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Thursday, June 26, 2008


A Sinner…No More! [Part Two]

This is the second and concluding part of the story of the Nachalas Dan, the previous Modzitzer Rebbe. (I will probably combine this into one in the near future.)

Part Two

The day that Itzik Cohen and his wife were quarreling in the Beis Din, R. Yisrael Dan was sitting, as usual, with his head deeply into the sugya [subject matter] of the Gemara, but with 'one ear open' to hear of any Halachic part of the discussion.

The case was a tragic one, which appeared to be heading in a very sad direction - divorce. Everyone there, the head of the Beis Din, the other dayanim, and the Rabbinic scribe, came to the unhappy conclusion: "We force him to release his wife with a get [bill of divorce], since they cannot live together, and one is not obligated to live under the same roof with a 'snake.' " In a clear tone, the judges informed the cold-hearted Itzik of their decision.

Itzik looked at them with eyes filled with enmity and derision: they would not dictate to him, these rabbis wouldn’t tell him what to do. He’s independent, he’s great, he knows what he wants…

As his anger welled up, he informed them, in a venomous tone, that he could care less about their decision. He has his own plans for his future. With determination, he put on his helmet and left the Beis Din, slamming the door behind him. He also left behind some pondering judges, and an aguna [a 'chained woman' who is stuck without a divorce]. The noise of his motorcycle resounded in their ears like a song of derision. With hearts filled with pain, they set an appointment to meet with the aguna, to discuss her plight, and how she might be released.


As they sat to discuss her fate, the Av [head of the] Beis Din began, "This case is different from that of many others. There are two Halachic opinions about what to do in a case when a man is obligated to divorce his wife. One opinion of the Rishonim is one may employ means of force, 'we force him with lashes,' say these poskim. But another opinion is that one should not use force, but rather 'the court informs him that he is to divorce his wife, and if he refuses, he has violated the words of the judges and is called a sinner.' Since there are two variant opinions in the Rishonim, and the Halachic application of force is very complex, the Halacha goes according to the second, more lenient opinion: we don’t force him, but inform him, and one who disobeys is called a sinner."

"But in this case, Rabbosai, the decision of the Beis Din has no effect whatsoever on this man," the Av Beis Din continued, raising his voice. "He is already a sinner, without our 'ordaining' him as such; it neither interests nor threatens him at all. In this case, it appears to me that, for lack of an alternative, we need to rely on the opinion of those who say to use force. We should therefore employ the [secular] law against him, including imprisonment and the like."

A stormy debate began amongst the dayanim, and no one budged from the Beis Din until all the dayanim agreed with the Av Beis Din, that in order to release this poor woman from her plight, they would have to make an exception and rely on the first opinion as the Halacha in this case. "And what does R. Yisrael Dan say?" asked the Av Beis Din, as all eyes turned towards the corner where the safra d’dayna was sitting.

His pen came to an abrupt halt, as he focused a sharp look at the dayanim. "In my humble opinion," he began, "we should not deviate one whit from the psak Halacha [legal decision] of the Shulchan Aruch. According to this psak, one should not force the man to give a get, even in a case like this one. This is based on the idea that force is not to be used as a first measure [l’chatchila]; and who are we to put our heads between these two mountains [the two great opinions]? True, ours is indeed a difficult case, but we must cling to the Halacha as it is. By strictly following the Halacha, one does not lose, and Hashem stands amongst His judges - He will do what is best is His Eyes!"

This came as quite a surprise. The judges began to debate it over again, but in the end, as so many times before, the opinion of the safra d’dayna won out. Well aware of his yiras shamayim [fear of Heaven] and kedusha [holiness], they accepted his words as fully absorbed in the fear of G-d and His Torah.

At the next discussion with the couple, the judges informed Itzik Cohen that he must immediately divorce his wife with a get, and if not, he was deemed a sinner! He was filled with scorn and ridicule. When the secular court and the police called him a criminal, he was not moved; when a group of bearded rabbis called him a sinner, he didn’t even blink an eye.


Perhaps you might think that R. Yisrael Dan was so removed from worldly matters, that he couldn’t understand the plight of an aguna - Heaven forbid! After he became the Modzitzer Rebbe, on a trip to the US, a porter offered to carry his luggage for him upon his arrival. The Rebbe stared at him and recognized him. He had met him nineteen (!) years previously in the Beis Din, and he knew that since then his wife was an aguna, and that he - the husband - was not to be found. "Aren’t you so-and-so?" the Rebbe yelled at him. He tried to feign innocence, but the Rebbe would not relent: "Rasha [evil one]! Why did you make your wife an aguna?"

The man tried to flee, but the Rebbe signaled his attendants, who caught him. They would not let him go until they sat down and had him give them a proper, kosher get. When they returned to Israel, they were able to free the broken-hearted, desperate woman from her state as an aguna.
Despite this, R. Yisrael Dan did not look for ways that deviated from the simple Halacha. He does his part, and the Giver of the Torah [Hashem] will complete the task. In our case as well, the outcome was a clear indication of this, as we shall see.


Only a month had passed since the painful case of the Cohens in the Beis Din, and Itzik Cohen was seen on the streets of Tel-Aviv with a stubble of a beard, and an old kippa on his head. His mother had passed away, and he was careful to fully observe the Jewish laws and customs of mourning. R. Yisrael Dan also walked the streets of Tel-Aviv, where an obituary notice caught his eye, describing the passing of one Chasiba Cohen. The address of the house of mourning was quite familiar, for many notices from the Beis Din had been sent there.

R. Yisrael Dan knew exactly what he had to do. A brief investigation told him that Itzik Cohen was very likely to fully observe the Jewish laws and customs of mourning, including leading the prayer services three times a day. He davened at a shul called "Zecher Zilpa."

Within a day, the attendant of the shul had received a registered letter from the Tel-Aviv Beis Din. "It has become known to us that one Itzik Cohen prays in your shul. You should know that our Beis Din has declared him a sinner. Therefore, he is not allowed to lead the services, and no honor should be accorded him, such as an aliya to the Torah, opening the Holy Ark, etc." Attached to the letter was a photocopy of the psak din, the judgment against Cohen.

When Itzik came for services, the gabbai nervously informed him that although he had nothing personal against him, he would not be able to lead the services any more. He showed him the letter from the Beis Din, indicating that he was a sinner.

Itzik couldn’t be bothered to think about the full implications of this. He merely went from Zecher Zilpa to Heichal Zalman. But within two days, the gabbai of Heichal Zalman approached Itzik, waving a familiar letter at him. "You cannot continue like this. Either come to terms with the Beis Din, or go…"

The walls of his heart were beginning to crack - but just beginning. He tried Maalos Kedoshim, and Yotzei Vasilkov, Mercazi, Shechunati, and even the shuls in the community centers. But someone was following him. Wherever he went, the long arm of the Beis Din found him, under the skilled guidance of the safra d’dayna. He was cast out of one shul after another for a full month!

At the end of the month, he broke. Tight-lipped and downcast, he went back to the Beis Din, and released his wife from her state of aguna, which he had planned to keep her in for many years. The Beis Din had defeated the obstinate man, who was an 'avaryana d’dayna' - a sinner against the court - no more! This process was a considerably shorter one than any use of force might have been.

The pure Halacha had won out. G-d stands in the Beis Din, and aids the dayanim and those who follow His true path. The Divine assistance that was accorded to Rebbe Yisrael Dan - whose fear of Heaven preceded his wisdom - took this woman out of her plight.

Zechuso yagein Aleinu v’al Kol Yisrael - May the Nachalas Dan’s merits protect us all!

Great story!
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