Volume 55 Number 10
                    Produced: Fri Jun 22  6:12:26 EDT 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Agunot/Mesurevet Get
         [Daniel Geretz]
         [Richard Schultz]
Disciple of Children
         [Alex H]
Physical Punishment on a Child
         [Alex Heppenheimer]


From: Daniel Geretz <danny@...>
Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2007 12:20:40 -0400
Subject: Agunot/Mesurevet Get

I have been following the discussion about Agunot and Mesuravot Get with
interest, although I echo the sentiments of at least one of the posters
who stated that he felt like he was in over his head.

More specifically, I feel like the "ben tam" (simple son) from the
Passover Seder - "mah zeh" - what's this all about.  In an attempt to
understand, I have a number of questions.

This is an extremely volatile, emotional topic for many.  I suspect that
many of us personally know or know of individuals who have found
themselves in these circumstances. Although many of us cannot personally
identify with the circumstances, we can certainly develop an
appreciation and sensitivity for individuals who find themselves in
these difficult circumstances.

Hearing about individuals who live with these circumstances makes me
very angry on their behalf.  However, having a discussion in anger
generally serves very little purpose.

In particular, although I self-identify as Modern Orthodox (I'm a strong
lefty, both literally and philosophically,) I do not understand what
appears to me to be strident criticism coming from various parties about
genuine gedolei batorah (Torah giants) with respect to this issue.  I
don't think anyone means to suggest that Rabbi Eliashiv gets up every
morning and wonders how he can make the lives of "agunot/mesuravot get"
as miserable as possible.  Some of the rhetoric I hear, however, appears
to be a bit over the top.  As different as I am from Rabbi Eliashiv, I
have to accept that he is a gadol batorah, and has dedicated his life,
far more than I, to Torah and Judaism. For that reason alone, he
deserves my respect.  I prefer to seek an understanding of positions
that differ from mine, rather than criticize that which I do not yet

My questions are a form of "thinking out loud" in an attempt to gain a
better understanding of the issues.  The questions are not meant to deny
the very real human implications of the "Agunah/Mesorevet Get" crisis.

One question I have is in the use of alternate terms of "mesorevet get"
and "agunah." As I understand from my discussions with a number of
individuals off-list, "agunah" is a more general term than "mesorevet
get."  I believe that there is an important nafka mina (difference) in
what terms are used and when.

"Mesorevet get" appears to be a term used exclusively to describe a
woman who has been refused a get by her husband (I believe that a bet
din needs to confer this status.)

"Agunah" is a general term used to describe women stuck in a marriage,
either due to disappearance of the husband, or due to the refusal of the
husband to give a get, or possibly in an affiliated case of
yibum/chalitzah (levirate marriage) where the younger brother is not yet
of age (or mentally incapacitated.)

Now, there are (at least) two different ways of looking at this.

On the one hand, since "agunah" a general term, which encompasses
"mesorevet get," we can learn out some aspects of "mesorevet get" from
"agunah."  "Agunah" implies a woman who is stuck in a marriage due to
circumstances beyond her control.  In the event of a more "classic" case
of the disappearance of a husband with no evidence of his death, I think
that we can agree that there is not any expectation that the case can be
resolved with any input from the husband, since he is not around.  It is
up entirely to circumstances beyond the woman's and bet din's control
whether the case is resolved (whether a witness shows up saying he died
or not, for example.)  By using the term "agunah," don't we imply that,
in reality, *even though the husband is in front of us*, that he does
not really serve a role in the resolution of this problem?  In other
words, this is an issue of control.  Even though the husband is in front
of us, and we would think that we can therefore compel him (it looks
like we might have control,) doesn't'calling this case "agunah" carry
with it the implication that whether the husband is in front of us or
not is *irrelevant* (we really don't?)

