Letter on IBD Resignation

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This letter was written by Rav Menachem Penner, Dean of RIETS. I have confirmed its authenticity. -Gil

In just a day, the shaliach tzibbur will say, at the end of “Hineni” – “ha-emet ve-hashalom ehavu”. It is in the pursuit of both emet and shalom that I write before Yom HaKippurim.

The recent dispute over the status of the International Bet Din (IBD) for Agunot involves serious and complicated issues. This matter has significant implications for the community at large, but, most of all, for dozens of women to whom all parties are equally sympathetic and about whom they are all equally concerned.

There is much public confusion about the nature of the challenges presented in cases of iggun and the issues at hand with the IBD in particular. All parties in the current debate understand that what separates the IBD from its detractors has nothing to do with differing levels of concern for women left chained by their husbands.  

One of the many areas of misunderstanding with the IBD are the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Rabbi Yosef Blau, Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshiva University, from the Beth Din. A recently published article in a local paper has, unfortunately, added further misinformation into the mix. While I commend Rabbi Blau for refusing speak to the media, some facts ought to be clarified.

Rabbi Blau stepped down from the court after being met with an unexpected level of disagreement from his colleagues at YU. Many at Yeshiva, including some figures who have worked for decades to ameliorate the plight of agunot, expressed significant halakhic reservations about the Beth Din. Furthermore, as Rabbi Blau is so closely affiliated with Yeshiva, concern arose that Rabbi Blau’s inclusion in the Beth Din signaled, in the absence of public statements to the contrary, institutional support for the new Beth Din. Rabbi Blau was not ready to allow his involvement in the Beth Din to be a source of friction with his colleagues and stepped down willingly – for the sake of shalom. He was neither threatened nor bullied and is happy to corroborate that fact. 

Rabbi Blau maintains his personal opinion about the validity of the Beth Din and its efforts. There have been no claims to the contrary. Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a leading posek and Rosh Yeshiva at YU, in a letter to fellow rabbanim expressing his concerns with the Beth Din mentions that “one of the members of the court” has resigned (translated from the Hebrew), not wanting to mention Rabbi Blau – or any of the Beth Din’s members by name. Neither Rabbi Schachter nor Yeshiva believes that Rabbi Blau has repudiated his opinion about the court’s validity.

Finally, rumors have arisen that, in the course of this important debate, various trusts have been violated. These rumors are also untrue. Rabbi Blau and Rabbi Schachter made no agreements about future steps. The Yeshiva assured Rabbi Blau that it would not issue a public statement that might lead to even further friction – and it, in fact, did not do so. A month later, Rabbi Schachter wrote a letter expressing his significant personal concerns, as a recognized posek, with the Beth Din. While some have expressed surprise about the passion of Rabbi Schachter’s dissent, at no time did Rabbi Schachter commit – or even imply – that if the Beth Din continued to function after Rabbi Blau’s resignation that he would withhold his personal concerns with the Beth Din or its rulings.

Unfortunately, fact is often less exciting than supposition. Both Rabbis Schachter and Blau, shlit”a, will confirm that the information above is the truth. It is my hope that readers will take the time to truly understand the nature of this disagreement and the seriousness of the issues at hand while rejecting rumors about the integrity of the parties.

Gmar chatimah tovah,

Menachem Penner

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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