Writing a Get in a Locale for the First Time
Divorce is always quite a delicate and sensitive matter. Writing and executing a Get (Jewish divorce document) is similarly sensitive and must rigorously conform to the standards set forth in the Shulchan Aruch. Mesadrei Gittin (Get administrators) closely adhere to the venerated practices established by the outstanding rabbis of previous generations, to avoid calling into question any aspect of the Get.
Accordingly, it is not surprising that Rav Yechezkel Landau (Teshuvot Noda BiYehuda Even HaEzer 1:87 and 2:105, 116) strongly discourages the writing of Gittin in places where there had not previously been a tradition how to write Gittin, as perhaps earlier generations did not write Gittin there due to Halachic concerns. This practice continues until today, as we do not write Gittin in places where Gittin had not been written previously, unless there is compelling reasons to do so. When contemplating the writing of a Get in a “new” locale, rabbis of eminent stature must be consulted who will investigate every aspect of the issues involved (Aruch Hashulchan E.H. 128:39).
In this essay, we shall describe how Rav Mendel Senderovic, the Rosh Kollel of the Milwaukee Kollel and head of the Milwaukee Beit Din who is a leading authority in the area of Gittin and other personal status matters, arrived at a decision in the year 2002 as to the writing of Gittin in Honolulu, Hawaii. He describes (Teshuvot Atzei Besamim number 47) that all efforts were made to avoid the necessity of writing a Get in Honolulu, as no Gittin had been written there previously, but to no avail: the only way the wife would be able to procure a Get in this very difficult situation was to have the Get written in Honolulu. As such all efforts had to be made to establish a manner in which a Get could be written in that locale.
The first step in this process is to properly transliterate the word “Honolulu” into Hebrew characters. The first syllable is a Patach (a short “o”) which Ashkenazic Halachic standards sometimes calls for the writing of the letter Aleph and sometimes does not. In this case, since the Patach is not followed by a Shva Nach (a short “u”) an Aleph should be written as we see in Teshuvot Noda BiYehuda (E.H. 2:116) in regards to the writing a Get in the Eastern European city of Rad’vil.
Rav Senderovic chose to omit an Aleph to correspond to the “o” after the letter “n” in Honolulu, since it is simply a Shva Na, which does not merit the writing of an Aleph (Ohalei Sheim 10:9). A Vav is written after both Lameds that correspond to the two letters L of the last two syllables of Honolulu, in conformity with undisputed Get practice. Accordingly, “Honolulu” is transliterated as Heh-Aleph-Nun-Lamed-Vav-Lamed-Vav.
The Waters of Honolulu
As is well-known, a locale in a Get is identified by the waters upon which it rests (Shulchan Aruch E.H. 128:4). For example, Teaneck, New Jersey is identified in a Get as Teaneck the city on the Hackensack River and the Overpeck Creek; Haifa is referred to as the city on the coast and on well waters; Rio De Janeiro is called the city on the coast and on springs. The practice (cited in Beit Shmuel 128:18 and Teshuvot Noda BiYehuda E.H. 1:86) is that we write a Get only in a place where there are two identifying water features, except for exceptional circumstances where we tolerate writing a Get with only one identifying mark such as Richmond, VA which rests on the James River and Lima, Peru which sits on the coast.
Honolulu cannot be identified as being on the coast since it is located in an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and not on the coast such as Tel Aviv, Boston or Capetown (South Africa). Rav Senderovic instead identifies Honolulu as the city that sits in the sea following the precedent of Venice, Gerba (Tunisia) and Singapore.
The second identifying mark is wells since Rav Senderovic was informed that ninety two percent of Honolulu’s water supply comes from underground wells. The other eight percent of the water supply comes from springs, which Rav Senderovic did not include as an identifying mark as the springs provide only a very small portion of the water supply and thus do not serve as a meaningful identifying mark. In addition, as Honolulu has the two requisite identifying marks, it was unnecessary to add a third relatively insignificant indicator.
Rav Senderovic in this approach follows the ruling of the Maharam MiBrisk (cited in Pitchei Teshuvah 128:31) in regards to the omission of springs as an identifying mark in Brisk (Brest-Litovsk), Lithuania. Rav Senderovic advised me to adopt the same approach in regards to writing Gittin in White Plains, New York. He felt it sufficient to identify it as the city on the Bronx River and the Mamaroneck River but not to add “and well waters” even though a small percentage of the White Plains water supply comes from wells. Rav Elazar Meyer Teitz, chief justice of the Beth Din of Elizabeth, agreed with this approach and it has been adopted in practice since 1997 when we began to write Gittin in White Plains.
Rav Senderovic concludes that a Get in Honolulu should be written “Honolulu the city that rests in the sea and on well waters”.
