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Orthodox Rabbis Join Forces to Invalidate Minor Marriages

In an unusual show of unity within the often-fractious Orthodox world, a group of rabbis representing a broad spectrum of religious communities have ruled that the practice of minor marriage is invalid.

Seventeen rabbis, all judges on religious courts in 10 Orthodox communities across the United States, met Monday at a Manhattan synagogue to consider Jewish legal responses to the problem off minor marriage.

The rabbis considered several religious response addressing the question of whether minor marriage is legitimate and concluded that the practice, called kedusha ketana in Hebrew, is invalid because the father who marries off his daughter as an act of vengeance against his wife is to be regarded as an evil person whose testimony is not legally binding according to Jewish law, said Carmi Schwartz, director of the Beth Din of America.

The Beth Din of America is the religious court connected to the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization of about 1,000 Orthodox rabbis.

The Beth Din convened the meeting and is organizing the broad-based response, which Schwartz expected would have the backing of some 40 Orthodox rabbis.

According to Schwartz, the rabbis represented all parts of the Orthodox spectrum, from centrist to haredi, or the fervently Orthodox.

The position adopted by consensus, Schwartz said, is the position backed by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, the renowned Jerusalem authority who died several months ago. But he had ruled on the matter in August 1994.

That position was not made public, however, until recent weeks, after the practice of kedusha ketana was first reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Although there were concerns in the Orthodox community that several cases off minor marriage had taken place, only one has since been confirmed by a religious court.

That case involved Israel Goldstein, who announced to a religious court in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, N.Y., in September 1993 that he had married off his daughter Sarah Leah.

Goldstein’s act revived a long-unused practice and was believed to be the first time that anyone used kedusha ketana in a malevolent way.

He was apparently trying to punish his estranged wife, Gita, who had been trying to obtain a get, or Jewish divorce decree, from Goldstein for five years.

Goldstein’s case has now been invalidated by the rabbinic rulings.

At the meeting this week, the rabbinic judges were making clear, that fathers who may want to be vengeful to their wives by marrying off their daughters “should know this device does not work,” said Schwartz.

The gathering of religious judges this week was the first time that so many in North America had gathered to consider a particular point of Jewish law, said Schwartz.

When Schwartz has finished gathering the signatures of the 35 or 40 rabbis expected to sign on to the principles, “we will make the whole world aware” of the Orthodox rabbis’ position on minor marriage, he said, possibly by advertising it in Jewish newspapers.

The judges who participated in the meeting represented these communities: Boston; the Borough Park section of Brooklyn; Chicago; Detroit; Elizabeth, N.J.; Long Island, N.Y.; Monsey, N.Y.; Philadelphia and St. Louis.

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