Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Daf Yomi: Get Al T’nai

The perek we started this week in daf Yomi discusses the tragic case of a woman whose husband goes missing. In what circumstances may she remarry? What happens if she remarries and then her first husband turns up alive? What is the status of the kids in such a circumstance?

Unfortunately, this is a very real halachic problem and one that is all to common.
Questions about missing husbands arose as a result of 9/11 when many many people were murdered while at work in the World Trade Center.

There are also the tragic cases of Tami Arad, and more recently Karnit Goldwasser, whose husbands (Ron and Udi) have been missing in action for many years (Ron Arad for over 20 years, Udi Goldwasser for over a year, may HaShem please bring them and the other MIAs home back to the families quickly and in good health).

There were also many questions by women who returned from the Ashes of Europe 60 years ago whose husband’s disappeared and whose fate was not known.

I once read (and I’m sorry I don’t remember where) that a way to view Jewish History, and assess the important issues of each generation is to look at the Shutim that were being asked or addressed by the G’dolim of that generation. If you look at Shutim in the second half of the Twentieth Century, particularly at Shutim by Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Shlomo Goren, you’ll see that the tragedy of Agunot is an issue which continues to trouble our nation well into the modern era.

One of the questions that came up in the Daf Yomi Shiur was why we don’t reinstate the Get al T’nai that David HaMelech had his soldiers sign before they went out to battle.

A get Al T’nai (as far as I understand) is basically a document that says that if a soldier does not return within a fixed period of time, this is to be considered a get retroactively, and the wife has the status of a divorcee and not an Aguna.

Had such a practice been in place in the IDF, this would have helped the plight of Tami and Kamit, not to mention the wives of the soldiers lost on the Dakar submarine, and many other cases of soldiers whose fate is unknown.

I vaguely remembered hearing that in the early days of the State there was a discussion about instituting a Get al T’nai, and with a little Internet research I found a reference to Meshiv Milchama, a book of Halachot for soldiers by Rav Goren where he discusses a proposal from Chief Rabbi Herzog to institute such a Get for all soldiers. Rabbi Goren actually drafted a Get al T’nai, but dropped the idea when commanders said that this proposal would be demoralizing for soldiers. I briefly looked for a copy of the book in the B’nai Torah Library, but didn’t find it.
It’d be interesting to read this source if/when I manage to locate a copy.

What surprised me more in my Internet search is that although it is not standard practice in the IDF today, there are many other modern examples of use of a Get Al T’nai.

The person sitting next to me at Daf Yomi on Sunday said that he actually had a Get Al T’nai that his wife’s grandfather wrote to his wife when he went to battle in World War 1.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library this get was used during the Russio-japanese war:

During the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, some great Russian rabbis visited the troops before they left for the front and persuaded the Jewish soldiers to issue a get al tenai, a "conditional divorce," so as to free their wives from the status of agunah should the men fail to return. But obviously this temporary procedure, however helpful in individual cases, did not meet the growing dimensions of the problem.

I also found this short description that claims that a Get Al T’nai is also used today in the IDF in certain cases, although I was unaware of this, and am not sure of the accuracy:

Conditional get
As there is conditional marriage, there is also an option of conditional divorce. According to Mishnah Gittin a man can give his wife a get and tell her that it would be valid in case of an adverse event such as: not returning from a trip, being declared missing in action during a war, loosing his mind and other exceptional cases. A different option is for a representative of the husband to write his wife a get if such an event occurs. At times, the rabbis took such initiative and suggested that a conditional get be written. In 1987 Israel extradited a Jew named William Nakash to France. Before he left the country, the Rabbinic Court in Jerusalem insisted that he deposit a conditional get with the court, which Nakash agreed to.

This solution, however, was only suggested in relation to soldiers going off to war. According to Halakhah, it is not possible to give a conditional get once and to keep it until it is needed. If a man goes to war, gives his wife a conditional get, then comes home on vacation and is intimate with her before returning to war, he must give her a new get. This means that a new conditional get must be deposited each time. The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) has a conditional get version that can be deposited before a particularly dangerous mission.

