Ask the rabbi

Vol IX: To what extent does the Torah require a husband with many unmarried children postpone a get, or at best resolve the dispute between them?

Rabbi Brovender (photo credit: Courtesy Yaakov S. Cohen)
Rabbi Brovender
(photo credit: Courtesy Yaakov S. Cohen) is happy to announce the launch of its newest Ask the Expert column -- Ask the Rabbi, in cooperation with Rabbi Chaim Brovender, president of the ATID Foundation ( and formerly head of Yeshiva of Yeshivat HaMivtar. To read more about Rabbi Brovender, click here for Jerusalem Post columnist Barbara Sofer's June 22, 2007 article titled, "The Human Spirit: Synthesizing past and present," in which she details the Rabbi's achievements. Or click here for the recent "In Jerusalem" profile. Send us your questions * * * For Vol I-III Click here For Vol IV-VClick here Vol IX Q: Why is being Jewish a matter of the mother being Jewish rather than either parent, particularly now that DNA can be traced so you can always know who are both parents. As well, if being Jewish is passed down through the mother, why is the tribe to which one belongs (Cohen, Levite, Israelite) passed down through the father's side? A: The Torah and the halachic system seem to recognize the importance of the family unit, and that without family education the next generation will not be assured. This is clear from the obvious relationships of the Avot to their wives and the halachic difficulty in ending a marriage. Yichus, which often has financial implications, is controlled by the father. The father does not have the choice for example of abandoning his child, or denying his parenthood. On the other hand, the father is concerned about the development of his children since they are irreplaceable. Every child is important and deserves "the best" (a Jewish notion). Having a biological child is not the only factor that creates a family. The knowledge that the mother who provides the pedigree is necessary in the educational process makes the difference. DNA testing can tell you who the biological mother and/or father was and take care of the technical problem but it does not in itself make a family unit and create respect, and obligation to the future of the family. The Torah and the halachic system have proven themselves able to produce the way to serious family obligations. I don't see any reason to change. Q: Divorce is becoming a standard of many people's lives. It's even on the increase in the Orthodox-chareidi world. What are the conditions that an Orthodox rabbi permits the divorce procedure, known as get? For example, if the wife poses a physical threat to the well being of the husband, such as to attempt to harm with a heavy object, like throw a chair, is this valid grounds for immediately divorce? Alternatively, if the husband causes psychological stress to the degree that upsets the wife so much that she is suicidal, does this constitute valid grounds for a divorce? Or should the husband divorce her immediately because if she becomes so mentally ill, then he cannot do so anymore? In short, to what extent does the Torah require a husband with many unmarried children postpone a get, or at best resolve the dispute between them? A: Let us posit that the halacha doesn't really have a position. The halacha is interested that the administration of the 'get' should be done properly. After all, if there is no actual divorce, but the husband and wife think that there has been, only tragedy can ensue. The halacha is interested in the correctness of the act. Almost any reason is acceptable for the writing of a get. The husband who gives the 'get' gets the first opportunity to determine if he wants to end the relationship. Today where many women are financially independent, they may also opt to divorce but the halachic procedure remains: the husband divorces his wife. I imagine that people get divorced because they are no longer able to live together. Divorce may alleviate a difficult situation and enable both partners to enter a new phase and develop in new and significant ways. It may be that in such a situation divorce should be encouraged. However, there is also often a family to consider. The stability and the education of the children. The difficulty of divorce for the children generally and the special difficulty for sensitive children. Great wisdom is necessary to weigh these factors, often contradictory, and produce a perfect solution. However, I imagine that if the wife is a physical threat to the welfare of her husband, if she cannot be controlled, then divorce may be the best option for all concerned. It is true that divorce is on the rise, and that it affects the haredi world as well as others, but that doesn't mean we are in favor and supportive of the institution. We have worked hard and invested much into insuring that the family unit will be able to properly educate the next generation, with love and sensitivity. We would not like to lose that investment. * * * Vol VIII Q: In Ezekiel 38 there are several nations/people mentioned who will fight against Israel in the "latter days". Besides