The Rabbinical Assembly of America in a statement issued yesterday, made clear its attitude on the question of relaxing the Jewish religious divorce law affecting wives who have been deserted by their husbands.
The statement came in reply to the resolution adopted by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis several days ago attacking the Rabbinical Assembly. The attack was made by Rabbi Joseph Konvitz, president of the Union, who claimed that the Rabbinical Assembly violated the Torah by its resolution that before marriage husband and wife should conclude an agreement entitling the wife to a divorce if deserted by the husband for three years.
The statement of the Rabbinical Assembly follows:
“Were it not for the fact that the issue of the ‘Agunah’ is one of paramount importance for the maintenance of Jewish tradition in America and throughout the world, there would be no need to reply to the attack of Rabbi Joseph Konvitz upon the Rabbinical Assembly of America for having taken a step toward the solution of the problem. That the Agudath Habonim should have condemned us without trying to find out precisely what our resolution was is amazing. We shall overlook Rabbi Konvitz’s attack and shall limit our reply to the problem of the ‘Agunah’ and to our supposed enactment.
CITES WAR DEATHS
“As is well known, the right to issue a divorce is vested in Jewish law in the hands of the husband. When for any reason whatsoever he does not issue it, the wife cannot remarry. During the World War and succeeding pogroms, thousands of Jewish men disappeared from their families, having been killed with no witness to testify to the fact or having deserted their wives by escaping to other lands, condemning their wives to the perpetual tragedy and loneliness of the ‘Agunah’ status.
“The problem has been becoming acute in Western Europe and America as well, where a husband may desert his wife or, equally frequently, may receive a civil diverce and then refuse to give his wife a Jewish divorce (‘get’), because of spite or because he wishes to extort money. Increasing numbers of these women are therefore tempted to disregard the Jewish law and remarry without obtaining a ‘get’, in spite of the fact they are married women in the eyes of Jewish tradition and are thus undermining the sanctity of the Jewish family.
“Can anything be done to deal with the problem? The Rabbinical Assembly of America and its Committee on Jewish Law consisting of eminent Jewish scholars, believes that Jewish law possesses the means to remedy this tragic situation. At its convention held in Rockaway Park, a plan was adopted to deal with the problem. In spite of the fulminations of Rabbi Konvitz, the following are the basic facts about the recently adopted resolution of the Rabbinical Assembly:
“1. The plan is not a ‘reform’ or break in the continuity of Jewish tradition. As a matter of fact, it is based almost entirely upon the practice of some Sephardic communities of the old world of unswerving Jewish loyalty and unquestioned learning.
“2. The proposal is not the offspring of an idle hour but represents the work of an outstanding expert on Jewish law, Rabbi Louis M. Epstein of Boston, Mass., who has studied the question for years and five years ago published a Hebrew work entitled, ‘A Proposal for the Improvement of the Status of Agunoth.’ In this learned halachic work, all the Talmudic and post-Talmudic authorities were studied and their opinions evaluated with great brilliance and understanding of the law. Rabbi Epstein sent his pamphlet to over 1,000 rabbis in the United States, Europe, and Palestine, with an urgent plea to them to consider the merits of his proposal. Of the rabbis who replied, including Rabbi Kook, practically all agreed that the proposed plan was thoroughly in accordance with Jewish law but they felt diffident about putting it into practice. The Rabbinical Assembly should also have preferred to have had the plan sponsored by all exponents of traditional Judaism.
WAITED 5 YEARS
“For five years its Committee on Jewish Law waited for others to take the lead in order to heal the rapidly widening breach in the walls of Jewish life. No such step was taken by the orthodox rabinical body. At last we felt that this proposal, which is thoroughly in accord with Jewish tradition, ought not to go into the discard because of the unwillingness of older rabbis to take this responsibility. Even now we know that a large percentage of orthodox rabbis who possess learning and character, whose hearts are pained at the wholesale disregard of Jewish tradition and who are filled with a sense of responsibility and fair play will be ready to judge the plan on its merits. We hope and trust that they join with us in implementing it for American Israel.
“3. Our plan does not call for a conditional marriage as Rabbi Konvitz imagines it does, nor upon the issuance of a conditional divorce at the time of marriage. It is an arrangement where the husband who has the right to grant a divorce empowers one or several named agents to issue a divorce to his wife at any future time, should she become an ‘Agunah’. In that case these appointed agents in accordance with his order and after direction of the duty accredited rabbinical courts, consisting of fully ordained rabbis, would issue a ‘get’ or divorce to the woman. That ‘get’ is absolutely and unequivocally valid from the standpoint of Jewish law.
“4. The plan is not retroactive and will not affect marriages already entered into. Far from harming Jewish law, our proposal will restore to it a vitality and sanctity which it has always enjoyed.
“We have postponed inauguration of this arrangement until the year 5695. This gives plenty of time to all those interested to study the plan and think there are any valid halachic objections, to be able to voice them.
“We feel certain that the over-whelming majority of the adherents to traditional judaism who are devoted to the perpetuation of Jewish tradition and the advancement of Jewish life in our midst, will recognize both the integrity of our intention and the unimpeachable legal authority for our enactment.
“Copies of Rabbi Epstein’s work may be had by rabbis upon application to the Rabbinical Assembly, Broadway and 122nd Street, New York City. In addition, an English and Yiddish publication explaining the entire plan is being compiled for the enlightenment of the Jewish public as well. We pledge all our energy to the task of implenting this proposal, feeling certain that except for those who are blind because they will not see, American Jewry will recognize in it a great step forward to guard our Torah against disintegrity.”