Collection of Bergen-Belsen 'agunot' rabbinic rulings to be auctioned off

The rabbis of the Bergen-Belsen rabbinical court were the first to collect testimonies from Holocaust survivors right after World War II.

Ledger of rabbinic rulings concerning 'agunot' at Bergen-Belsen after the Holocaust (photo credit: KEDEM AUCTION HOUSE)
Ledger of rabbinic rulings concerning 'agunot' at Bergen-Belsen after the Holocaust
(photo credit: KEDEM AUCTION HOUSE)
A collection of rulings issued by the Rabbinical Court in Bergen-Belsen after the Holocaust allowing Jewish men and women who were “chained” to a spouse by Jewish law (known as agunot and agunim) to remarry will be auctioned off next week at the Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem.
Agunot are Jewish women who have either not been given a “get,” a divorce document required by Jewish law, or are unsure if their husband is alive or dead, meaning that they cannot remarry according to Jewish law. Agunim are men who face a similar issue, although men are allowed to marry more than one wife according to biblical law. A ban on marrying more than one wife was issued by Rabbeinu Gershom ben Judah, a Jewish French scholar in the 11th century, creating the issue of agunim in many communities.
After the Holocaust, many people were unable to determine whether their spouses were still alive and wished to remarry. Rabbis and rabbinic courts around the world worked to find ways to determine whether the spouses were alive or dead and either allow or forbid the many agunot and agunim from remarrying.
A similar work consisting of a collection of rabbinic rulings and responsa concerning agunot issued at the Bergen-Belsen DP camp was written by Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Meisels in 1946, titled Collection of Regulations for Agunot. Meisels started off the book with a memorial for those killed in the Holocaust, including his wife and seven children and his mother and mother-in-law. In the first responsum, the author stressed that the issue of resolving aguna cases was the domain of the great ones of the generation (in Hebrew, the gedolei hador), especially after the Holocaust, as “the question affecting thousands of agunot to free them from the chains of their being agunot is clearly a sacred obligation placed on the great ones of our generation for their high opinions.”
The author wrote that he was among the exiles in Bergen-Belsen, stressing that he himself had been in the labor camp and seen firsthand the “methods of calamity” and how the camp worked. “Therefore, I gathered up strength in my soul to provide my young opinion as a student before his masters,” wrote the author.
A template for a prenuptial agreement found by Henry Abramson from the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp had a prospective groom trying to remarry after the Holocaust agreeing to follow the ruling of a beit din (rabbinical court) if his first wife should end up being alive, including divorcing the second woman and dividing assets or “any other matter.” The template was made with empty spaces for the names of those involved, showing that the document was intended for repeated use, according to a piece written by Abramson for JTA.
A form used by the rabbinical court in Budapest after the war, also sold by the Kedem Auction House, asked agunot to fill out information about their missing husbands, including his name, where he was born, where he was sent to, what side he was sent to at the entrance to Auschwitz, and if he was seen at the “showers” or in forced labor, among other questions.
In order to release the agunot and agunim, the rabbinical court at Bergen-Belsen investigated the mass murder methods used by the Nazis in order to determine the chances of being rescued from various incidents. The rabbis of the court were the first to collect testimonies from Holocaust survivors right after World War II, according to the Kedem Auction House.
The ledger of rulings was written on a German technical book, with the name of each of the agunot/agunim at the top of each page. Testimony was first collected from and signed by witnesses, and then the rabbis issued a marriage permit and signed it. Signatory rabbis included Rabbi Yoel Heilpern, Rabbi Yisrael Arie Zalmanowitz, Rabbi Issachar Berish Rubin and Rabbi Yitzchak Glickman.
The rabbis worked in conjunction with Rabbi Shlomo David Kahana, who was in Jerusalem and began working to prepare for the release of agunot and agunim from the countries affected by World War II. Kahana dealt with about 3,000 cases, and in none of these cases did the husband return after he permitted the aguna to remarry.
Heilpern served as a rabbi in the Bergen-Belsen camp, and his three children were murdered in the Holocaust. He immigrated to the United States in 1948 and served as a rabbi in Brownsville. He authored the book Collection of Agunot Regulations.
Glickman also served as a rabbi in Bergen-Belsen and served as a rabbi in Holon after immigrating to Israel. He printed responsa about agunot by Kahana in his book Resisei Torah. In another book of his, Shoah Utekuma (Holocaust and Resurrection),” he published lectures and seminars about the Holocaust, and in another book, Birkat Emuna, he discussed the commandment of kiddush Hashem (sanctifying God’s name) during the Holocaust.
The opening price of the auction is $4,000.