Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Iyar 5759 - April 21, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







He Frees Agunos

by B. Rabinowitz

Neither thick jungles, nor hard core criminals from exotic, remote lands, nor the dangers of crocodiles and poisonous snakes can deter the dauntless Rabbi Shlomo Klein from achieving his sole aim: to release Jewish women from the shackles of their status as agunos. For nearly three decades, Rabbi Klein has been fulfilling this sacred mission, far from the eyes of the media, and without any publicity, all for the sake of Heaven. Scores of women owe their lives to Rabbi Klein -- women who were on the verge of despair, and who thought that they would never be freed from their situations. All know the address of the rabbinical court of Beersheba, but not all are familiar with the hair-raising, fascinating stories in Rabbi Klein's pouch.

Of late, as for scores of years, every misfit and castaway feels qualified to discredit and belittle the Torah and the halocho. Many defamatory remarks focus on one of the most sensitive and painful topics facing modern Jewish society, the problem of agunos. Anyone who leafs through the response literature of the rishonim and acharonim, will easily find many halachic rulings which deal with the freeing of agunos. It is difficult to describe how much effort and toil our dayanim invest in order to free a woman from the shackles of her status of an abandoned woman. However, nothing will help. Those who consider it a calling to raise their hands against Toras Moshe will not be deterred by this article.

Rabbonim and many sincere Jews dedicate themselves with tremendous mesiras nefesh to this sensitive and painful issue. But there is no doubt that the most outstanding expert in this area is the director of the Rabbinical Court of Beersheba and the Negev, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Klein. From all over the country, complicated and very problematic cases, which demand much personal and dedicated attention, are referred to him. All know the address, and it is not in vain that for decades he has been considered the central headquarters for handling the problems of agunos in Israel and throughout the world, and that he has succeeded where may excellent activists have failed.

To the Far East

Very often, as he did immediately after this Pesach, he packs his bags and sets out to various destinations all over the world. He has already gone to the Far East, India, Thailand, and even to Moslem Pakistan, not to mention closer destinations in Europe, where he spends days and nights, not relenting until he has succeeded in fulfilling his mission and freeing yet another woman from her status as an aguno.

In difficult cases, he makes full use of his powers of persuasion, and of various stratagems and strange devices, sometimes speaking gently, and at other times very sternly and sharply, until the husband gives him his signature and authorizes him to hand the bill of divorce to the aguno in question. Moreover, he always has to balance all this against causing a forced get which is invalid. Here we are not dealing with the halachic aspects of the issues involved, but just presenting a few of the more exotic stories of the mesiras nefesh of this extraordinary man. It is difficult to describe the extent of the physical and emotional efforts this sacred and important mission involves. We will present only a few stories from the hundreds in his files but they will suffice to illustrate the difficult and dedicated work Rabbi Klein has been doing for many years.

A few years ago, he won a lawsuit against the newspaper, Koteret Rashit. Three of the reporters of this paper, among them Nochum Barnea, described Rabbi Klein as a "black- bearded, red-faced midget with a large silk yarmulke on his head." Rabbi Klein received 5000 shekels in compensation (after a four year wait). However, he decided to continue his battle against the paper, and appealed to the Supreme Court

Humiliating and Racist

Amazingly, the judges of the Supreme Court decided to increase the compensation to 25,000 shekels. They determined that the amount the lower court had awarded him was too little, because the description of the newspaper was "humiliating, degrading and racist." Those reporters will never forget this affair.

At a later stage, they asked their deputy, the attorney Mivi Mozer, one of the most important jurists in the country in the field of claims, to apply for an additional deliberation on the issue in the presence of five judges. However, Mozer's request wasn't accepted, and this was one of the rare times in which a chareidi Jew succeeded in winning a lawsuit in which reporters were charged with defaming and humiliating him. Quite possibly, the religious judge on the panel, Tzvi Tal (now retired), had a decisive influence on the verdict. As result of the decision, many newspapers have been very wary about criticizing the decisions of the Rabbinical Court of Beersheba when Rabbi Klein is involved.

The fascinating stories which led directly to the freeing of many tormented women from their status as agunos can fill a thick tome. One time, he even found himself face to face with a gun wielding divorce "refusenik." Yet even in such a situation Rabbi Klein remained calm. "First give me the get, and then shoot me," he said, and managed to crack that hard nut too.

Superior Worker

The story begins many years ago. Rabbi Klein, the oldest son of Rabbi Elozor Klein, arrived in Israel with his family, from Rumania. At first they settled in Kfar Gidon, and afterward, in 5717 (1957), in Beersheba. At that time the city lacked all the facilities of Torah-true Judaism.

