What is a Heter Meah Rabbonim and when can it be legitimately used under Halacha (Jewish law). Recently, this has become a new weapon used inappropriately in divorce matters in the Orthodox Community. As discussed in my last article the cherem of Rabbienu Gershon instituted the prohibition of a polygamy on men and the fact that a women must accept a Get willingly. That raised a new concern for the observant community; what if a women could not or would not accept a Get? The answer was the Heter Meah Rabbonim, which was initiated for cases in which a wife became mentally incompetent (Shotah); who rebels and refuses to act as a Jewish Wife (Moredes), or one who simply disappears. The dispensation arose to those limited situations. The exact translation of the words as Heter is (permission) of Meah Rabbonim (one hundred Rabbis).
A Beth Din must thoroughly examine the claims of the husband as to the issues being presented.
Issues: Did the wife’s mental capacity deteriorate to the state of mental incompetence and is the condition irreversible? Moredes, is she in fact a rebellious wife vis a ve her conduct, not willing to live as husband and wife, is she no longer observant, not willing to mend her ways nor accept a Get that is being offered. Did she disappear and cannot be located?
Not only one must obtain the signatures of one hundred Rabbi’s, but they must be located in three different locals. The petitioner must convince the initial Beth Din of the veracity of his claims, which will lead to the Beth Din conducting their own investigation. This is followed by the requirement by the Rabbi’s in the other locals, to listen to his claims and conduct their own inquiries. Only once 100 Rabbi’s in the three different jurisdictions are convinced can a Heter be issued. A further requirement is that a Get must be deposited to the Beth Din for the wife to pick up whenever she desires without condition.
A few years ago I was in court, when the following scenario was presented to the Judge. Someone obtained a Heter Meah Rabbonim from someone in the orthodox community known to facilitate the same for a fee. The women was informed that a Get was deposited to this Rabbi on the condition that she withdraw all court proceedings and agree to arbitrate all disputes only with this Rabbi. The Judge rightfully so ordered the Rabbi to appear before her. The abuse of this method cannot be tolerated by the Jewish community. It’s no wonder that the leading Halachik Poskim (deciders of Jewish Law) of our generation have issued warnings to refrain from the issuance of a Heter (Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”zl), except in extreme circumstances, once one hears of a Heter, it should be subject to great scrutiny as to its validity. One has to question a Rabbi who would consider performing a wedding when the groom has initiated and obtained a Heter Meah Rabbonim especially when the wife is ready willing and able to accept the Get.
In a noted case, the Supreme Court referenced a Heter Meah Rabbonim as to the question if that was sufficient to comply with the Get law or not (husband in that case did deposit Get for wife to receive). The wife as Court recounts did not want to accept a Get. Earlier in this series of articles we discussed in the opposite scenario, where a husband refuses. Under Halacha there is a concept of a husband being coerced to deliver a Get. The Bach (Rabbi Yoel Sirkes), a great commentator on the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law) states, “whoever releases a Agunah is as if he rebuilt one of the destroyed buildings of Yerusholayim”, Our religious leaders have to ensure, that once a marriage is over without possibility of reconciliation, that women receive her Get.
By: Martin E. Friedlander, Esq.
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