Dating a Get in Honolulu
A unique issue that faces in Honolulu, however, is the question as to the dating of the Get document. This problem emerges from the celebrated dispute regarding the location of the Halachic International Date Line, an issue that is summarized in an essay written by TABC graduate Willie Roth and is archived at www.koltorah.org. The Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim, Kuntress Eighteen Hours) locates the Date Line as being ninety degrees east of Jerusalem, while Rav Yitzchak Herzog, Rav Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky and other leading Jerusalem rabbis of the 1940’s believe that it is one hundred and eighty degrees from Jerusalem.
Accordingly, if one writes a Get on what is accepted in Honolulu as Monday, one is faced with a dilemma, since it is located one hundred and seventy degrees from Jerusalem, placing it east of the dateline according to the Chazon Ish but west of the dateline according to Rav Herzog, Rav Tukachinsky and the Jerusalem rabbis. Thus, according to the Chazon Ish the Get should be dated as being written on Monday, while according to Rav Herzog, Rav Tukachinsky and the Jerusalem rabbis the Get should be dated as being written on Tuesday.
Parenthetically, one who travels to Hawaii on vacation is faced with the very serious question whether to observe Shabbat on what is locally referred to as Friday or Saturday. One should consult his Rav about this issue specifically and in general whether it is appropriate to visit Hawaii and be caught in this serious Shabbat issue.
Rav Senderovic explores four possible means for dating a Get written in Honolulu. One possibility is to write two Gittin, one dated Monday and the other dated Tuesday. Shulchan Aruch (E.H. 129:19) does indeed record that in certain situations we write two Gets due to the inability to resolve certain issues, such as how to properly identify an individual in a Get. This possibility is rejected, for a variety of reasons. The Rama (ad. loc.) writes that two Gittin are to be written only in exceptional situations. Moreover, the Taz (E.H. 122:2) writes “I never saw my forbearers or teachers write two Gittin.” Rav David Zvi Hoffman (Teshuvot Melamed Leho’il 3:30) discourages the writing two Gittin due to Halachic concern for the opinion that Ein BeReirah (there is no retroactive determination) and for sociological reasons (it appears absurd to the unlearned Jew). Rav Shlomo Fischer of the Jerusalem Beth Din told me (in 1993) that in Jerusalem two Gittin are never written for one couple (although Rav Mendel Silber of the Satmar Beth Din told me that in his court, writing two or more Gittin for a divorcing couple is rather common). Finally, Teshuvot Noda BiYehudah (E.H. 1:90) writes that two Gittin cannot be written when a Get is executed by agency and in Rav Senderovic’s case, the case was to be sent by agent from Honolulu to New York.
Rav Senderovic, though, considers the possibility of dating the Get as Monday, even though a predated Get is invalid (Shulchan Aruch E.H. 127:2), since the Gittin executed by agency are delivered in any event on a later date than the day it is written (Shulchan Aruch E.H. 127:5). Rav Senderovic, though, notes that this suggestion is insufficient since the Get was deliberately predated (according to those who believe Hawaii is west of the dateline) and a deliberately predated Get delivered by an agent is acceptable only in a case of great need (Pitchei Teshuvah 127:12). We do not initially write Gittin that are acceptable only in case of great need, unless there are no other viable options.
Rav Senderovic then explores the possibility of dating the Get as Tuesday since a postdated Get is acceptable according to Tosafot (Gittin 17a s.v. Reish Lakish) and the Rosh (Gittin 2:5). Indeed, this opinion is presented as the primary opinion in Shulchan Aruch (E.H. 127:9). Moreover, the Get might be acceptable even according to the dissenting opinion of the Rambam (Hilchot Geirushin 1:25) since it is not delivered until after the date written in the Get (Pitchei Teshuvah E.H. 127:14). However, since other opinions (cited ad. loc.) believe the Get to nonetheless be invalid according to the Rambam, Rav Senderovic did not adopt this approach.
Rav Senderovic even explores the possibility of omitting the day of the week and month in the Get but rather simply mention the week in the month, based on Shulchan Aruch (E.H. 127:7) which rules that a Get written in such a manner is acceptable. This is not a viable option, though, since a Get written in this manner is acceptable only Bedi’eved (after the fact) and should not initially be written in this manner.
Rav Senderovic’s Ruling
Rav Senderovic concludes that the Get should be dated as Monday based a different consideration. He notes that the date in a Get is written as such and such date from creation “in the manner in which we count it here etc.” This phrase clarifies that even if the date is inaccurate from an objective perspective, it nevertheless does not invalidate the Get since this is the accepted date in the place of the writing of the Get (Pitchei Teshuvah E.H. 127:16). Accordingly, the Get dated as Monday is acceptable even according to those who believe that Hawaii is west of the dateline, since it is Monday according to the manner in which it is counted there.
The holiness of the Jewish people is maintained in great part by exercising extraordinary care with the weddings and (heaven forfend) divorces of the members of our community. Thus, Halachic authorities seek to achieve a balance between sensitively meeting the needs of people in a difficult time in their lives but yet maintain the integrity of the Halachic process. Rav Senderovic’s treatment of the question of writing a Get in Honolulu is a fine example of achieving such a delicate balance and keeping with the precedents and accepted standards respected by our people for countless generations.