Thursday, January 08, 2015

Rabbi Oppenheimer’s Response to Rabbi Blau and the IBD

Rabbi Yehuda Leonard Oppenheimer
The following response to Rabbi Yosef Blau and the International Beis Din (IBD) by Rabbi Yehuda Leonard Oppenheimer was made in the form of a comment in a fairly long comment thread . It is rather detailed and I feel it deserves a post of its own. I present it here in its entirety without comment.

As the "troublemaker" who caused this thread, I appreciate that Rabbi Blau has published this response. Although I could say much, I will be brief, as I want to speak respectfully to Rabbi Blau and by extension to the other Rabbis involved in the IBD.

 A few points:

1) I cannot comment on the claim what exactly Rabbi Krauss did or did not say to Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg (RZNG). I only know what RZNG said to me, and wrote in the letter that I published, i.e. that he never heard of this Bet Din, and never gave it his approval or imprimatur, and was very distressed that a representation was being made that he was supportive of it.

2) The statement claims that I was under the impression that the Bet Din uses הפקעת קידושין. I was quite aware that this was not going to be the main method, as is evidenced from the article that I wrote. I mentioned it to him only because in the media descriptions of the Bet Din, it was clearly stated that this was one of the methods to be used. (Had the IBD been so concerned to correct this mis-impression, they ought to have done so long ago in a statement to those media outlets that stated this. But I digress).

3) To be clear, I said quite clearly to RZNG that other methods such as zikui and kidushei Ta'us would be used, according to the article. He nevertheless included in his letter the issue of הפקעת קידושין, because that is one that he has published about, but also וכן שאר ענינים שהזכירו , pointing to the other methods that were publicized in the media.

As I wrote, however, he has clearly stated in regard to the Tzfat Bet Din that he did NOT approve of using zikui (except POSSIBLY in the rare and tragic case of permanent vegetative state), certainly not en masse as contemplated by the IBD.

4) It is true that I did not contact the Bet Din.

I did not do so because (a) the Bet Din has been loudly, in the public square, declaring that they can "solve 99.9%" of all Agunah cases and have been going to many communities to raise money for this effort-- it was not a matter that was private anymore that deserved a private inquiry, and (b) of the claim that they are doing so with the support of RZNG. As his Talmid, my main responsibility is to him, and to see to it that he is not being misquoted and misrepresented.

If what I wrote was incorrect, (although I do not want to see RZNG further drawn into this controversy as he wishes to have no part in it,) I would like to see the IBD proffer a letter from him to counter the one that he wrote in my presence.

Until then, I (and I imagine most people) will assume that what he wrote in that letter is what he deeply believes.

5) I agree that this blog is not the place to discuss the details of Halachic methodology (witness the many unfortunate comments that appeared which attack Rabbinic authority in general). However, I would also like to make two general comments:

a) I do not claim any expertise at all in Dayanus or lomdus, but it seems clear to me that to whatever extent ביטול קידושין has been used in the past, it is mainly for a flaw that was purposely hidden, and presumably discovered soon after the wedding, not for a marriage that was fully formed and then gone sour.

b) It seems odd to me that the IBD is claiming to follow, "Rabbis Yehezkel Abramsky, Yehoshua Ehrenberg, Yosef Elyashiv, Moshe Feinstein, Tzvi Pesach Frank, Sholom Schwadron, Shmuel Stern ,Ovadya Yosef and others", in that somehow the Rabbis being followed did not have answers to anywhere "99.9% of all Agunah cases",perhaps not even 9%. Obviously the IBD is going way, way beyond whatever precedent that they claim to be relying upon.

6) I look forward to seeing the "reasoned Piskei Din" that the IBD will publish. I hope that they contain more solid reasoning than what I have seen so far, e.g. claiming that the possible non-obligation of a husband to sit shiva for an estranged wife estranged wife somehow shows that we can release an Eshet Ish d'orayta through zikui....but I do not want to comment here, except to say this:

Until and unless a well accepted major posek will endorse the Gittin thet the IBD produces, they will be causing far more problems than they are supposedly solving.

I would be the first to be thrilled if, in fact, major poskim will endorse the IBD and they manage to solve even 25% of the Agunah cases, let alone 99%.

But given what has come out so far, I am not holding my breath waiting for that.

Yehuda L. Oppenheimer

PS - I want to respond to some of the commenters who are calling the IBD a Bet Din of "RCA Rabbis" by saying -- the RCA has nothing to do with the IBD. The official RCA Bet Din is the Bet Din of America, which has nothing to do with the IBD. Furthermore, I know personally that there are many RCA members who are deeply concerned about the IBD. Please do not confuse these two.

Rabbi Yehuda Leonard Oppenheimer is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Forest Hills, and a practicing attorney. He has an extensive background in Jewish Outreach, and is particularly grateful to have been the Rav of Kesser Israel in Portland, Oregon for ten years. He has long and deep connections with the land of Israel, where he lived for many years and where most of his family and children reside, and thus blogs at (Jewish Press)

Rabbi Oppenheimer is also a participating rabbi on Jewish Values Online where Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Rabbis answer questions on Jewish morals and ethics - each from the perspective of their denomination. It is a feature of this blog and can be accessed by clicking on 'Jewish Qs' in the right margin.