The above was certainly news to me, I had always thought that the concept of "get Al T'nai" had not been used since King David's army - I guess that you learn something every day.

Tu B’Av and a tribute to a true Eshet Chayil

I was planning to write a shot piece on the Daf, or specifically the terrible plight of Agunot which is discussed in the perek that we just started (more specifically, the terrible situation that arrises when a husband disappears and his wife has reason to believe that he is dead) – however, I thought that I should start off with a few words about TU B’Av, and now that I started writing, it seems that I should stick with Tu B’Av, and leave the Daf for a different day (stay tuned....)

Today is Tu B'av

The Mishna (תענית ד,א) states that there were no happier days for Yisrael than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, and indeed today is a very happy day, not only did we skip Tachanun in shul this morning (on a Monday no-less), but today is the anniversary of the date that Debbie and I got engaged.

Today, 12 years ago I proposed to Debbie in Niagara Falls. I don’t think that there could have been a more romantic date or location to get engaged.

After twelve wonderful years since our engagement (and our wedding a few months later), I suppose that this blog is a great opportunity for me to look back on how fortunate I am to have found an Eishet Chayal as wonderful and caring as Debbie.

A few thoughts about Debbie:

  • Debbie is a wonderful, supporting wife. Over the past twelve years, as I’ve grown spiritually, professionally, and personally, I have always felt that I have someone to grow with. Debbie is a partner in life that I’ve always felt comfortable talking with and sharing concerns with.

  • Debbie is a wonderful mother. She showers love and concern over all four of our kids, guiding them and helping them to grow and develop into fine young people. I’m not sure whether our kids realize how lucky they are to have a mother like Debbie, but I am sure as they grow up they will continue to be fine Jews as a result of the love and guidance that they receive from their mother.

  • Debbie is a realistic and practical person. We are currently moving into a new house, the first house that we owned. It was Debbie who took the time to research locations and contractors, who took an active role in every part of the construction of the house, from the kitchen layout, to the position of every electrical socket.
    Please G-d, Debbie and I will enjoy many many years together in this house of our dreams.

  • Professionally Debbie is also an outstanding teacher. In the few years that we have been in Modi’in, she has already established a reputation as a highly sought-after English teacher. She is full of creative ideas, and takes a strong interest in the development of her students. Just as our kids are lucky to have you as a mother, your students are lucky to have you as a teacher.

I feel very fortunate to have found a life partner as wonderful as Debbie.

Debbie, thank you for being you. It's been a wonderful 12 years together, and Please G-d we will continue to grow and develop together for many many years to come.

Debbie, I love you today as much as I did 12 years ago when we became as one

Friday, July 27, 2007

Parshat V'Etchanan

I’m kinda busy at work today, and as a Friday it’s a short day (I’m in Toronto right now which is why I’m working on a Friday at all), but I thought that I couldn’t let my first Shabbat come and go without at least a few thoughts on the Parsha.

As I mentioned, I’m in Toronto right now, and on Shabbat we’re planning on walking up to Ayin Letzion, which is a minyan that I was involved with while we were on shlichut here. It is possible that the Rabbi there will ask me to say a few words at Sudat Shlishit, it’s also not impossible that I’ll have the opportunity to say something at the Shabbat table, so I’d better come up with a few coherent thoughts, just in case.

Parshat Va’etchanan is jam-packed with concepts, both big and small. It’s almost like a “Greatest hits” parsha - 10 commandments and Shema Yisrael are two biggies that spring to mind, but there are plenty of other meaningful goodies.

A couple of random thoughts, maybe over Shabbat I’ll find a way to link them together:
  • The Parsha opens with Moshe’s “Plea” (Chanan) to HaShem, asking for permission to enter Eretz Yisrael.
    Rashi has a lot of trouble with this word, “Chinun”; he claims that it is a type of prayer – specifically a “free gift”.
    Look carefully at that Rashi, and the Ikar Siftei Chachamim, I think that he is trying to hell us something about that nature of prayer – that it shouldn’t be a deal: “Please give me x because I did y” or more commonly “If you give me x, I’ll do y”, rather even if we believe that we have ‘Ma’asim Tovim”, we shouldn’t use them as a basis for a heartfelt request.
  • Moshe’s particular request always gives me Goosebumps – he asks HaShem for permission to enter Eretz Yisrael – this was his deepest and most heartfelt request, and one that was denied.
  • I get Goosebumps because that which was denied to Moshe Rabeinu was given to our generation. How is it that when I get up in the morning and walk to shul, I am able to fulfill a Mitzvah that was denied to Moshe, the mitzvah of walking 4 amot in Eretz Yisrael.

