Many years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a short sabbatical in Israel which changed my life. I spent the Omer that year studying giyur at the Hartman Institute. For the first time in my life, I sat in on exciting discussions about the process of halachah. The room was alive with generations of rabbis and scholars in addition to the people present. This was such a different way of approaching halachic decision making from that of my yeshivah youth, where the focus was almost exclusively on absorbing the decisions found in the codes so that we would know what to do. I was so inspired by this experience that, just before we left Israel, I bought the smallest complete versions of the Mishneh Torah, the Tur, and the Vilna Shas (the only size I could afford at the time) along with a magnifying glass.
What I loved most was not the central text so much as the commentaries that surrounded it. Taken together, the texts and their commentaries constituted a multi-generational and geographical conversation about how to connect the details of life with the flow of redemptive energy which we believe began with the exodus and Sinai revelation and will end with the liberation of all people under the umbrella of the Divine source. This love grew deeper when I began to facilitate the course in Integral Halachah for the ALEPH Ordination Program along with collaborating with Reb Zalman on the book of the same name. It was then that I discovered how the responsa literature enriched this already amazing exchange of ideas and because of which Reb Zalman gave me a second semicha as a Dayan.
Almost twenty years ago, I promised myself that if no Orthodox rabbi did so by the time I turned 65, I would write an essay to show that the only way to fully balance the process of giving and receiving a get was to establish a takkanah which would permit a woman to divorce her husband, thus ending the unilateral control husbands had over the gittin process. It is seven years past my due date and still no Orthodox authorities that I know of have taken this step, continuing to put their hopes in pre-nuptials and in claims of disgust and abuse in order to force husbands to grant a get when they are not willing.
My goals also changed somewhat during these past years. I encourage my students to write what I call “real” t’shuvot, that is responses to specific questions rather than essays prompted by such questions. And so, when a real person came to me with a real request to divorce her husband, I accepted the challenge to respond to her specific situation. In so doing, I hope to contribute a somnething to the contemporary halachic discussion around gittin without making a blanket pronouncement.
Below is a link to my t’shuvah, available in the ALEPH ReSources Catalogue elsewhere on this website.
During the week of Netzach, 5779