Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Romeo, Juliet, and the Gedolim

How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore? The orchard walls are high and hard to climb, And the place death, considering who thou art, If any of my kinsmen find thee here.

So said Juliet from her window to Romeo as he spoke to her in Capulet’s orchard.

A version of these words could easily have spoken by a very young Charedi woman to her own 'Romeo' whom she recently married. Her family was as opposed to him - as was Juliet's to Romeo.

The drama played out in Jerusalem this week is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s famous play and West Side Story - a 1960’s broadway musical loosely based on it.

It had many of the same elements. But it was real, not fiction. Two young people who met in Israel and decided they wanted to get married. The bride’s father is a wealthy Charedi philanthropist who had sent his daughter to study in a seminary in Israel.

According to the article in Ynet, the father opposed the wedding because he claimed the Chasan was a "shababnik" (a yeshiva dropout). I have no idea if this is true. But it wouldn’t be the first time an unwanted future son in law was accused by a future father in law of such things.

But let us for a moment take the side of her father and imagine a very possible scenario. He sends his daughter to study in Israel. Somehow she meets a young, good looking boy. One thing leads to another and before you know it they get engaged and set a date for the wedding. The father is outraged that his young daughter so suddenly and without warning gets engaged to a boy he never met.

The father can easily believe that his sheltered and impressionable young daughter is vulnerable to a gold-digging dropout who is interested only in her father’s money. So he does everything in his power to prevent it. Including getting Gedolim to Assur the wedding! It’s nice to have that kind of money. Posters were plastered all over the city. According to Ynet:

Leaflets slamming the marriage were hung in haredi neighborhoods, carrying the signatures of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz and Rabbi Michal Yehuda Levkovitch.

Addressing the groom's father, the rabbis wrote, "After hearing from important scholars that your son is about to marry a girl as opposed to the Torah's wishes, we demand that you prevent this marriage which will not be held according to our dedicated Jewish law.

"Who can tolerate such a marriage with such great sorrow on the part of the daughter's mother and father? It is a defamation of God to marry a person from the street considered problematic like the groom."

Who can blame a distraught father from trying to prevent his daughter from getting into a bad marriage? I would do everything in my power to prevent my own daughter from getting into a bad marriage. The only question is, are his fears warranted? Is this young man as bad as he is being painted?

I don’t know about this one. My gut feeling is to side with the father here. I don’t blame him for trying to get Gedolim involved. This marriage seemed to have taken place a little too suddenly. The traditional Charedi paths in making Shiduchim were not taken. And the bride was most certainly brought up in a sheltered climate which can make her easy prey for an unscrupulous suitor.

But is this an accurate reflection of the facts? Or is this just a case of two innocent young people who wanted to get married? But because of the opposition of a wealthy father, the Chasan’s good name was besmirched? I don’t know. Either scenario is possible. But the Halacha is clear. The marriage is valid. They are now husband and wife. I wonder who the officiating rabbi was.

One might be tempted to say that since Gedolim got involved, one should just trust what they said. But based on past experience, I have to ask how well they knew this young man? Did they actually meet him? Or were they fed information by Askanim? If so, did the Askinim present information in ways to achieve a favorable outcome for a wealthy supporter? I don’t know the answer to this question either.

Unfortunately we can no longer automatically assume that statements and proclamations of today’s Gedolim are based on accurate knowledge of the facts. That they personally met and spoke with this young man is highly doubtful. And yet the information they received from their Askanim was enough for them to call for protests. And that led to violence. I guess that is 'par for the course' these days.

I have received a note from an attendee at the wedding. Danny Schoemann is a Charedi friend of mine who has allowed me to quote him in the past. In the interests of truth and with his permission I am attaching his slightly edited e-mail. It provides some missing pieces to this story.

The Chosson is my wife's first cousin and the Gedolim were snowed into making a fuss. The Kalla's father is a mini-tycoon and was upset that his ex-wife and daughter didn't consult with him.

The Choson's father is a Talmid Chacham of note and got approval from those very same Gedolim to go ahead with the engagement, until money took over.

Since all Rabbonim were scared stiff to officiate, the Chosson's father did the Kidushin.

The son is not a shababnik - though 3 years ago he went slightly Off The Derech - he decided to start working for a living! He WORKS for a living so he can't be any good. He no longer wanted to loaf around a Yeshive! The Kalla also works! Gevalt!

Let's not forget that the SA paskens (actually the REMO - but nobody argues) that a kid may get married against the father's will - so why are the HALOCHO-MEN getting involved? Since when does money trump SA?

It was a beautiful wedding - very leibedik because the people there were close friends - as opposed to hungry Yeshiva Bochrim.

Updated: 4/9/08 10:52 PM CDT