With great efforts and exertion, Rabbi Elozor Klein laid the groundwork for the chareidi community. He established the city's first cheder al taharas hakodesh, as well as the Beis Hillel yeshiva. He also published Mishnas Elozor on the Shas, as well as Kiryas Arba and Zichron Shlomo on the Torah. For many years he served as the rav of the Kehillas Yerai'im Federation.

In such a home, his son Shlomo Zalman developed a sensitivity for the suffering of his fellow and the trait of mesiras nefesh on behalf of all those in need of help. This point highlights the droshos he delivers in the shul in which he presides as rav.

In 5730, he began to work in Beersheba's beis din. One bright day, the director of the rabbinical courts asked him to locate a husband who had abandoned his wife 30 years ago. Rabbi Klein set out across the seas, and at the end of a three week effort managed to locate the husband in Brazil and to return with a broad smile on his face, and a happy heart. From then on, he frequently "disappears" from the beis din, for a few days or weeks. Only after securing a get for the aguno in his care, does he return to Beersheba.

Because of his dedicated efforts, the administration of the rabbinical courts cited him as the court's finest staff member. (Of course they had other reasons too, which include the dedicated and efficient manner in which he runs the botei din in Beersheba and Eilat.) The personnel of the beis din presented whom with a scroll, which bore a citation expressing their appreciation of his tireless efforts. Alongside this, they noted that he maintains set Torah-study hours, and is an outstanding talmid chochom who is beloved by all, genial and companionable, and at work likes order, and is very meticulous and precise.

In Freezing Snow

For nearly two hours, Rabbi Klein stood in the frosty snow in the small French village of Lyle. It was early in the morning, and no one was seen in the desolate street. He knocked on the door, and with loud shouts called to P, a former resident of Ashkelon, to open the door. But P pretended not to hear. Rabbi Klein, who had been trying for a long time to locate the man who had abandoned his wife for more than 20 years, did not give up. After a prolonged vigil, he noticed the newspaper deliverer, who arrived every morning at the same time, knocked on P's door and threw in the paper.

The following day, he disguised himself as a newspaper deliverer, and before P realized who he really was, he stepped inside the house. "Twenty years have passed, and you still haven't given your wife a get. You've caused too much suffering and pain to your abandoned wife. I've come here, as the deputy of the beis din and won't leave until I receive the get for your wife," he said.

The startled P remained glued to the floor. He had been certain that no one would locate him in that remote and isolated place.

At a certain point, P regained his senses, and tried to throw Rabbi Klein out of the house. But he found himself face to face with a resolute and stern person, who had come to fulfill, at all costs, the mission placed on his shoulders. It turned out that during the war of 5727 (1967), P fled the country in order to avoid being drafted, and left his wife and two children behind. Rabbi Klein began with the carrot, but when he saw that he wasn't succeeding, he made use of the stick in his possession.

A Carrot and a Stick

"I made it clear to him that nothing would help, and that he would have to give his wife a get. I told him that if he persisted in his refusal, I would cancel all of the diplomatic services he received so that his passport would not be renewed. The beis din exacted a very high alimony, and that if he ever returned to Israel, he would be arrested at the airport, something which is not very pleasant, to say the least."

Those threats eventually penetrated the blocked ears and heart which had, over the twenty year period, collected much dust. "He still made certain conditions, but in the end, I had the kisvu utenu in my hand." Rabbi Klein hastened to phone Israel, and to tell the aguno the good news. Immediately afterward, he returned to Israel.

Since then, Rabbi Klein has been in nearly every country in the world. One day he's in Thailand, another day in India, a month later in Paris, Australia or the United States. He has even reached the thick jungles of India and musty prisons of remote lands, in order to free yet another woman from her status as an abandoned woman.

Rabbi Klein will never forget what happened to him in Australia. He relates this story, as if it occurred yesterday, and not for nothing. It is not every day that a rav must face a gun-slinging criminal from the underworld. In this case, the search for B wasn't simple at all, especially since Rabbi Klein had no address, and actually not a thread of information which could lead him to the man. He only knew one detail. B was Australian, and would apparently flee to Australia.

A Drawn Revolver

The story of B began many years ago. B made aliya to Israel, and married a woman who gave birth to a girl. However one day B simply disappeared, as if the earth had swallowed him. "I checked the border police, and to my amazement was told that the man hadn't left the country. In the end, I decided to try to locate him in Australia. I roamed the Jewish centers, and showed every passerby an old picture of B but no one recognized him. At a later stage I learned that in Australia B was registered under a different name."

