Introduction - The tense situation
It was a tense situation. A couple came to Rav Melech Schachter (who proudly described himself as the father of Rav Hershel Schachter Shlita), a leading Mesadeir Gittin (Get administrator) from 1950 to 2005, to administer a Get. Rav Melech, as is customary, reviewed the couple’s names and nicknames, following the enactment of Rabban Gamliel HaZakein (Gittin 34b and Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 129:1) to record the names and nicknames of the husband and wife (and that of their respective fathers) in a Get.
A typical Get would record a couple’s names as in the following typical (but fictional) situation: “Re’uvein Chaim, known as Robert son of Gedaliah, known as George, and Chavah Sarah, known as Charlene daughter of Shmuel, known as Sam.” In our case, the husband supplied the name that he used when called to the Torah, “Natan Yisrael,” and the name by which he is commonly known, “Natan.” At that point, Rav Schachter asked if he had an English name. His wife responded “Yes” and mentioned that a number of people referred to him by his English name.
At that point, the husband became very agitated. He insisted that his English name not be included in the Get. He took pride in the fact that when he became observant he used his Hebrew name. He insisted that everyone call him by that name. He even changed his legal name to his Hebrew name.
What could be done in this situation? One the one hand, the Halachah insists that all names and nicknames be included in a Get. On the other hand, the husband refused to participate in the Get if his English name would appear in the Get. Rav Schachter stopped the proceedings and spent a few minutes poring over the Shulchan Aruch to find a solution. After a few minutes, he announced that he would yield to the husband and omit his English name from the Get. The Get proceeded and concluded smoothly.
The Basis for Rav Schachter’s Ruling
I witnessed this incident during the years I trained to become a Get administrator. In addition to earning Yadin Yadin Semichah from Yeshiva University, I watched the administration of more than three hundred Gittin by a variety of leading Mesadrei Gittin, including Rav Melech, both in the United States and Israel. I am eternally grateful to all of these Rabbanim who generously provided their time and expertise and patiently answered all of my many questions. After the Get was completed and the couple had left, I asked Rav Schachter for the basis of his decision. He responded that one does not include in the Get a name that the individual finds irksome. Indeed, the Rama (E.H. 129:16) rules that derogatory nicknames should not be included in a Get. Rav Schachter extended the Rama’s ruling from insulting names to names that the people involved find irksome. There is ample evidence and logic to support Rav Schachter’s ruling.
Three Reasons for the Omission of an Insulting Name
The reasons for omitting insulting names apply equally to names that one finds irritating. The most compelling explanation of the Rama is that the reason for Rabban Gamliel HaZakein’s enactment to write nicknames is to avoid, as Rashi (Gittin 34b s.v. Mipenei Tikkun Olam) notes, anyone calling into question the validity of the Get. If a name is omitted, then people will say that the proper individual was not divorced since his name does not appear in the Get. For example, in a situation where some know the husband as “Ray” and others call him “Jay,” and only the name “Ray” is included in the Get, then when the wife presents the Get to those who know her husband as “Jay,” they will say that she was not divorced since her husband’s name does not appear in the Get.
Rabban Gamliel HaZakein’s concern does not apply to an insulting name. It is apparent to all in such a case why that name was omitted from the Get. The same applies to a situation such as ours, where it is well known that the husband finds a certain name to be irritating, even if it is not insulting.
Indeed, this would appear to be the basis for Rabbeinu Tam’s ruling to forbid including in a Get a name assumed by an apostate during his conversion to another faith (for example, the name Pablo Christiani). We see from this ruling that the obligation to include all names and nicknames in a Get is not absolute. When it is apparent why the name is omitted, Rabban Gamliel HaZakein’s enactment does not apply.
The Aruch HaShulchan (E.H. 129:62) offers another reason for the omission of an offensive nickname. He applies the Pasuk (Mishlei 3:17), “Deracheha Darchei No’am,” “the Torah’s ways are the ways of pleasantness,” to this situation. The source for applying this Pasuk in this manner is the Gemara (Sukkah 32b) that supports the traditional identification of “Anaf Eitz Avot” (VaYikra 23:40) with Hadasim. The Gemara rejects the possibility of the taking of a bitter plant with stinging leaves called oleander based on “Deracheha Darchei No’am,” even though this plant meets the technical description of “Anaf Eitz Avot.” The Gemara utilizes this Pasuk to teach that it is inconceivable that the Torah would demand from us to perform an unpleasant action. Thus, including an insulting name in a Get runs counter to this Pasuk as well.