Persia, do you know who these nations are? A: Let us look at one of the names in Yechezkeel chapter 38, and try to answer your question. The name "Gog from the land of "Magog", appears in different places in the Tanach. "Magog" is one of the sons of Yefet. Gog is a decedent of Reuven. Clearly the prophet is not referring to the children of Yaakov, and it is unlikely that looking at the children of Yefet will give us a clue. This name was used so that we would remember that there are serious enemies who will not give up their crusade against us until the messianic era. The chapter helps us to remember that we have to be concerned and to take threats seriously and not allow ourselves to enact a false sense of security. It may not be enough to be the greatest military power in the area, and possess one of the most highly trained armies in the world today; the second war in Lebanon proved that life is still more complicated. Q: Dear Rabbi, I have recently become engaged to woman who was adopted at or near birth, her biological parents were not Jewish, and she was not halachicly converted (she is now undergoing that process).I recently found out that my Maternal grandmother never obtained a get from her first husband. My question is once she is halachicly converted can a halachicly converted person marry someone with my status situation? (I am not a Levy or a Cohen) A: The real question is what is your status. It is important that you consult with an orthodox rabbi who knows your family and might have information about your grandmother. If, for example, she was never halachically married, then the fact that she didn't get a proper get is not so serious. Before the answer can be given the facts have to be in place. I urge you to clarify the matter as soon as possible. If a person has your "status situation" then he can marry a convert. Q: In halacha we tend to follow certain stringencies, or rules due to a loss of knowledge and information of the world (i.e. the seven clean days, exact borders of halachic Israel, and techales). When and under what circumstances can we through scientific or understanding resurrect lost halachic knowledge? A: I am not sure about your premise. the Torah tells us not to eat certain animals and does not tell us why. For many years it was assumed that this was for our health and well fare, but today scientific information belies this premise. We fill the command because it is a command and realize that any scientific support or opposition is not definitive. While it is true that the exact borders of halachic Israel are unclear I don'tr really see how the science of geography can clear this up with finality. However if that were the case (the borders become clear), I am certain that the great poskim would take that position into serious account. Our halachic positions are generally seen as being the result of divine guidance, and so unaffected by ever changing positions of scientific knowledge. Science is a wonderful tool, and produces much-needed information, but I am not sure that it is directly connected to the workings of halacha. Naturally, a question on the interrelationship between scientific advances and halachic decisions needs an informed posek, of which there have always been a serious and impressive number. * * * Vol VII Q: How long is a year? How many days are in a year? My question stems around when the concept of leap months started. The point of my question is how many days were in a year during biblical times such as when the long lives of the people mentioned in Genesis. Also, how many days in a year during Abrahams or Noah's lifetimes? How about the 210 years the Israelites were slaves in Egypt? Sometimes after Sinai, I believe the calendar was changed so Pesach would always be in the spring time. I am just trying to understand what is meant by a year in the Torah. Thanks for any help. We have had this discussion just about every Pesach and I have asked other Rabbis with only disappointing answers. Hopefully, you can give some insight. A: It seems that a year always mean a solar year. Yet the lunar months have special importance. In order to accommodate the discrepancy between the two, some days had to be added each year to the lunar system, or a month could be added every couple of years. We chose the latter method In the Bible most of the months do not have names. This indicates that, although it was clear when a new month began (new moon) it was not always necessary to know what month we happened to be in. In Babylonia where things were more organized, the months all had names. In the Chumash the months are simply called by numbers: the first month, the sixth month and so on. We see that the names of the months are an advantage, but hardly a necessity. The Ramban claims that the names as we know them were brought from the Babylonian exile and transferred to the Jewish calendar. The Jews always seemed to use a calendar based on the moon which caused certain problems. The notion of 'year' is connected to the sun and the months based on the moon do not fit exactly into the solar