Volume 54 Number 98
                    Produced: Fri Jun 15  4:51:05 EDT 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Agunot/Msorevet Leget (2)
         [Chana Luntz, Joseph Kaplan]
Beseder (2)
         [Lipman Phillip Minden, Art Sapper]


From: Chana Luntz <chana@...>
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2007 14:37:31 +0100
Subject: RE: Agunot/Msorevet Leget

 Joseph Kaplan writes (in response to my previous post outlining a case
of pidyon shevuim):

> My reaction to your scenario and question is the following:
> The world is a lousy place sometimes.  It is, unfortunately, filled
> with great evil (though, thank God, much good as well).  And there is
> nothing one can do to eradicate evil completely; we can combat it,
> defeat it sometimes, but not completely eradicate it.  So, when faced
> with a hostage situation, a question of evil people doing evil things,
> if the solution is not the worst one, we can rejoice that the bad
> result won out over the worse result.  With the agunah case (I hope
> you don't mind if I don't use msorevet get), however, there is one
> added factor: the evil arises out of a misuse of halacha that,
> somehow, should be fixable.

But isn't this the heart of the issue - and the one that Jay (Yaakov)
Shachter tried to address?  There is an assumption that "the evil arises
out of a misuse of halacha that, somehow, should be fixable".  But what
if it is not fixable?  And what if we are honest and say it has nothing
to do with the rabbis?

Let us start at the very beginning.

The Torah says Devarim 24:1 that if there is to be a divorce a man must
"write for her a bill of divorce" [kasav la sefer krisus].  Now you
don't really need a ton of explanations and exegesis to understand from
this that, in order for a divorce to occur, under Torah law, the man
must do something, and should the man refuse to do it, then there is no
divorce.  Once you predicate something on somebody doing something, then
if they refuse to do it, you have a problem.

But this has nothing to do with "the rabbis".  If you agree that the
Torah is divinely given, then I am afraid that you have to send
responsibility for this problem back onto Hashem himself.

Now the issue is made starker by the Rambam's comments (inter alia at
the beginning of hilchos ishus (1:1)) that before the Torah was given a
woman became a man's wife by them agreeing to marry and her coming into
his home and is divorced by leaving his home, without the need for
kiddushin or gitten - this being the means by which a ben noach is
considered divorced to this day (see Hilchos melachim perek 9 siman 8).

So, one has to ask the question, and it is a very hard question - why is
it that the Torah saw fit to change what seems to be a perfectly fair,
workable and equitable arrangement for marriage and divorce, and create
one that, to put it starkly, appears to deliver the weak into the hands
of the strong, chalashim b'yad giburim?

I don't know the answer to this question - and to my mind it
legitimately rates as a question up there with why does Hashem allow
great evil to exist, making the world a lousy place? Why does he allow
kidnappers to exist?  Why does he allow horrible diseases to exist?

But if you believe the Torah is divinely given, then, it seems to me to
follow, there is no more point railing at the rabbis for failing to find
a solution for a divinely engineered problem, than for railing at them
(or scientists for that matter) for failing to find a cure for cancer.

> And if our rabbis can't/won't fix it, if they allow halacha to be
> misused in a way that brings such hurt to an innocent party, then it's
> not a case of bad winning out over worse; it's a case of bad plus
> being the result. And it's that plus that made the tone so
> infuriating.

But isn't all that predicated on the assumption that it is really a
problem they have created, and if they really truly tried, they could do
something to fix the problem?  If however one understands it as a
divinely engineered problem, not dissimilar to your acts of G-d that we
see in nature, then why is what the rabbi did not a "not the worst"
solution, and hence one to be rejoiced over?

Note, just to clarify.  I do think that the question as to why the Torah
saw fit to change what seemed to be a perfectly fair, workable and
equitable arrangement for marriage and divorce is a different kind of
question to the other why does Hashem permit earthquakes and diseases
and such in the world.  But part of the reason for that is precisely
because we understand the Torah to be promoting itself as an ideal form
of legal system, one that makes others say what a wise people is this
that possesses the Torah, and hence when we have something that seems
distinctly inferior to what went before, and what others are doing, it
seems to undermine this whole notion of Torah.  So I can understand a
knee jerk reaction to say that it must be the rabbis' fault.  If they
were doing this right, then things would all be OK, an attitude that
thus, paradoxically, protects the Torah itself from criticism.  But I am
not sure one can genuinely and legitimately say that in this case.  The
language is really very clear.  Somehow a husband has to be roped into
doing something in order to effectuate a divorce.  And, lets face it,
torture as a fix, while it might work, is not really such an ideal
solution either.

Now I have, even previously on this list, proposed a possible answer to
the question that posed above.  But, to be clear, I certainly do not
know that this is the correct, or even a correct, answer.  But it is the
only answer that I have been able to come up with in response to the
question as to why the Torah saw fit to change what seems to be a
perfectly fair and equitable pre-existing arrangement for marriage and
divorce, that does not give rise to these horrible distortions of power.
And I arrived at this possible answer by having a look at what indeed
happens in the non Jewish world when relationships with what might be
termed "not such great men", dissolve.  And the reality out there is
that a woman in an abusive relationship is never at greater risk of her
life than when she leaves.  Many, many women are killed because they, or
when they, finally manage to leave their spouses or partners.  But the
reverse rarely occurs.  For some reason, it is extremely rare for a man
to be killed because he has left or no longer wishes to be married to
his wife or partner.

