Friday, February 26, 2016

Washington area rabbis have shunned Aharon Friedman - against the halacha - but with encouragement of R Herschel Schacter

R Shmuel Herzfeld
Aharon Friedman is still being shunned by the Silver Spring community - by both rabbis and congregants as a Get refuser. Their distortion and ignorance of elementary halacha - or perhaps their preference for secular values over Torah - is problematic for a number of reason 

1) Tamar claims she doesn't need a Get because she says she was never married to Aharon. None the less the "wise" rabbis and their "wiser" congregants will not let him attend shul until he gives her a get! 2) The Baltimore Beis din has long stated that Aharon Friedman is not obligated to give his wife a Get - and they are the only beis din authorized to deal with the case because of a signed agreement from Aharon and Tamar. 3) While the Washington Beis Din originally demanded that Aharon give a Get - they rescinded that demand 6 years ago with the acknowledgement that they had no jurisdiction in the case which was already being dealt with by the Baltimore Beis Din.

Despite this explicit ruling in 2010 that only the Baltimore Beis Din is authorized to make ruling regarding this case - the ban has continued and is force today.

An example of a rabbi incorrectly claiming that halacha requires banning Aharon - despite the clear ruling of both the Washington and the Baltimore Beis Din  - is found in this post from 3 years ago of the view of Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld. He and Rav Schacter clearly hold that a man can be pressured to give a Get - on the demand of the wife - even without going to beis din - and even if the beis din says otherwise!
So from the perspective of Jewish law the matter is clear: If a person is not giving his wife a Get and is using it as leverage, one can (and depending on the circumstances, should) embarrass him publicly even to the point of threatening his livelihood.  
While this is never a pleasant thing to do; it is also not pleasant to live with the pain of not being able to remarry or go out on a date by virtue of the fact that you are being chained to a recalcitrant spouse.
Although, the halacha is clear I still felt trepidation in this area.  Perhaps I was misreading the sources or perhaps there were other factors that I did not consider.  So I personally discussed this case with Rav Hershel Schachter, a leading authority at Yeshiva University, who is directly involved in this exact case.  He encouraged me to continue on this path.  I specifically asked Rav Schachter if I should let all of Aharon’s colleagues on the Hill know about his behavior and he said, “yes.”
Subsequent to our conversation, Rav Schachter wrote a psak on this matter where he wrote: “Limnoa mei-habaal she-lo ye-agen et ishto—inyan zeh eino tzarikh pesak beit din, upeshita desaggi behoraat chacham, to work to prevent the husband from chaining his wife—this matter does not require a ruling from a Beit Din, and it is obvious that all that is required is a ruling from a single Torah scholar.”  He further noted that the great Rabbi Akiva Eiger also ruled that if we know a man is planning on making his wife an Agunah we can even throw him into jail on the Shabbat itself.  So in this case specifically it is appropriate to convince Aharon to give a Get.
The Halakhah on this matter is clear: Aharon should give the Get immediately and not hold it as leverage.  Until he does that it is permissible to embarrass him into doing so.
Of course, at the end of the day it is not just Aharon who is embarrassed publicly.  The New York Times article did not just embarrass Aharon, it also embarrassed the Torah; it is a Chilul Hashem to see such behavior being conducted under the auspices of the Torah.
But that is not the fault of the New York Times.  That is the fault of our own community for not being strong enough in this area.  
Aharon still has many supporters who are encouraging him in his recalcitrance either explicitly or implicitly through smoke screens and redirected, irrelevant complaints about his ex-wife.  And so Tamar Epstein’s status as an Agunah continues, and for that we should all be embarrassed.

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