Sunday, July 17, 2022

Response to the Eulogy for Rabbi Nota Zvi Greenblatt by Rabbi Shalom C. Spira

 The Gemara, Berakhot 31b derives from Hannah’s response to the High Priest in I Samuel 1:15 that if an innocent person is suspected of wrongful behaviour, then he/she is required to clear himself of the accusation. It is precisely for this reason that in a cause-célèbre involving his refusal to allow the writing of a get to free an agunah on the second day of Shavu‘ot, Rabbi Shlomo Kluger justified himself in a detailed appeal before Rabbi Moshe Sofer, “so that the sound of the lady’s blood should not cry out against me to say that I am culpable for her blood.” The appeal was accepted and vindicated by Teshuvot Chatam Sofer, Orach Chaim 145.  

This obligation derived from I Samuel 1:15 has now been  activated by a valuable insight offered by Rabbi David Greenblatt in a eulogy for his later father Rabbi Nota Zvi Greenblatt. Speaking at the funeral held in the beit midrash of MTJ on 30 Nissan, 5782, R. David Greenblatt said as follows (with Yiddish-style pronunciation): 


My father was matir a woman a year or two ago. He was only matir two women in 60 years. The rest of them, for the other thirty thousand, he travelled on buses and planes, and spent the night, and went to South America, all on his own cheshbon, everything, for thirty thousand. But there were two women he was matir. The last time he was matir a woman, he got tremendous flack. Big Jews criticized him. What happens to us when we get criticized? What happens to a person who’s not a gadol? ‘Ah, you’re criticizing me. You don’t know me. You don’t know why I did it. You should have called me. Do you know who I am? You didn’t let me explain it to you.’ We’re all… We’re all defending… We’re all defending our negi’os. It makes us defend ourselves. ‘What an insult to me.’ But my father said to me, literally in my ear, he said ‘Dovid,’ he said, ‘you understand the problem.’ He said: ‘Now, if a woman needs a heter, a Rav is not going to give her a heter no matter what, because he’s not going to want to take the flack. We’ve now made it hard for a woman who deserves a heter to get a heter.’ He didn’t think one second about himself. This was only about what is this going to do to nebach to the woman that deserves a heter and has a gadol who’s going to say ‘I don’t want to end up with that flack.’ I think it’s a small story but I think it’s the difference between gadlus and… and… and… and… and… and being one of… and being me… being the rest of us. 

In essence, then, we are now being informed that R. Nota Zvi Greenblatt held that it is a transgression for one rabbi to criticize another rabbi who authorizes a lady to remarry without a get. If so, this would stand as a significant accusation against the article that this student published at <> explaining why the Jewish faith requires Ms. Tamar Epstein to separate from her second husband [and possibly even encourages her to return to her first husband, although the latter question is more complex, as tentatively elucidated in Section J of my essay. And see also the conceptually relevant analysis of Rabbi Avishai Natan Meitlis, Me'orot Torat ha-Mishpat III, no. 91, available at <> .]  

Be-mechilat Kevod Torato, R. Nota Zvi Greenblatt’s accusation of my having transgressed can be respectfully countered. The Gemara, Yevamot 16a records that when the Sages heard a rumour that Rabbi Dosa ben Horkinas not only theoretically permitted yibum for the co-spouse of an incestuous relative [like Beit Shammaibut actually practically implemented that permission, they sent an emergency delegation of Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah and Rabbi Akiva to remonstrate with him. And the Gemara, Chagigah 9b indicates that mistakenly permitting remarriage of an eshet ish is more severe than mistakenly permitting marriage with an incestuous relative. Hence, synthesizing the conclusions of Yevamot 16a and Chagigah 9b together, it emerges that I acted ethically and correctly by publishing the aforementioned essay. [Indeed, as I subsequently wrote at at <>, by publishing the aforementioned essay, I am following the legacy of Rabbi Joshua H. Shmidman.] 

Admittedly, there is one dimension of the aforementioned responsum of Chatam Sofer that is subject to significant controversy. Chatam Sofer claims that the second day of Shavu‘ot is more stringent than Yom Tov Sheni of Pesach, Sukkot or Shemini Atzeret, thereby equating the second day of Shavu‘ot with the second day of Rosh ha-Shanah. This equation is rejected by Rabbi Yisrael David Harfenes, Teshuvot Mekadesh Yisrael, Shavu‘ot no. 107. The latter is available online at <>.  

However, to borrow a metaphor that Rabbi J. David Bleich employs in other contexts (Contemporary Halakhic Problems Vol. 4, p. xix; Bioethical Dilemmas Vol. 1, p. 96), it is important that a Jew not lose the forest for the trees. Rabbi Harfenes’ challenge of Chatam Sofer only concerns the peripheral aspect of the responsum which equates the second day of Shavu‘ot with the second day of Rosh ha-Shanah. Rabbi Harfenes never disputes the central thesis of Chatam Sofer’s responsum, viz. that R. Shlomo Kluger was correct to refuse to write a get on the second day of Shavu‘ot, and this despite the fact that the get was designed to relieve the plight of an agunah. Indeed, Rabbi Harfenes has more recently announced his personal opinion that – as a matter of policy – kiddushei ta‘ut should never be invoked nowadays in order to rescue an agunah. See <>. Hence, it is all the more logical to presume that Rabbi Harfenes would congratulate me for publishing the aforementioned essay. 

Tosafot to Berakhot 31b (s.v. moreh) comment that the High Priest in I Samuel 1:15 was in fact none other than the gedol ha-dor. And still, it remains the fact that it was a mitzvah for Hannah to respond to him to clear herself of the accusation. Likewise, Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Ha-Mo‘adim ba-HalakhahShavu‘ot, ch. 1, reports that the protagonist who believed that a get could indeed be written on Yom Tov Sheni [contra R. Shlomo Kluger] was none other than Rabbi Elazar Landau, eminent author of Yad ha-Melekh. And still, it remains the fact that it was a mitzvah for R. Shlomo Kluger to respond to him to clear himself of the accusation. By the same token, there is no contempt  intended toward the late R. Nota Zvi Greenblatt (or his distinguished son, yibadel le-chaim R. David Greenblatt) by my presently clearing myself of Rabbi Greenblatt’s accusation. Rather, I am discharging the obligation that the Jewish faith has foisted upon me. 

I will conclude with a beautiful story. As documented in Section G of my aforementioned essay, Rabbi Bleich originally did not grant this student authorization to publish an analysis of Epstein vs. Friedman until the background facts were verified at a Jan. 3, 2019 Montreal event in memory of the late Rabbi Pinchas Hirschprung. At the latter event, a transcript of anecdotes concerning Rabbi Hirschprung was distributed. [See attached scan.] One of these anecdotes relates that when the (now deceased) Lubavitcher Rebbe met Rabbi Hirschprung for the first time, the former stood for the latter and asked him: “Are you Akiva the son of Joseph whose name extends from one end of the world to the other?” This is a line borrowed from the aforementioned scene in Yevamot 16a. [N.B. In the distributed transcript, a typographical error mis-identifies the source as Yevamot 17a.] The take-home message is refreshing: in our age no less so than two thousand years ago, we are summoned to follow the example of Rabbi Akiva and profess our belief in the sanctity of Jewish marriage.


Rabbi Spira works as Editor of Manuscripts and Grants at the Lady Davis Institute of Medical Research [a Pavillion of the Jewish General Hospital] in Montreal, Canada.  

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