On the other hand, clearly there must be a reason that term "mesorevet
get" is used in this specific case.  Doesn't the use of this term imply
some distinction - that perhaps in a case where the husband is in front
of us and refuses to give a get, that there is some essential difference
in the case and that perhaps a different resolution than the "classic"

I think that one aspect of whatever resolution there may eventually be
might hinge on a careful examination of the different terminology used
(and I am mindful of the fact that saying that there *might* be a
solution is not the same as saying that there *is* a solution.)  A
different way of stating this is that in order to solve the problem, we
first need to have a good understanding of the problem.

Another question I have has to do with the distinction between
prevention and cure.  I personally applaud those who have made an effort
to advance the cause of "prevention" in the form of prenuptial
agreements, and, when the practice is universally accepted I guess that
the "agunah/mesorevet get" issue as we know it will disappear.  However,
I don't know when the "when" will come, especially because even people
who "should know better" and get married don't universally use
prenuptial agreements (I guess that a lot of people who "should know
better" don't know better.)  So I guess that the search for a "cure"
will most likely always be necessary.  The question I have is: Does
looking at the issue as "prevention" and "cure" help us or hinder us in
our search for solutions?  Or is a more holistic approach to the whole
issue in order?

The last set questions I have (for now, at least) has to do with the
propriety of the whole enterprise.  Going back to what I said above,
looking at the issue from a general "agunah" perspective, whether or not
the husband is in front of us *might be* largely irrelevant to the issue
at hand.  This implies to me that the idea of compelling the husband to
do something might not be part of whatever solution might exist.

I think that the divorce process accentuates the very worst in people.
The key word here is "accentuates," which I use here to mean that people
have an innate predisposition (yetzer) to act in a certain way.  Divorce
is a huge distraction from the intense effort we all need to engage in
to keep from expressing our "yetzer" in a positive rather than negative
way.  I speak here from personal experience about myself.

Taking a "mesorevet get" situation, is it possible to say that the
situation is actually a proxy for whatever dysfunctional control
relationship the parties had prior to divorce, and most likely will
continue when the get/divorce ultimately is finalized?  Certainly, the
stakes are higher, but at heart, does anyone believe that two parties
locked in a struggle over a get did not have the same differences before
or are magically going to set aside their differences after, especially
if a bet din forces the issue?  Is it possible to be melamed zechut
(judge favorably) batei din that are afraid of getting involved in a
particularly bitter dispute for fear of being used by one side or the
other to up the ante in what is essentially a power struggle?

No one likes to be compelled to do something against their will, not
husbands, not wives, not children, and not dayanim.  Isn't the case of
"mesorevet get" a case of compulsion writ large?  The husband wants to
compel the wife to pay money, allow visitation, whatever.  The wife
wants to compel the husband to give her a get.  Both want to compel a
bet din to compel the other party to toe the line. Isn't a bet din that
finds itself in the middle of this justified in their need to proceed
with extreme caution?

Assuming a bet din does choose to get involved, what then?  Do the two
parties go their separate ways, or do they find some other proxy issue
to continue their dysfunctional relationship?  And, most important, what
impact will it have on our Jewish communities?

Is there another way to look at the "mesorevet get/agunah" issue that
removes the idea of "compulsion" entirely from the picture?

This last question is more of a rhetorical question.  I am concerned
that as long as the discussion about the "mesorevet get/agunah" issue
revolves around who is compelling whom to do what, it is unlikely that
there will be a universally accepted solution.  As a community (all of
klal Yisrael,) we need to set aside our differences and our expectations
of being able to compel others as we discuss the issues.  Approaching
the subject from a perspective of vilifying those who differ from us is
unlikely to yield any real results. Rather we need to acknowledge that
we are all essentially on the same side and seek a greater understanding
of our minor differences.


From: Richard Schultz <schultr@...>
Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2007 14:26:20 +0300
Subject: Copacetic

In mail-jewish 55:09, Dr. Ben Katz <bkatz@...> writes

: Copasetic is an old word.  

I'd be interested in seeing your evidence for this claim.  The earliest
citation given by the OED is from 1919, and Cassell's _Dictionary of
Slang_ says that it became current in the 1910's.  Cassell's dictionary
also mentions the possibility that it was derived from a Native American
language; some of the early citations from the OED seem to imply that it
has its origins in African-American slang.

