Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Realism and Cynicism

The Summer 2004 issue of Tradition is out and it is a Festschrift for R. Emanuel Feldman. R. J. David Bleich has an article in which he puts forth a proposal, based on a suggestion of R. Moshe Sofer (the Hasam Sofer), that will prevent almost all instances of a father secretly marrying off his daughter and refusing to reveal the name of the groom. A few years ago, this seemed like an ominous, new way to coerce a mother into agreeing to a divorce under extremely unfavorable terms. While the practice has not been repeated, even one new case is too many.

R. Bleich's proposal requires a communal ban against:

1) any person who accepts an object of value in order to effect a marriage with his minor daughter; 2) anyone who presents an object of value to a father for that purpose; 3) anyone who encourages or counsels such an act; 4) as well as against anyone who serves or agrees to serve as a witness to such an act.
But R. Bleich is no fool. He is a realist, or as some like to call a realist--a cynic. He concludes:
This writer knows full well that this proposal for obviating the possibility of kiddushei ketanah will be dismissed as utopian. It is indeed utopian in nature. Since the Jewish community lacks a central authority such a proposal cannot be implemented unless the required communal edict is promulgated on a local level in each and every community. Only in that manner could a disgruntled husband be prevented from achieving his desire by arranging such a marriage in a locale in which the practice has not been banned. Implementation of the proposal is within the realm of halakhic possibility but would require the cooperative efforts of all segments within each community. Given the present splintered nature of the Jewish community even such ad hoc cooperation may be unachievable.

Those reflections merely underscore the state of halakhic as well as social impotence that exists simply because we lack prescience and fortitude in instituting a kehillah system similar to that which existed in virtually every city and hamlet in the Europe of days gone by. As a result we are condemned to live with many forms of social malaise, not because the problems are intractable, but because we refuse to establish the mechanism by which they might be ameliorated.

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