Rabbi Klein didn't give up this time either. Throughout his searches, he met a local rabbi who was involved in kiruv work. The rabbi didn't recall the name of the man, but when he looked at the picture, he thought that the fugitive might be someone who had turned to him the previous Pesach with the request that he find him a place for the Seder. "We tried to locate the man, and after great efforts, I reached his neighbors, and through them, a grocery store where he worked. When I arrived at the store, identified him immediately, and asked the local rabbi to summon him for a talk."

B arrived at the rabbi's home, and when he learned why the rabbi had summoned him, grew very angry. "I'll never give my wife a divorce. I fled to the end of the world, in order not to give her a get," he said and ran out. The rabbi pursued him, and brought him back to the house, and for a long time, he and Rabbi Klein tried to persuade him to give the get, but to no avail.

In the morning, Rabbi Klein returned to his hotel, and a few moments later heard a knock on the door. "I opened, and saw B in the doorway. As soon as he began to speak, he drew a gun and said: `I'm a member of the Mafia, and if you don't leave me alone, you won't leave here alive.' I replied: `Do whatever you want to me. I'm in the hands of HaKodosh Boruch Hu, and not in those of flesh and blood.'"

Even when faced by a drawn gun, Rabbi Klein did not lose his cool. Quite to the contrary, during those terror filled moments, he continued in his efforts and attempts to persuade the man to give the divorce. "I tried to persuade him to take stock of his ways, and in the end he left. The next morning, I returned to the grocery store, and this time he had softened a bit, and agreed to negotiate. For a full week -- nights and days which were filled with threats, outbursts and arguments -- the local rabbi and I sat with him. Finally, a short while before Shabbos, the negotiations were finalized in the best manner possible, and he signed the get."


Rabbi Klein hasn't forgotten his trip to India either. It took place less than seven years ago. A young woman from Lod wanted to marry. However, the rabbis learned that when she was very young, she had been kidnapped by a local Jew who had consecrated her for marriage in the presence of witnesses. Rabbi Klein traveled to Calcutta, and tried to locate the man, eventually finding him by means of a Jewish pita merchant, who told him that the man he was looking for was lying ill in an old age home. Rabbi Klein went to see him, but at first the man didn't even remember he incident.

"When he finally recalled it, I had to spend an entire day trying to persuade him to give the get. I brought the head of the Jewish community of Calcutta to his bedside, and asked him to threaten that if the man didn't give the get, he wouldn't be given a Jewish burial. (In India they cremate the dead, and the heads of the Jewish community managed to arrange for the burial of Jews in a special cemetery only after many efforts.) As a result of this threat, the man signed the `kisvu utenu.'

"The following day, I learned that the man passed away. Although that of course released the woman, had I come one day later it would have been impossible to locate him, and the young woman from Lod would have nonetheless remained an aguno her entire life."

This wasn't Rabbi Klein's only reason for having come to India. From there, he continued to the thick jungles in an attempt to find V of Ramleh, who had abandoned his wife and children due a battle over a legacy. V's father had owned coconut plantations near the jungle, and when he died, V asked for half of the inheritance. But his brother had refused to comply, and as a result, V set out to India in order to salvage his share.

A Professional Killer

With the help of the Indian Mafia, V succeeded in gaining control of his father's plantations. But he didn't return to Israel and abandoned his family. Before setting out, Rabbi Klein was warned not to near V since he was known as a dangerous and professional killer. But Rabbi Klein wasn't frightened by the warning. Near the jungle, he hired a driver with a rickshaw, and set out in search of V in the thick of the jungle. The natives directed him, but when he finally met up with V he understood the warnings.

Before even hearing why Rabbi Klein had come, V made it clear in no uncertain terms, that he if he didn't leave him alone, his end would be bitter. Rabbi Klein felt that he was in deep trouble. He knew quite well that in the Indian jungle, where there was no law and there were no police, no one could help him. But he placed his trust in Hashem, knowing that mitzvah agents are not harmed, and continued to demand that V give his wife a get.

"V intensified his threat. He told me that I didn't leave him immediately, he would throw me to the snakes in th jungle, and that no one would ever know that I had visited him. I told him: 1Do with me as you please, but first give your wife a get.'

"He threw me out of the house, but as soon as I was outside, I turned to the locals who were nearby, and explained the reason why I had come. I asked them to try and soften him. They went inside, and a while later, I again dared to enter his home. The arguments lasted for hours, until he finally broke and said that he was willing to give his wife a get."

A Big Crocodile

But that wasn't the end of Rabbi Klein's mission to the Indian jungle. The next mission wasn't easy either. After completing the affair with V, he set out in search of B, a criminal from Petach Tikvah who had left behind a wife and three children.

