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Creating mamzerim…or preventing them?

Rabbis who say the solutions to free women awaiting Jewish divorce aren't good enough need to find better ones

We are going to be lenient with an agunah …there is no greater emergency than a situation where a woman remains an agunah all her life, a mishap will definitely result.” Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrahi (Kushta, 15th century) rules that the absence of a solution is liable to drive desperate women to sin.

— Sheilot U’Tshuvot, Rav Eliyahu Mizrahi Siman 36

Last year, in the US, a woman whose husband had denied her a get for years was freed when a beit din (religious court) ruled that the marriage was invalid due to the husband’s deliberate failure to disclose his mental illness to his wife before their wedding. She was freed based on a halachic mechanism allowing for the annulling of a marriage, namely, that had she known, she would never have married him.

A few months ago, an Israeli beit din legitimized three generations of mamzerim (Jews who are forbidden from marrying Jews because they are children of a union of a married woman and a man who is not her halachic husband). They did this by invalidating the witnesses at the wedding of the grandmother, who had been married 50 years ago in another country.

The granddaughter, who had brought her plight to the judges, was finally married at age 45 under the auspices of the Israeli Rabbinate.

According to Jewish law, without valid witnesses, the marriage never took place. This means that the woman was actually single at the time of her child’s conception, clearing the child, and subsequent generations, of mamzer status and its accompanying restrictions.

The internet is abuzz with blog and Facebook posts about the International Beit Din headed by Rabbi Simcha Krauss. Rabbi Krauss’ beit din is dedicated to freeing women denied a get and employs the mechanisms noted above when applicable.

Some claim that this Beit Din cannot be relied upon, that the women they free are still married, and that they are creating mamzerim.

Yet, the methods Rabbi Krauss uses are valid, have been used for hundreds of years, and are still in use today.

Objection to Rabbi Krauss and those like him is rooted in fear. Fear of creating mamzerim. Fear of what invalid divorces and annulments could do to Judaism. Fear of taking responsibility.

But the great irony is that not taking responsibility will bring things far worse than fear.

Mamzerut is a valid concern and must be taken seriously. Consider what happens when people opt to marry outside of halacha to avoid the danger of being chained, or, after finding no way out of their dead marriages, move on anyway. This is already happening.

Women with no recourse, with husbands who have left, or who demand exorbitant amounts of money for a get, have chosen to find what happiness they can and have left their chains behind. Their future children, if they are from a Jewish father, will be halachic mamzerim.

So, who is creating mamzerim? Those looking to solve the crisis by using valid halachic mechanisms or those dismissing them out of hand without suggesting alternative options to free mesuravot get?

This is Judaism’s crisis.

Not women in tefillin. Not women learning Talmud.

Women trapped in Jewish marriage.

Anyone who is going to tear down Rabbi Krauss may as well tear down Israeli batei din and batei din in the US that use the same mechanisms.

But there is a better idea: If you feel there is something wrong with what they are doing, work with them to do it in a way you accept!

Because, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

When Orthodox mothers fear the chuppah for their daughters more than anticipate it…

When a ring comes to symbolize a chain more than a commitment to love and honor…

When a ketuba is nearly meaningless…

Then we have a crisis that goes far beyond any rivalry, statistic or difference of opinion.

About the Author
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a writer and an activist. Cofounder of chochmatnashim.org She loves her people enough to call out the nonsense. See her work at skjaskoll.com
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