Other thoughts about the parsha:

  • Moshe’s response to the denial of his Tfilla, he accepts the judgment without anger or complaint.
  • Why does he warn us against worship of Ba’al Pe’or, a disgusting type of idol worship that involves defecating in front of an idol – I think that there is definitely a message there for our generation which often sees a total disregard for common respect or appropriate action
  • Why does Moshe designate three cities of refuge? He knows that these cities will not function for many years until after the Western side bank of the Jordan (“West bank”?) has been conquered and settled.
  • Before repeating the 10 commandments, Moshe reminds us that we all heard them directly from HaShem – there is definitely a strong message in there.

There are many other goodies in this week’s Parsha, looks like this blogging thing is a great way to get me to think :)

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, July 26, 2007

What's with that Title?

I'm going to try to blog at least a few lines every day, hopefully soon I'll settle into a style that works for me.

Why did I call this blog 'Between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv?"
I live in Modi'in, which geographically is almost mid-point between Israel's two major cities, but one of the reasons that we choose to live in Modi'in is that it is between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in other ways as well.

Population-wise, Modi'in is a mixture of people who came from Jerusalem (or at least a "Jerusalem mentality") and Tel Aviv (or a "Tel Aviv Mentality").

Jerusalem is the spiritual centre of the Universe. Most of the people there strive to keep Mitzvot and get closer to G-d. Tel Aviv is the industrial centre of Israel. Many of the people there are more concerned with the mundane, sometimes at the expense of their spiritual needs.

It's now a few days after Tisha B'Av. A few years ago one of the major Israeli dailies summed up the difference between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv with two photos, showing a typical Tisha B'Av in each city. The Jerusalem photo showed the Kotel, packed with people crying for a loss almost 2000 years ago. The Tel Aviv photo showed a restaurant packed with people, unaware that they had lost anything at all.

Unfortunately, today Jerusalem and Tel Aviv represent two separate worlds: The world of people who cry on Tisha B'Av, and the world of people who aren't aware that there is anything to cry about.
The real reason to cry today is that these two worlds aren't capable of understanding, or even talking to each other.

Recently I attended a dinner to honour Rabbi Brovender. One of the things he recounted, sadly was how much Israeli society has become self-segregated. He said that when he lived in Kiryat Moshe (Jerusalem) in the 1960s, you would see people on the street with hats and jackets, knitted kippot, shorts and ponytails, or any other style of dress. Unfortunately, today people tend to live in neighbourhoods where everyone dresses (and thinks) alike.

As I said, Modi'in is one of the few places in Israel where the demographics represent "Amcha" - Israeli society as a whole.
We are in the process of moving into a new house, and are starting to meet our new neighbours. Some where kipot, others don't, but hopefully we will all live together on the same project any be able to not just see each other, but learn and benefit from each other.

In my humble opinion, this should be the future of Israel - not a wall between us and the Palestinians, but a bridge between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Welcome to my blog...

Well, this is my blog.
I'm not sure what type of blog this will turn into, or whether I'll even manage to blog regularly, but there are times that I have thoughts that I'd like to write down, and who knows, maybe someday someone will want to read them.

In case you've stumbled on this blog by accident and are wondering who I am, well a bit about me -
My name is Michael. I was born in Wellington, New Zealand, but currently live in Modi'in Israel. I am married with four kids (bli Ayin Hara).
I'm a technical writer and am currently contracting long-term for a company in Toronto, Canada.

Well, now that I've have something in my first post, I guess that I can get back to work. If you do stumble upon my humble blog, please leave a comment just so I know that someone is out there.