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Friday, September 20, 2019

Most of the active mesadrei gittin (get administrators) in the United States gathered in Manhattan last week for a day-long conference. It was a fantastic event. We had the privilege and opportunity to hear from leading halachic authorities such as Rav Nota Greenblatt, Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Mordechai Willig and Rav Mendel Senderovic (listed in order of age). The focus was on addressing the manifold halachic challenges involved in gittin administration, such as securing the cooperation of recalcitrant men and women. There was also a special presentation by Dr. David Pelcovitz, a leading psychologist who has also been active in beit din matters for many years. Dr. Pelcovitz emphasized the need for get administrators to prepare couples for what will occur at the get, noting that people cope with a traumatic event far more effectively when they know what to expect. He also noted the wisdom of bringing a friend for support (although I noted that one should avoid bringing someone whom the other party might find irritating).

One vignette stands out, though, in my mind as most memorable and insightful. Rav Nota Greenblatt, the country’s senior get administrator who has been administering gittin since 1952(!), related how he dealt with a particular challenge he encountered in a midwestern city. The woman insisted that she should hand the get to her husband instead of the Torah-mandated procedure of the husband handing the wife the get. She argued that since it was he who misbehaved during the marriage and not she (a fact that went unchallenged by the husband) then she should be the one to deliver the get.

This poses a serious challenge since a get delivered in such a manner is unquestionably halachically invalid, yet the woman was unwilling to cooperate in the traditional procedure. Rav Greenblatt patiently sat down with the woman and told the following story. His wife’s first delivery was an extraordinarily difficult one, with labor taking over thirty hours (!). When coming for the delivery of the next child, the Greenblatts (who reside in Memphis) hired the finest OB-GYN in the state of Tennessee. Rav Greenblatt told the wife that he asked the doctor if this time he could deliver the baby considering the difficulty of the prior delivery (by this time, the wife was already laughing). Rav Greenblatt noted that it is not fair for the husband to sit by on the side while his wife does the labor. It would seem far more equitable if the wife delivers the first child, the husband delivers the second and they flip a coin to decide who delivers the third.

Rav Greenblatt explained that God has ordained that it is the woman who delivers the children, notwithstanding our sense of fairness. So, too, Rav Greenblatt explained, if it were up to him, the husband should deliver the get to his wife if she misbehaved and vice versa if he acted poorly. However, God revealed at Mount Sinai a specific procedure in which the get is to be delivered under all circumstances. Laughing heartily and appreciating the insight, the wife then readily consented to receive the get in the halachically prescribed manner. What a fine example of sensitively bridging culture gaps with humor and wit!

This was one of many lessons and insights gained at the Mesadrei Gittin conference. We hope that there should be little or no need for gittin to be administered. However, if they are needed, this conference accomplished much in assuring that the highest halachic standards are maintained and the utmost sensitivity shown to people in what may be the most difficult moments in their lives.

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck

By Rabbi Haim Jachter