Letters of Rav Eliashiv and Rav Miller
A number of serious incidents have sparked a stormy debate
among the halachic authorities of America and gedolei
haTorah have asked HaRav Eliashiv to express his opinion.
He responded, "They have permitted married women to remarry
contrary to Torah law Rachmono litzlan . . . I join
the aforementioned rabbonim and geonim in protesting
this breach in the ranks of Beis Yisroel. It is quite
clear that any discussion about coercing a husband to grant a
get should only be held in a beis din composed
of rabbonim who are expert Torah scholars, that has an
established reputation and whose authority the public
The furor currently rocking American Jewry has long since
spread beyond America and Canada. It has now reached Eretz
Yisroel, where the opinion of HaRav Y. S. Eliashiv was
sought with the intention of preventing serious damage to the
yichus of the Jewish people through the activities of
American rabbinical figures who have been scandalously
granting married women permission to remarry on the basis of
gittin obtained by coercion.
"The situation in America is absolutely terrible in this
respect; it is possibly worse than the case of the
mamzerim that took place in Eretz Yisroel around
thirty years ago," says a pained HaRav Shlomo Eliyahu Miller,
Rosh Kollel and Av Beis Din of Kollel Toronto,
Canada, in a special interview with Yated Ne'eman.
HaRav Miller has undertaken the task of rectifying the
situation in order to avert tragic long-term consequences.
Several weeks ago Rav Miller sent HaRav Eliashiv a letter to
which many American gedolei Torah and halachic
authorities affixed their signatures: HaRav Eliyahu Levin,
Rosh Kollel Choshen Mishpot of Lakewood, HaRav Aryeh Malkiel
Kotler, rosh yeshivas Lakewood, HaRav Eliyahu Dov Wachtfogel,
rosh yeshivas South Fallsburg, HaRav Meir Hershkowitz, rosh
yeshivas Stanford, HaRav Yechiel Tauber Av Beis Din of
Kollel Machon Hora'ah of Monsey and HaRav Dovid Shustal, rosh
The issue under discussion — serious practices
involving gittin, to the point where married women
have been permitted to remarry while they are halachically
not yet divorced.
The text of HaRav Miller's letter reads:
"To his honor, Maran . . . HaRav Eliashiv,
I am writing to Maran with a request that we hear his opinion
on a matter of the utmost importance. Untenable things have
already been done in America to free married women through
coerced gittin after a beis din convened and
deliberated in the husband's absence and ruled that he should
be coerced, though he was not present (even in a case where
he was agreeable to appearing before another beis din
that the woman's side did not want to go to).
"Maran has already ruled that no discussion should take place
in the absence of the parties, following the ruling of the
Shach in Choshen Mishpat siman 13:8. Such a get
[extracted after an unlawful discussion] is therefore an
unlawfully coerced get, even if there were
halachically valid reasons for the coercion. In fact, it
seems that the coercion itself was carried out unlawfully,
apart from the [problem of the] discussion about it having
been held in the husband's absence, in that they conduct
their deliberations in secret and do not reveal their reasons
for [allowing] the coercion. Now everything is done in
secret, without [even] revealing the name of the beis
din that permitted the coercion.
"If we do not issue a public declaration stating that no
discussion on [implementing] the law of coercing the husband
may be held in his absence, the time will soon come when it
will be considered permissible to do just that. We will have
a situation where it will be absolutely impossible to repair
the breach. The situation in America with regard to
permitting married women to remarry is dreadful.
Irresponsible individuals dissolve the serious prohibition of
a married woman's entering into another relationship on the
basis of retroactive dissolution of her first marriage,
invoking all kinds of feeble supports as well as by issuing
rulings in the husband's absence that he should be coerced
and by invoking a whole range of weak arguments.
"I am therefore asking Maran his opinion, to be issued as a
notice in a similar form to the above, announcing publicly
that any and all rulings to coerce the husband that beis
din issued in his absence are unlawful and have no
validity, to be signed by roshei yeshiva and rabbonim who
obey the Torah's call.
"I close with blessing to . . . that HaKodosh Boruch
Hu should lengthen his days with goodness and
The American and Canadian rabbonim sent the letter to HaRav
Yitzchok Sheiner, rosh yeshivas Kamenitz, and asked him to
visit HaRav Eliashiv and hear his verdict on the matter.
HaRav Sheiner told us last week that HaRav Eliashiv wrote a
letter supporting the position of the American rabbonim.
After giving the matter extensive consideration, HaRav
Eliashiv sent his reply to the American and Canadian
rabbonim. He wrote:
"The gaon HaRav Shlomo Eliyahu Miller and the rabbonim and
geonim with him wrote to me about the terrible breach
whereby people who are not fit to do so, presume to become
involved in coercing the giving of gittin and that
there have already been cases where they have ruled that the
husband should be coerced when he has not been there to hear
the case against him, and they have unlawfully permitted
married women to remarry Rachmono litzlan. They have
asked me to join them in publicly protesting this breach.
"I join the above rabbonim and geonim in this
protest against the breach in the ranks of Beis
Yisroel. It is quite clear that any discussion about
coercing a husband to grant a get should only be held
in a beis din composed of rabbonim who are expert
Torah scholars, that has an established reputation and whose
authority the public accepts."