So my tentative hypothesis is that the sort of man who is willing to
deliberately withold a get from his wife, is or may well be the sort of
man who, if he did not have this weapon to wield against her, might well
be likely to murder her.  And that while the situation for a woman
denied a get is to, in your words "sit alone without a spouse and love
and with their lives ticking away", maybe, just maybe we can say that
that is indeed a less evil situation compared with the probable
alternative, namely one where she is dead, period.  That witholding the
get gives to this kind of man the psychological power he craves over
this woman, sufficient to prevent him from using the more classic form
of "If I can't have her, nobody will", which, as you probably know, is
rooted in the barrel of a gun.  With the added advantage that maybe,
just maybe, over time, his desires and goals can be shifted, onto money,
onto somebody else, by community pressure, and we can, even if
reluctantly, have him buy into the process and give the get and free her
entirely.  Whereas of course, if he actually kills her, then she remains
dead, regardless of whether or not he has or can be brought to have,
remorse in the future.  I don't know.  I don't know if it is the right
answer.  But to facilely blame the rabbis for not finding a solution
seems to me to be the wrong answer, akin to lashing out at the doctors
for failing to save a patient.  Some doctors are uncaring, negligent,
unhelpful, some are devoted.  Some have tones and manners that could be
improved.  But ultimately they are,at best, facilitiators.  They did not
create the disease, and cannot guarantee to cure it.


From: Joseph Kaplan <penkap@...>
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2007 10:55:56 -0400
Subject: Agunot/Msorevet Leget

Chana Luntz's lengthy reply to my reply to her response (are you with me
still) is, as always, scholarly and perceptive.  Although I feel a
little out of my depth, let me try to respond:

> But isn't all that predicated on the assumption that it is really a
> problem they [the rabbis] have created, and if they really truly tried,
> they could do something to fix the problem?

There are two different points in that question.  As to the first, I
don't believe the rabbis created the problem.  Rather, the problem was
created when the following two basic changes occurred in the societies
in which Jews lived, thus making a workable system much more
problematic: (a) Jews no longer had their own judicial system in which
they could force a man to give a get (makin oso ad she'omer rotzeh ani;
the court beats him until he agrees to give the get), and (b) civil
divorce came into existence.  So now we have a problem that we really
didn't have before.

And then comes the second, more serious, part: "if they really truly
tried, they could do something to fix the problem."  Or, as you also put
it, "but what if it is not fixable?"  And there's the rub.  I'm no
expert (which is the understatement of the year), but from all the
lectures I've heard and articles and books I've read, from all the
discussions I've had with rabbis who are experts in this field, I
believe there are solutions, which the rabbis, for various reasons, some
very understandable and some less so, have not implemented.  And on this
point I understand that positions may be so different that extensive
discussion is not particularly helpful.

But even if there are no solutions, I don't think the situation is
similar to God "allow[ing] great evil to exist, making the world a lousy
place, . . . allow[ing] kidnappers to exist, . . . allow[ing] horrible
diseases to exist."  Because this problem is not based on the natural
world or evil choices people make; it based on a misuse of halacha.
Human beings are subject to great evil, kidnappers, and horrible
diseases.  Only Jews who follow halacha are subject to the misuse of
halacha in this area because only they accept the binding nature of
halacha.  And so, if this horrible problem was caused by changes in
society and halacha has no "imaginary numbers" ready to be found to
solve it, then "tone" in discussing these issues is very important in
order to emphasize that this is not the way things should be.  Halacha
should be a reflection of deracheha darchei noam (it ways are the ways
of pleasantness), and when it is not, then the rabbis' attitudes and
tone must reflect the fact that things are not the way they are supposed
to be.

And finally, with respect to your last point -- your "tentative
hypothesis . . . that the sort of man who is willing to deliberately
withhold a get from his wife, is or may well be the sort of man who, if
he did not have this weapon to wield against her, might well be likely
to murder her" -- I simply cannot accept that this was halacha's (or
God's) purpose. And one (but only one) of the reasons that I cannot
accept that hypothesis is that, at one point in our history, we were
able to force men to divorce their wives, the way civil courts can force
men to do so today.  Halacha did not seem concerned at that time that
men who were physically coerced by a bet din would then kill their (ex)
wives on the "if I can't have her, nobody will" theory.  And if it
wasn't true then, I don't see why it should be true now.

These issues are, of course, extremely complex, and won't be resolved by
discussions on the internet.  But what can be accomplished by such
discussions is an understanding of what I believe is the great
sensitivity that must be demonstrated when speaking about this issue.
So, to get back to my original point, I did not (and still do not)
believe that either Dr. Shacther in his original post or the unnamed
rosh yeshiva who I referred to in my original post showed that level of
sensitivity.  I wish they had; it would make the discussion just a
little easier.

Joseph Kaplan 


From: Lipman Phillip Minden <phminden@...>
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2007 17:17:40 +0200
Subject: Re: Beseder

> Does anyone know the origin of the common expression: "Beseder"?

I suppose this was taken from the German 'in Ordnung', or, less
probably, from Russian (v poryadke), Polish (w porz─^┼dku) or Hungarian
(rendben), all literally meaning "in order" and probably calques from
German themselves.  Yiddish doesn't use 'besayder', AFAIK, and 'in
ordening' is used much more literally. In fact, American Yiddish would
rather use "olrayt".

The extended 'beseder gamur' seems to be an Ivrit in-house development.

Lipman Phillip Minden

From: <asapper@...> (Art Sapper)
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2007 08:33:36 -0400
Subject: Beseder

Dov Teichman asked, "Does anyone know the origin of the common
expression: 'Beseder'?"

My guess -- and it is only that -- is that it is a shortened form of
"kol b'seder," which (again a guess) is borrowed from the German
expression "alles in ordnung," which means, literally, all is in order.

Art Sapper


End of Volume 54 Issue 98