Leading rabbis trying to stop marriages of young daughters

NEW YORK — Some leading Orthodox rabbis are trying to find ways within Jewish law to solve the plight of young girls being married off by their fathers in divorce disputes.

These fathers, who are engaging in the practice known as kedushei ketana, are marrying off their young daughters according to halachah, or Jewish law, to retaliate against their wives.

No one is sure precisely how many girls have been affected by the practice, which was first reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. But estimates range from a handful to as many as 20 girls younger than 12, which is the Jewish age of majority for girls.

According to those familiar with such cases, the husband uses the tactic as a way to extract concessions from his estranged wife, who is generally trying to convince him to give her a get, or religious divorce.

Their daughters, too, now need these divorces, which only a man can grant according to Jewish law, if they are ever to marry again.

The fathers are refusing to divulge the names of the men to whom they have betrothed their daughters, making it impossible to pursue a divorce from them.

Rabbi J. David Bleich, a dean and professor of law at Yeshiva University, has said he plans to seek authoritative backing for a legal device that would make it impossible for fathers to do this to their daughters.

His idea, however, would not invalidate those betrothals already committed.

Bleich's concept is to employ a communal ban against those men who act as one of the two required witnesses to the marriage. Such a ban would declare such men to be evil and, as a result, would invalidate them as witnesses.

Using such a device, the betrothals themselves would be invalid, since they would be performed without kosher witnesses.

Another leading Orthodox rabbi, Gedalia Schwartz, is trying to convene a meeting of judges on Jewish courts to find a halachic solution.

Schwartz is the Rosh Beth Din, or chief justice, of the Beth Din, or religious court, of America, which is affiliated with the Rabbinical Council of America.

The Rabbinical Council, with about 1,000 members, is the world's largest Orthodox rabbinic group.

"Through the halachic process we hope to ameliorate a very tragic and trying situation being enacted by irresponsible and discompassionate individuals," Schwartz said.

He described the problem as "most serious."

Schwartz said the RCA is planning to send letters of invitation to representatives of religious courts across the country within the next week and, based on the response, will try to schedule a meeting to discuss the matter.

Schwartz said it is too early to ascertain when and where the meeting would take place.

He said he could not estimate how many religious courts exist in North America, but added that most of them are probably located in the New York metropolitan area, where there is the largest concentration of Orthodox Jews.

He said he would send invitations to what he described as "the responsible" religious courts, many of which are associated with local Orthodox rabbinic associations in neighborhoods such as the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and Monsey, N.Y., which are heavily populated by Orthodox Jews.