What has led to this uproar? Have matters in America really
reached the point where rabbonim permit married women to
remarry on the basis of gittin that have been
"The letter only contains a small example of the terrible
state of affairs in America," HaRav Shlomo Miller told us, in
a special call to Yated Ne'eman from Toronto. "Various
people exert pressure to permit agunos [women who are
separated from their husbands but are still lawfully married
to them] to remarry in such a way that it is done in a very
serious manner, without witnesses."
America is no exception to the problem of husbands deserting
their homes and leaving their wives agunos for many
years — an issue that plagues Jewish communities the
world over. The phenomenon is sadly a familiar one in many
places and very forceful means are employed for dealing with
it. In Eretz Yisroel for example, the botei din are
assisted by the secular authorities in dealing with husbands
who refuse to release their wives. This has been successful,
to the point where the number of agunos has been
reduced to a minimum with the entire procedure being carried
out according to halochoh and under the beis din's
authority, as required by the Shulchan Oruch and the
There are also a number of very special Yidden who
devote all their time to tracing husbands who have vanished.
They have succeeded in tracking down dozens of such men
across the world and through ad hoc sessions of
beis din have managed to persuade them to grant a
get to their wives.
In America, some rabbinical parties have found "simpler" ways
of freeing agunos. A number of cases that have taken
place over the past few years have drawn tremendous protests
against the methods employed, as the letters on this page
show. These parties have "discovered" two ways of "freeing"
agunos, enabling them to move on with their lives and
remarry. According to halochoh however, as HaRav
Eliashiv has ruled, such divorces and methods of permitting
the women lack any halachic basis and have thus been a means
of permitting women who in reality remain married to their
first husbands according to halochoh, to marry other
One device that they employ to free agunos is to look
for ways to invalidate the original kiddushin by
"discovering" that it was contracted on the basis of a
mistaken assumption. Many such cases have come to light in
recent years, prompting HaRav Miller to express himself in
the strongest terms.
"I have the record of the words of a dayan in a
beis din about such a case — absolutely
shocking! — he writes that there was an act of
kiddushin but that it was `mistaken kiddushin'!
There is no doubt however, that it was not so. It's nonsense.
One of the `rabbis' who permitted many agunos to
remarry on the basis of the kiddushin having been
mistakenly contracted used to be a member of the Rabbinical
Council of America, which in my opinion is a worse
organization than the Mizrachi. When a complaint was lodged
with the RCA about his use of the mekach to'us trick,
they were in no hurry to expel him. They only fired him when
stories started coming in about other shameful things that
he'd done. These are absolutely terrible things.
"Someone wrote that a woman was permitted to remarry without
a get because after the husband had been gone for
fifteen years he was undoubtedly dead. The woman concerned
had once been part of the Torah community but had drifted
away over the years. But what kind of rov gives such rulings?
HaRav Eliashiv's ruling states quite clearly that no
discussion can be held about coercing a husband to give a
get so long as he is not present. These people are
doing the very worst things. Who knows what will be in thirty
years time? If we don't stop the trend now the situation
could get a lot worse."
Rav Miller notes the uproar that surrounded Goren's
permitting mamzeirim to marry thirty years ago. The
vehement protests at the time ensured that nothing like this
happens today in Eretz Yisroel. "In America today though,
everyone does what he wants. There are rabbonim who say quite
explicitly that they do whatever they want. There is no
accounting and no accountability. Each of these American
rabbonim, who are motivated by various factors (e.g.
financial — B.K.) imagine that they have the authority
of the Beis Din Hagodol whereas they are in fact doing
worse things than Goren did."
Again and again in the course of our conversation, Rav Miller
reiterates Maran's ruling that no discussion about coercion
can take place in the husband's absence. "If it's not
possible to have the hearing in his presence, that means that
the get cannot be extracted through coercion."
The American rabbonim who have signed the letter intend to
add the signatures of all the rabbonim of America and Canada
to it, in order to exert pressure on the parties who are
acting contrary to halochoh. If their plan succeeds
and these activities cease, it will be a great improvement.
Many rabbonim agree with the letter and this has already
brought pressure to bear on the parties concerned.
"In the days following the dispatch of my letter to HaRav
Eliashiv, one of the relevant parties heard that the letter
had been sent and he immediately refrained from allowing the
giving of a get that had been obtained through
coercion when the husband had not been present at the
discussion," notes HaRav Miller.
We asked Rav Miller whether it might become necessary to open
separate genealogical records in view of the current
practices that have become so much more common in recent
years. By way of reply, he pointed out that many have
recently been thinking that such a step needs to be taken in
Eretz Yisroel in view of the attempts to assimilate
gentiles into the Jewish population through fictitious
conversions. "But in a large place like America it would be
extremely difficult to do so," he added, "for various
reasons, one of which is a ruling of the Rema concerning
baalei teshuvoh. When Eliyohu Hanovi comes he will
render everyone fit. Until then, we must be on our guard to
ensure that there is an absolute end to steps that are
contrary to halochoh, as HaRav Eliashiv states in his