This past Saturday evening, the Young Israel of Oceanside community had the privilege to welcome Rav Mordechai Willig to deliver a shiur on the Halachic prenup and postnup agreements designed to prevent agunot in the Jewish community. Many of our younger members had already signed a prenuptial agreement when they married. My wife and I had not, and so, together with over thirty couples that evening, Yael and I signed a postnup agreement. Many of our shul members who were unable to attend the event in person committed to signing an agreement as well, and all combined, I am proud to report that more than half of the families in our community have literally taken pen to paper to support this important cause. This is a fantastic start. In the coming months and years, and as our community continues to grow, I hope to work towards ensuring that every couple in our community signs an agreement. As was said so powerfully by Rav Willig, each couple signs not just for themselves, but as an example to their children and grandchildren, their friends and neighbors. The strength of this practical solution to the tragedy of agunot lies in its universal use. This past Saturday evening, our shul took an important step toward making this protection a universally accepted norm in every Jewish marriage. Special thanks go to Debra Alper and Dora Chana Haar for spearheading this important event for our community.
What stood out for me during Saturday night’s event was the unique opportunity for our community to witness how halachic innovation works in Torah Judaism, and the mark of a true gadol. Rav Willig described the story of the evolution of the prenup, starting with his own resolve from the beginning of his Rabbinate as the Rav of the Young Israel of Riverdale never to have any agunot in his community. When faced with his community’s first aguna situation, he not only tried to convince the recalcitrant husband to give his wife a get, but he simultaneously studied the halachic topic with his shiur in YU. In doing so, Rav Willig came across a possible solution that was written by Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg. After trying for some time to connect with Rav Goldberg, Rav Willig eventually traveled to Israel to meet with him to discuss his potential solution. Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg told Rav Willig that the former would only back the solution if another great Rav supported it as well. He referred Rav Willig to Rav Chaim Zimbalist, who was supportive of the idea with some modifications. Rav Willig brought Rav Zimbalist’s solution back to Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg, going back and forth a number of times until an agreement was worked out to everyone’s satisfaction. Agreement and haskamot in hand, Rav Willig then returned to the United States to ensure that the agreement would be not only halachically sound, but also legally binding in US civil court. After more consultations, this time with secular attorneys, Rav Willig again showed the agreement to Rav Goldberg and Rav Zimbalist, and he secured the endorsement of Rav Ovadia Yosef, Rav Asher Weiss, Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz and Rav Yitzchok Liebes.
Throughout his presentation of this story, Rav Willig cited various Talmudic passages and halachic rulings explaining why certain proposed solutions to the aguna are valid while others are invalid, thereby taking his audience through the careful and at times arduous process of practical halachic innovation. All in all, Rav Willig displayed to our community that for halachic innovation to be effective, two ingredients are critical. First, those making the change must possess a deep understanding of the applicable halachic sources. A desire to make a change for the betterment of the Jewish people is a praiseworthy motivation, but it cannot be effectively accomplished by attempting to manipulate sources to arrive at the change. Second, those making the change, even if they are great Torah leaders in their own right, need to possess the humility to seek approval from other great halachic authorities. In his work on this issue, Rav Willig displayed the true character of a gadol. A gadol is not someone who simply sits in an ivory tower and answers very difficult halachic questions for a faceless populace. Instead, a gadol is someone who is engaged with his community, and who actively seeks solutions to the halachic challenges that his people face. A gadol does not merely dispense abstract responses, but is instead willing to do the legwork necessary to ensure that his solutions are successful. Does this mean that he will always be successful in arriving at a solution? No. But it means that he works hard, he truly feels the plight of those who are suffering, and he himself struggles in an effort to balance sensitivity towards others with sensitivity toward the halachic process. Our community was blessed to witness this first-hand this past Saturday evening. Together with all those who were in attendance, I extend my hakarat hatov to Rav Willig for this valuable experience.
Last edit: 1 year 8 months ago by Jonathan Muskat.