year. It was necessary to add a month every so often in order to get a correlation between the solar and the lunar year. The Torah directs us to celebrate the holiday called Pesach and gives it the (alternative) name Chag Heaviv, the holiday of the spring. Everyone knew the difference between winter and spring and so if the sixth month (we call that Nissan) came along and it was still winter we knew that we had to add an extra month so that the holiday of the spring would actually take place in the spring. Thus the beginning of the the organized leap year. The extra month is always the month before Nissan, and the holiday of Pesach. There may have always been leap years. An extra month to intercalate the solar and the lunar year. After the Torah was given, and it was important that the holiday of Pesach be celebrated in the spring, the leap moth was always the month before the month of Nissan. Q: Where in Torah (NOT Talmud) does it say that the Rabbinate should lead the Jewish people if there is no working priesthood? A: The Torah says that we should choose "judges", people who are knowledgeable in Torah and are able leaders. The people chose Shaul as their king and they continued to choose leaders after the Babylonian exile and the return and this was continued in every community of Jews world wide. If there is agreement about the leader he doesn't have to be appointed by the Torah. Naturally, the leaders designated by the Torah are special. They have tasks and authority that no one else can usurp. ut it is clear that the community can call upon the worthy to become their leader and to direct them in their larger affairs. In a community where Torah learning is important it is only natural that they choose great rabbis as their leaders. Naturally, no one is an expert in all matter and therefore even the rabbis need advisers and experts. However, the community is prepared to put their trust in the great rabbi rather than in a person who spent his life trying to get a political position. * * * Vol VI Q: Is breastfeeding in public permissible? I understand that there is a psak of the Ben Ish Hai to allow it. A: Modesty has two large branches. There are certain aspects of modesty (male and female) that are closer to the objective notions. They have to be done in any event. Both men and women should dress modestly, recognizing that they are filling Gd's will during the day, making brachot, and reciting prayers. All of this demands a certain demeanor. It is important that the way we dress reflects the importance of what we are doing. There must be a reason that judges and lawyers in the secular court feel it is important to dress in a particular way as befits their station. It is true that today many of the dress codes have been broken down to some extent, but I don't think that that alone can determine the course we choose. The question was about nursing in public. This may fall into the second branch or category. I know that today many women think that it is their right to do so, but the drift of the halachic system, as well as the generally accepted mores, frowns upon such action. In the gemara in Gittin (89a) R Meir says that if a women nurses in public this is a sign that she is not properly modest, and her husband can divorce her on that basis. True, this position is not part of the halacha in the shuchan aruch, but why would anyone want to stand against R Meir? Q: Can a Jew today trace his lineage back to one of the tribes of Israel? A: Unlikely. Two interesting pieces of information. First the "Seer" of Lublin told R Zvi Elimelech of Dinov that he was from the tribe of Yissachar. That was the reason he called his well known book on the months of the Jewish year bnei yisaschar. If it depends on information from the "seer", it may be possible but not easily done. The gemara says that when the mashiach comes, Eliyahu the prophet will have to determine all the relationships and what tribe each of us is originally from. I guess that if the "seer" is not with us, we will have to wait for Eliyahy Hanavi! Q: I was married for 11 years and did not want to get divorced since I did not want to be separated from my kids. My wife asked for a GET and I dragged my feet on giving it to her. When I offered to give her the GET, she said she did not need it since she annulled our marriage. I was never informed my marriage was annulled and was wondering how an 11-year marriage with two kids could be annulled and if it was, why was I not informed? A: Annulment is not a simple halachic oricess. To annul a marriage, to determine that the marriage never happened, is dependent on proving that from the very outset there was deceit, and that the marriage was entered in under false pretenses. This is a difficult matter and no orthodox rabbi would consider doing such an annullment without the support of the great poskim of the day. I don't understand how your wife could have possibly annulled the marriage, and you should try to clarify. Naturally, the more serious consequences devolve upon you wife should she remarry. Look into the matter quickly.