Paradoxically, as difficult it is to get a divorce – it is extremely easy to get married, and it can even be done unknowingly. Ynet recently reported of a 17-year-old teen and his 14-year-old girlfriend who asked the rabbinical court for a divorce after playing "bride and groom." In fact, every boy over the bar-mitzvah age of 13 can betroth any girl. Moreover, every father can betroth his own little girl (under the age of 12) without her knowing. And things have been known to happen.
Several years ago, a father betrothed his daughter, without her knowing, to another man, and refused to give out the man's name. By doing so, the father in fact prevented his daughter from marrying anyone else, until this unknown man would be willing to grant her a divorce. Why would someone do such a vile thing? Very simple – the father was a recalcitrant husband who wanted to make his wife miserable.
Fearing that his wife might send out people to beat him up in order to force him to grant the divorce, he thought that by doing this evil thing to his daughter he would be insuring himself. Because, if he was to get critically injured, no one would ever know who the girl was betrothed to and she would remain an aguna forever.
It's hard for me when I hear about violence, threats and intimidations that are carried out in the name of the Jewish religion. It's also hard for me that people think it's a mere anecdote. I'm horrified. When will rabbis stand up and put an end to this disgrace? Why is it so hard for rabbis to say loud and clear: "The betrothal of a daughter by her father is invalid today, because Jewish betrothal must be approved by a rabbi, and the consecration of a daughter by her father is not deemed legitimate by rabbis today."
There's an alternative
The principle, "Whoever betroths intends that the betrothal be with the consent of the rabbis" already appears in the Gemarah. If and when rabbis are finally able to say this, perhaps they will also be able to add: "The betrothal of children under the age of 17 is invalid, because Jewish betrothal should be done with the consent of a rabbi, and the betrothal of minors does not conform to the opinion of today's rabbis."
Similar principles have been set in the Middle Ages when it was stipulated that a betrothal is valid only in the presence of 10 witnesses. To this we can add that the betrothal is valid only with 10 witnesses and a rabbi that was certified by the Chief Rabbinate. Why not? Why shouldn't we strengthen the institution of the Rabbinate? Diminish slightly from the husband's authority in the betrothal and increase the authority of the Rabbinate? Would that also undermine the institution of marriage? Would it be so terrible to narrow the incomprehensible power any male person has to so easily change the status and life of any girl and woman in Israel?
I cry to heaven for the distresses caused here. A child should not have to go through a divorce ceremony and fall into the category of "divorcee" forbidden from marrying a Cohen. In a few years she might join the hundreds of divorced women who live with a Cohen and cannot marry him due to their status.
The boy should not have paid the girl money in order to persuade her to agree to the divorce. This is a disgrace! The rabbinical judges failed to say that there was no case here, and failed to prevent the trade off in the divorce (this time the by lost and the girl benefited.)
But the greatest problem is that of the Torah. Halachic rules, which were once completely relevant, practical and logical (such as the betrothal of a young couple), continue to be implemented in a destructive manner. Where are the spiritual leaders who will assume responsibility for the Torah, and see to it that it continues to be a guide for life, and not tuned into a laughing stock? Trust me, God is weeping not only for these two children, but also for the rabbinical judges and the Torah.
And here is one example for the horrific way in which profit can be made from such a betrothal: Hand out rings to little girls, and in the presence of two older boys say to them: "You are hereby consecrated to me." Then demand money for a divorce. You can do this to as many little girls you like, because the Torah does not limit the number of women.
Just don't forget to have it on videotape, or there might be a girl who will refuse to be blackmailed.
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinic advocate with the Center for Women’s Justice . Telephone: 972-2-5664390