Based on the Aruch HaShulchan, the Rama’s ruling applies equally to an irritating name as to an insulting name. Including an irritating name does not fit with the Torah’s pleasant ways just as including a derogatory name is not in keeping with Mishlei’s teaching of ”Deracheha Darchei No’am.”
The Kav Naki (Seder Get Rishon VeSheini number 89; the Kav Naki is a widely accepted guidebook for administration of Gittin in accordance with Ashkenazic practice) adds another reason for omitting a derogatory name. He notes that the concluding line of every Get states “KeDat Moshe VeYisrael,” that all is in accordance with the religion of Moshe and Yisrael. Kav Naki notes that mentioning an insulting name is hardly in keeping with “Dat Moshe VeYisrael” in light of the Gemara (Bava Metzia 58b) which states that one who calls his friend with an insulting nickname is punished severely.
Similarly, calling someone by a name he finds irritating, even if objectively it is not an insulting name, is not in keeping with “Dat Moshe VeYisrael.” A most elementary Torah principle is, as Hillel summarized the Torah while standing on one foot (Shabbat 31a), to refrain doing to others what one would not want done to himself. This principle clearly prohibits us from referring to someone with a name with which he very adamantly does not wish to be identified. This is a matter of basic respect that every person must give his fellow human being. Thus, Rav Melech Schachter most appropriately omitted the husband’s original English name from the Get.
English/Secular Names in a Get
It is important to note in this context that although it has been accepted for at least a century to include secular names in a Get, not all classical Posekim subscribed to this view. Rav Shlomo Kluger (Chidushei Anshei Sheim, number 142) argues that secular names should not be included in a Get just as Rabbeinu Tam did not permit the inclusion of a name acquired during conversion to another religion in a Get. Just as such a name is not in keeping with “Dat Moshe VeYisrael,” so too is adopting a secular name. It is well known that the Jews in Mitzrayim were redeemed in part due to the merit of their not changing their names to non-Jewish names. Thus, Rav Shlomo Kluger did not permit these names to be listed in a Get. The Get Mesudar (page 99) notes that Rav Kluger’s ruling was the accepted practice in sections of Poland.
This approach of Rav Shlomo Kluger was rejected by virtually all of the great nineteenth century Posekim, led by Teshuvot Chatam Sofer (E.H. 2:38) and the Aruch HaShulchan (at the very end of E.H. 129). Nonetheless, his approach can serve as additional support to Rav Melech Schachter’s ruling, since according to Rav Shlomo Kluger a non-Jewish name should never be included in a Get.
Rav Yirmiyahu Benyowitz, the highly regarded Mesadeir Gittin of the Baltimore area, concurs with Rav Schachter’s ruling. He writes (in his work on Hilchot Gittin entitled Kovetz Al Yad, page 162) that in his opinion, based on the aforementioned Rama, one should not include in a Get a name that one finds irritating. He writes that he believes that this is the accepted practice.
Rav Melech Schachter was a wise Rav whose kindness and wisdom benefitted and supported thousands. May this essay serve to honor his memory and serve LeIlui Nishmato.
The gentleman involved in this story also communicates an important message to those of us who regularly use their secular name even amongst friends and family. We all should take great pride and embrace our Hebrew names. We should certainly respect the wishes of those who wish to grow in their Judaism and identify themselves by their Hebrew names, as difficult as it is sometimes for us to accept such a change.
 The names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.
 Get administrators commonly follow the ruling of the Teshuvot Beit Yitzchak, cited by the Get Mesudar (page 75), to include a name in a Get if at least three people refer to him using that name. The Get Mesudar is a widely accepted guidebook for administration of Gittin when the husband is Ashkenazic.
 Cited in Tosafot Gittin (34b s.v. VeChol Shum) and codified in the Shulchan Aruch E.H. 129:5.
 It is important to note that the Aruch HaShulchan decries the practice of Jews who allow themselves to be called by non-Jewish names in the strongest of terms. He describes this phenomenon as “blindness” and “deafness” to Jewish tradition and values.