By Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld
In my former work as a Bais Din Menahel, and in my present work as a Divorce Mediator, I have heard various suggestions and reactions from the people the Gemara Pesachim refers to as “Children of Neviim.” People who have experienced our Batei Din have varied comments and suggestions that flow from their experiences. I have collected 8 of these below in the hopes that they will lead to some constructive discussion, and will serve as valuable feedback for our Batei Din and communal organizations.
1. Rabbanim will deal, from time to time, with the anguishing tale that comes from an ex-spouse who is dealing with a non-cooperative mate who is not cooperating in the Get process. Rabbanim will advise the spouse and/or parents that for X dollars the mate can be “persuaded” to give the Get. While this proposal may “help” a specific individual, it does perpetuate the idea that a Get can be withheld for a financial ransom. The social problem that this creates is quite harmful to our community. Rabbenu Gershom did not wish to be ransomed from non-Jewish extortionists and yet we have, inadvertently, created the same situation in contemporary times, in some situations. Perhaps the time has come to hold a candid discussion as to whether or not such behavior truly furthers the goals of our community.
2. Many people who have had Dinei Torah have lamented the role of “Toanim” (i.e. “advisors”) who prolong the Din Torah process and who will, on occasion, resort to behavior that is far from constructive. There are Batei Din like the Beth Din of America, which have barred the presence of Toanim on halachic and professional grounds. Do we wish our system of Batei Din to grant access to individuals who are neither professionally regulated nor trained for their roles in Dinei Torah? Should Toanim be allowed to be part of the Bais Din process?
3. The number of Gittin given each year is far less than the number of Jewish divorces. Have we done everything possible to reach out to the non-frum members of our community and encourage them to use our Batei Din for the Get process? I have heard many individuals state that they would gladly seek out a Get but they were unsure if they would be well-received by the Batei Din, due to their non-observance. The benefit of such outreach to those less observant would of inestimable help to Klal Yisrael.
4. By the nature of the Bait Din structure, every woman who comes to such a forum will be outnumbered by the number of males in the room. Can we make our Batei Din less foreboding by having these women greeted by female office members and by encouraging them to take a female friend along for support and Chizuk? On occasion, a male will come to the Bais Din and will know one of the rabbanim. He will likely be greeted warmly by this acquaintance. This is less likely to occur when a female enters our Batei Din. These are small items but they require our attention and sensitivity. (When I mediate matters, I always try to be careful to spend my “face time” equally divided between the male and female. These are small concerns, but they can make all the difference in how the process is viewed by all parties.)
5. The rise of divorce and litigation in our community, is a warning signal to our leadership. Civility is becoming a lost art. Rabbanim may wish to dedicate drashos, seminars, and communal efforts towards an embrace of messages about positive communication, Shalom Bayis, and proper ways to resolve disputes. Rabbanim may even desire to learn more about mediation techniques and promote use of ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution”.) I stand ready, as do others, to volunteer to train Rabbanim in the basics of mediation theory so that the message of civility is brought to our communal consciousness.
6. There has been a great increase in recent years in the number of frum therapists, social workers, mediators, etc. It would behoove Rabbanim to have formal relationships with such professionals. A Rav once told me that Rav Pam ZT”L had been shown a book written on the topic of marriage and Shalom Bayis. When asked for a haskamah, Rav Pam said he would do so only if the author added the comment, in the book, that if the marriage as in peril, professional help had to be sought. There are many worthy individuals, and organizations, willing to be of assistance in such situations. It is of great importance that such “partnerships” be forged.
7. The cost of litigation has spiraled out-of-sight. The average cost of a contested divorce is estimated to be $20,000. (The cost of divorce in the East is considerably higher due to the higher legal fees charged in this area.) It is a natural choice to allow Batei Din to be the forum for resolving marital and commercial disputes. In order for such rulings to be upheld by secular courts, Batei Din need to have clearly articulated policies and procedures. The effort to universally achieve this is well worth it. Let the Bais Din be the first choice for disputes and not be the choice only when all other options fail. In addition, Batei Din need to get out the message that they stand ready to resolve all disputes that arise in our communities. This message cannot be emphasized enough.
8. Most states require divorcing couples who have children, to take a course. The course focuses on raising children who have been involved in a divorce process. Should not our Batei Din be able to cooperate and develop a similar course from the Torah perspective? In addition, Bais Din personnel can be trained in spotting psychological issues, emotional needs, financial concerns, and need to be prepared to suggest proper referrals for such individuals. There is more to a Get process than having the Sofer write 12 lines. Are we prepared to meet such challenges?
The above is mere food for thought. The words may be mine, but the thoughts come from the “children of Neviim”. If this article is able to engage just a few minds in positive discussion, it will benefit us all. The challenge is great, but the structures already exist to implement these proposals.
Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld is a Fair Lawn, NJ mediator who can be contacted at Rosenfeld@Juno.com.