Friday, September 29, 2023

Rackman's aguna solution was rejected by Modern Orthodox also - Rabbi Norman Lamm

It was this question that applied to the Rackman efforts in relieving the plight of the agunot. It was his genuine compassion for the agunot that led him to misapply and misinterpret key elements of halakha. Thus, Rabbi Soloveitchik (“The Rav”) publicly berated him in 1975 at the annual convention of the RCA and was to an extent responsible for his failure to achieve any further promotion in communal office that might have been in store for him. Yet Rabbi Rackman acted respectfully to the Rav, who was seven years his senior, “but not by sacrificing the autonomy of my soul. I dare to differ with him—and still do to this day.”

But it was this powerful opposition by the Rav, combined with certain other considerations, that shattered Rackman’s dream to succeed the late Dr. Belkin as the next President of Yeshiva University, and which led Rabbi Rackman to turn to Israel as the President, and later Chancellor, of Bar Ilan University. These factors should not be overlooked in writing the history of those stormy days when the destiny of Y.U. was being determined.

While I personally admired the motivation of his efforts on behalf of the agunot, I was dismayed by his latest move—essentially a continuation of his position years earlier—namely, the establishment of the grandiloquently named “Rabbi Emanuel Rackman-Agunah International Beit Din L’inyanei Agunot.” As a student of the Rav, I learned from him never to allow one’s reason and logic to be overwhelmed by someone’s great reputation (a legacy of his eminent ancestor, R. Hayyim of Volozhin.) I therefore studied the situation and would not have automatically supported my Rebbe’s broadsides if I disagreed with him. But much as I held Mendy in genuine esteem, I found too many weaknesses in his argument, some startling, especially in his public actions. The people he entrusted with this new Beit Din patently were not of the level that such innovation in halakha required. The approach he innovated was to annul the marriage of the couple, thus no divorce was needed. But this was agonizingly irresponsible for a man of Rackman’s stature, for many reasons. One was that in making it so easy to break up a marriage, trivialities can knowingly or unknowingly be disguised as serious agunah situations. With the relatively easy availability of an annulment, all genuine outside help—whether by rabbis or professional counselors—may be rejected in unspoken reliance on an annulment. In a word, it makes marriage itself casual and unserious. If one were to accept fully the Rackman “solution,” it would mean that the number that had so far been “released” from unhappy marriages, would increase many times over so that there would be no reason for the whole institution of divorce, because one could easily obtain his or her freedom by applying to the Bet Din for an annulment, often when casus belli can prove to be frivolous. Much as that would be helpful to the few

agunot, it would be tragically destructive to Jewish home life for many decades to come. By making divorce superfluous, you paradoxically make marriage itself unstable and even unnecessary, as it is always accompanied by the silent prospect of an annulment at the first sign of marital discord. The marital bonds are not strong enough in our times to bear the pressure of this additional burden. No wonder that the overwhelming number of Modern Orthodox Rabbis—let alone Haredi Rabbis—will not recognize such annulments, leading to horrific consequences.

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