Richard Schultz                              <schultr@...>


From: Alex H <odat@...>
Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2007 10:41:06 -0500
Subject: Re: Disciple of Children

Ari Trachtenberg <trachten@...> writes:

> I would venture to say that the use of physical punishment on a child
> is the resort of failed discpline.  My father (who never physically
> disciplined us) conditioned us from a very young age to respond to a
> specific tone of voice.  When he used this tone of voice, all
> arguments immediately stopped, and we did as we were told (well, until
> we left the home :-).

I noticed that you misspelled the word discipline as "disciple" or did
you?  Your point seems to be that we should attempt to instill respect
and awe in our children so that only a word will suffice. In other
words, we must make disciples out of our children. Ideally this would
work but to cause the least psychic damage to a child, the mother will
have to accept the discipline of the father showing awe and deep respect
and he will have to show that respect and deep awe in
return. Otherwise... the kids will notice that one of you is the lesser
and treat that parent accordingly.

Most couples are less than perfect in their discipline. They often don't
agree as to how to raise the children. Hopefully they keep their
disagreements away from the children, but given human frailty the ideal
will be achieved by a small percentage of parents. The majority (such as
myself) will have to struggle with our imperfections while doing our
best to guide (and occasionally force) our children to correct behavior
until they have the intellectual capacity to understand and correct

> Beest,
> Ari Trachtenberg,

Beest? You mean like "beast"? Doesn't "Ari" mean "lion"? Is someone's
Freudian slip showing? :-)

Alex Herrera
[A lesser beast than a lion who has been raised to human levels after much
training (and G-d's beatings), but who still growls occasionally. :-)]


From: Alex Heppenheimer <aheppenh@...>
Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2007 08:35:34 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Physical Punishment on a Child

In MJ 55:09, SBA wrote:

>From: Ari Trachtenberg <trachten@...>
>> Alex Herrera
>>> I never used a strap to discipline my children because my father used a
>>> strap on me and it did little good. 
>> I would venture to say that the use of physical punishment on a child is
>> the resort of failed discpline.  
>See the Baal HaTurim on this week's parsha 21:9.

He states (my translation): "Like someone who disciplines his child: he
places the strap with which he hits him in a high place, so that he will
always see it and remember [to behave well]."

But does this necessarily mean that the strap needs to be used in
practice? I quote the following from the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Memoirs,
trans. Nissan Mindel (Brooklyn: Kehot, 1949), p. 303:

"He [Rabbi Nissan] was a 'Melamed' (teacher) and everybody knows that
boys can drive any teacher to losing his temper, with blows to follow.

"But Rabbi Nissan had never in all his experience laid a hand upon a
pupil. His 'strap' hung on the wall of the class-room, it is true. But
if a pupil deserved punishment, he had only to indicate the strap on the
wall, and tell him what he deserved, and it was always enough for the
culprit. He felt he had 'had it' and resolved to make amends.

"Rabbi Nissan's pupils, in fact, respected their teacher, and were more
afraid of him than the pupils of other teachers who used the strap and
enforced discipline and order by this means."

He goes on to tell how R' Nissan used this strap once, and only once, on
his son Yitzchak Saul, who had been mistreating animals. The story
continues (p. 305):

"When Yitzchak Saul heard his father sobbing, he realized that it was
all his fault for having made his father do something so contrary to his
nature, that is, use the 'cat-o-nine-tails' which had always seemed part
of the furniture until then, and never an instrument of physical

"This gave the little boy more pain than the actual whipping, and he
determined from that moment, never again to hurt anything or anyone!"

So the Baal HaTurim seems to be making the same point: seeing the strap
hanging on the wall ought to be enough to remind the child how to
act. Using it more than once in a lifetime (and even then with extreme
reluctance) instead dilutes and distorts the intended message.

Kol tuv,


End of Volume 55 Issue 10