B had escaped from an Israeli prison one day and disappeared. For 19 years, efforts were made to find him, but in vain. When the case reached Rabbi Klein, he began to investigate the whereabouts of the fugitive, and he concluded that he was hiding out in India.

Rabbi Klein had no precise information about B's location. But this time, too, he thought that he might be in the jungle. Once more, Rabbi Klein set out, and when the charted path ended, he began plodding through the wild vegetation by foot. From every direction he heard and even saw wild animals. Suddenly, he lost his breath, as he saw a huge crocodile gaping at him. Miraculously, though, Rabbi Klein managed to flee the menacing jaw.

A Shaliach Mitzvah

Rabbi Klein shifts in his seat when he recalls those terrifying moments. We asked him to tell us the rest of the story, and were certain that with that, his mission had ended. But such wasn't the case. "During those moments of fear, I thought about the fact that I had come there in order to save a woman from her state as an aguno. The thought that I was a shaliach mitzvah gave me the strength and the courage to continue on, despite all I went through."

Night fell, and Rabbi Klein plodded from hut to hut with a picture of B in his hand. News of the religious Jew who was wandering about the huts took wings, and reached the ears of B too.

He thought he knew why Rabbi Klein had come, and quickly fled, fearing that Rabbi Klein was trying to return him to the Israeli prison. Rabbi Klein enlisted the help of local residents, who in the end were given a detailed explanation of why Rabbi Klein was searching for B. They then stepped into the picture, and after pursuing and overtaking B, joined in the efforts to get him to give the get. After completing his mission in the jungle, Rabbi Klein returned to India.

From there he continued to a number of places, such as Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Pakistan, returning to Israel with a treasure: 23 divorce consents for 23 agunos.

We asked Rabbi Klein to tell us what keeps him on the go, and in the main, how he succeeds at this difficult work. After all, these people are fugitives, who are filled with animosity and feelings of revenge. Some of them are in a constant state of flight form the police and debtors, and the constant changing of identities and residences has become their daily fare, each with his own complicated problem. Nonetheless, the success of Rabbi Klein is evident from the fact that many agunos have been freed as a result of his efforts.

Siyata diShmaya

Rabbi Klein: "As one who has been working in the rabbinical court system for many years, I live the complex aguno cases day and night, and their difficult plights give me no rest. There is not doubt that without the siyata diShmaya which I literally feel with every step I take, I couldn't have made these achievements.

"My rule in life is: When I enter someone's home, on duty, I try to feel the pulse, in order to pinpoint the best way to persuade him to give the get. One has to use the carrot and the stick method. One begins with the carrot, but when there is no choice, one must also bring out the stick, in the form of threats of various sanctions, true or fictitious, as long as one is able to achieve his purpose."

In one case, he reached a prison in Thailand, where two Israelis convicted of smuggling drugs were languishing. "It is difficult to describe how I found them. They were lying with criminals in a musty cell, where mice roamed about freely. It was a shocking scene. The two youths sat there, broken and dejected. Their sentences had years to go. I encouraged them, and promised that as soon as I returned home I would make every effort to secure their pardon."

He also visited a German prison, while searching for YD of Eilat, a familiar figure to the Eilat police. The dayanim of the local rabbinical court had tried to persuade him to give his wife a get for many years, but to no avail. After countless deliberations, a date for arranging the get was finally scheduled. But on that day, he disappeared.

Like in similar cases, the court issued an arrest order. But all searches for him yielded no results. The efforts of a private detective service were also fruitless, and the wife remained an aguno for five years.

In a German Prison

One day, Rabbi Klein received a telephone call. On the line was an investigator from the nationwide police headquarters. He related that the police had information about a prisoner who had been arrested in Germany in the wake of an abortive hold-up. Even though he had false identification papers, it was learned that he was YD from Eilat, and that he had managed to flee Israel with a fake passport and identity card.

Rabbis from Munich, who had attempted to persuade the prisoner to give his wife a get, returned from the prison empty handed. YD stubbornly claimed that they had the wrong address.

Under such circumstances, it was decided to dispatch Rabbi Klein to Munich. He entered the prisoner's cell, accompanied by the deputy commander of the prison and, after talking with the prisoner for many hours, managed to wear him out and to secure his consent for the get.

It is possible to continue to relate many more stories of Rabbi Klein's adventures. Sometimes, he also has to make trips within Israel, to remote caves in the Galil or in more complicated cases, to Arab villages and settlements in the territories.

