taking the pills and she consequently she gave birth. This clearly shows that even if there were personality disorders that she was able to live with them. Concerning this claim that she obviously had decided she could live with his problems Rabbi Greenblatt answered: "It is true that she thought she could live with the personality disorders but that was only because she thought there was medicine that could cure him. That is why she did not immediately try to get out of the marriage. However the moment that the therapist told her that there was no cure for his condition (even after many years of treatment) this established retroactively that the marriage had been a mistake."

However the truth is that there was another expert therapist who had treated Tamar and had notified her in December of 2007 that there was no cure for these personality disorders. But it wasn't until March 2008 - 4 months later - that she decided to finally leave her husband (this is mentioned on page 6-7 of the report of the expert psychiatrist). This clearly demonstrates that she was willing to live with these disorders even after she had been notified that her husband was sick with a condition that had no cure. However the psychiatrist attempted to prove that this did not mean that she was willing to live with these disorders. He wrote, "My impression is that the best explanation of why she did not leave her husband immediately on finding on that there was no cure for his condition was because of her lack of self-confidence, pressures and inability to make up her mind." It is clear that "his impression" is insufficient to provide a justification for her to remarry without a Get in the face of  the evidence before us that she did in fact feel that she could live with this condition.

Furthermore in my humble opinion, even if the reality is that at the moment that she was informed that the personality disorders were incurable she had finally decided to leave him (something which appears to me as highly questionable) we need to deal carefully with the claim of Rabbi Greenblatt that retroactively she did not accept his condition.

Even though concerning purchases there is a concept of mekach ta'os (mistaken acquisition), but the acceptance of the purchase  - can't be uprooted based on a claim of mekach ta'os. Consequently when the purchaser is notified about the defect in his purchase and he agrees to it and decides to live with it - then he can no longer claim afterwards that he didn't know that he would not be able to live with the defect.

 If this principle is not true then a person could always claim that he can not live with a product because he says he can now not tolerate its defect. This is clear from the Mishna in Kesubos (77a). [If a woman marries a man with an unpleasant medical condition or an occupation which makes him smell and she states that she can live with it. But later she says that despite her belief that she could live with it - she in truth can't - the beis din forces him to divorce her.

However nowhere does it mention that the marriage should be annulled retroactively because she had mistakenly thought she could live with the condition. She is only free of the marriage from the time she receives the Get. ]

Concerning the credibility of the psychiatrist's report

1) I saw the report that Rabbi Greenblatt relied on for his psak This expert therapist acknowledged that he never met with the husband but only with the wife. His report (according to what he writes) was based on the testimony of the first therapist who treated the wife (and perhaps also the husband but this is not clear) in the past. The psychiatrist made his determinations based on incidents that the wife reported about the husband such as his anger, his stinginess, his fears, his worries etc. and said that these proved that the husband had the disorders mentioned before and that they were incurable.

Aside from the question of the credibility of therapist based on the limited information he had available - he clearly received money in order to report his views. And he was well aware that the wife's purpose in meeting with him was in order for rabbis to retroactively annul the marriage. (This was told to me by the man who obtained the report from the psychiatrist). And it is obvious from the report as we mentioned before.

2) It is possible that Tamar received instruction from another psychologist as to how to present her husband and his actions that the psychiatrist reported - in order to succeed in having the marriage annulled.

3) Many of the incidents that the psychiatrist used to prove that the husband Aharon wasn't normal and was incurable happened after they were married. How did he know that the mental illness - if in fact it exists -  didn't develop only after they were married? Because if it did develop after they were married there is no basis for annulling the marriage.

The psak itself is questionable

1) The psychiatrist who wrote the report is not an observant Jew. His credibility is entirely based on his concern that he would be damaged professionally if it was discovered he was lying. Is this presumption sufficient in the face of the fact that we mentioned before that he was consulted with the avowed purposed of freeing Tamar from marriage and to remove her status as a married woman?

2) Wouldn't it have been appropriate for Rabbi Greenblatt to request the views of other psychologists who actually met with the husband in order establish whether he suffered from these personality disorders? Isn't it very possible that another psychologist would not reach the same conclusion as the first therapist -as is well known that this is a frequent occurrence in the deliberations of beis din as well as those in secular courts?

Because of all these considerations, in my humble opinion, the heter of Rabbi Greenblatt mentioned before can not be relied upon at all. Consequently Tamar retains the status of being a definitely married woman. Therefore she is prohibited in marriage to all men until these matters are dealt with in beis din according to the halacha. And in the mean time she needs to leave her second "husband" and if she becomes pregnant from him the children are viewed as mamzerim - unless the beis din says otherwise - according to the halacha applied the facts. If there is anyone who disagrees with me - he needs to brings his claims before beis din in order that they be carefully considered.

I now request that  you join me in my protest against the heter  - if you think what I said is correct. While I feel it is important to protest this heter to stop adultery,  but doing it by myself without the support of a group of talmudic scholars  my protest will not be accepted and effective.  My urgent concern is that this heter will open the floodgates for the ignorant in our country to decide to annul marriages in a similar problematic manner to this one. That will result in the destruction (G-d forbid!) of the holiness of the Jewish people. As you know, up until now there have been various attempts of certain rabbis who are basically ignorant of Jewish law and who have not served an apprenticeship with expert rabbis. However they have been stopped by the protest of the rabbinic leadership of our communities. However this heter is different. Since it has been issued by Rabbi Greenblatt - who is recognized as important and expert Torah scholars in these matters - the opposition to improper heterim will fall apart if there is no protest.

In addition to the danger posed because the heter has been produced by Rabbi Greenblatt, in the eyes of the public Rabbi Greenblatt  is viewed as being supported in producing the heter by one of the senior rosh yeshivos (Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky) of the present generation as well as his son ( Rabbi Sholom Kaminetsky) who is also a distinguished Torah scholar. Despite the fact that the Kaminetskys deny this, there is no question that many will rely on these rumors to permit the nullification of the status of being a married woman by means of this heter. That is because they think gedolim have clearly supported this heter.

I close with a blessing that G-d stop these breaches and dwell in our midst and that we should not be shamed or transgress.

Aharon Feldman

p.s. If you agree with what I have written, I request that you inform me at the address listed at the top of the letter.

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