Rabbi Klein has also undertaken to free agunos from abroad whose husbands have fled their native countries and are hiding out in Israel. Once such case involved a woman from Peru whose husband fled to Israel and left his wife an aguno for seven full years. In Israel, he disguised himself as an Arab. Rabbi Klein was asked to enter the case, and to try and locate the man. But that wasn't easy.

In an Arab Village

"This particular episode took place during the height of the intifadah, when the danger in the territories was very real. I still can't explain what gave me the strength to take on this assignment. I began to wander about the Arab villages with the picture of the man, until finally locating him in an Arab village in the northern part of Har Chevron. I began to speak with him in Hebrew, but he pretended not to understand. In the end, I asked him to show me his identity card. He took it out, and showed me that it said that he was an Arab and unmarried.

"With this certificate, he tried, as they say, to shut my mouth so that I would leave him alone: `You see that I'm not the man you're looking for. How can could an unmarried Arab leave behind a wife and children in Peru?' But I noticed that the identity card said that he had been born in Peru.

"He didn't know that his kesuva was in my possession, and that I also knew his parents' names. I asked the policeman who had accompanied me to arrest him. The man burst into tears and revealed that he was a Jew, and that he had indeed left a wife and children behind in Peru. We brought him to the beis din and, within a few hours, the woman in Peru was freed from her status as an aguno."

Rabbi Klein has often conducted chases in the Lod airport, sometimes in order to arrest husbands who are trying to flee the country, and sometimes to detain husbands the moment they get off the plane upon their arrival here. In this manner' AA who had refused to give his wife a get for 13 full years, but had come to Israel for his mother's funeral, was caught.

Arrest at the Funeral

AA didn't imagine what he would undergo when his case fell into Rabbi Klein's hands. Rabbi Klein had often visited AA in his home in Paris, to try to persuade him to give his wife a get, but it was like speaking to the wall.

One day, Rabbi Klein learned that AA's mother died, and he figured that AA would come to her funeral in Ashdod. Rabbi Klein informed the police of his surmise, and they laid in wait for him in the cemetery.

Immediately after the funeral the police arrested him, and made it clear that he would remain in prison if he did not free his wife. The man was brought to the beis din of Beersheba, and there gave his wife the longed-for get.

Rabbi Klein also has a number of other stories about fascinating cases which took place in France, and about a number of other cases in the United States, as well as some in the Far East, in Moslem countries.

Rabbi Klein has logged hundreds of thousands of kilometers, in his efforts to help many families in Israel. Today, the rabbinical courts of the country may take pride in the very small number of women in the system who are still agunos, and in the fact that in recent years the problems of hundreds of women have been solved.

Immediately after Pesach, Rabbi Klein went abroad to bring relief to some more women. A small number of the cases, mainly the criminal ones, will remain sealed because, although these recalcitrant husbands have probably met their deaths, this cannot be proven with certainty.

Mesiras Nefesh

In closing, we note that in one exceptional case, Rabbi Klein, along with the av beis din of Beersheba, Rav Eliyahu Aberg'el, managed to penetrate the Israeli underworld in order to secure testimony regarding the murder of a husband. After supreme efforts, they obtained the evidence which resulted in the freeing of a woman from her status as an aguno.

Such mesiras nefesh characterizes the beis din of Beersheba, and at this point we also wish to cite the efforts of the prominent dayan, Rav Eliyahu Heishrick, an outstanding talmid chochom, who is held in high esteem by maranan verabonon, the gedolei haTorah and the poskim, and who makes outstanding efforts to maintain and safeguard the pure halocho.

Despite the tremendous efforts his work entails, Rabbi Klein tirelessly persists in his sacred mission. All who seek the services of the beis din keenly sense his attentive ear and his warm and sensitive heart which is attuned to the needs of every Jew. His efforts to prevent the suffering and distress of the litigating parties, who quite naturally come to the court with pent up anger and frustration as the results of the terrible crises they are undergoing, are deeply appreciated.

We close with one story which, more than any other, illustrates the special mesiras nefesh of Rabbi Klein. A number of years ago, he returned from a trip to the Far East, only to be hospitalized after the doctors discovered that while abroad he had contracted a devastating virus. He remained in the hospital for six consecutive months, connected to intravenous 24 hours a day, while the doctors told his wife, Rebbetzin Bruria, the principal of the Beis Orlean Beis Yaakov high school, that her husband did not have long to live.

However, as we have already stressed, mitzvah agents are not harmed, and Rabbi Klein recovered. Since then, he has been continuing his sacred task with added vigor. All that remains for us to do is to wish him success in the great mission he has been fulfilling for the past three decades, and in particular the one he undertook immediately after Pesach. May he be blessed for all of his efforts.


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