Chassidic Story #202

(s5761-49 / posted /9 Elul 5761)


Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz, the Ba'al Hafla'ah, received letters of appeal for support from both sides.


Near the city of Frankfurt-on-the-Main in Germany is a small town called Klieva, also known as Cleves. More than 200 years ago, a controversy was sparked there about the halachic validity of a particular get--the Jewish document of divorce. This is the background.

A family that lived in Frankfurt made a match for their son with a girl of a family from Klieva. The wedding duly took place there, in the bride's town. The morning after, the new chattan packed up his tallit, tefillin and clothing, and set off on the main road that led to Frankfurt. As soon as the kallah told her parents, they made an enormous fuss and sent agents to chase after the runaway chattan. They soon caught up with him, and brought him back to Klieva.

The bride's mother was extremely upset. How could her new son-in-law do such a thing? It must be that he is mentally unstable, and this strange behavior proves it. By no means will she allow her daughter to suffer her whole life with a crazy husband!

She ran to the town rabbi, R. David Weitzen, and insisted that he immediately arrange a divorce. He did so, with all the involved parties present.

When the family of the chattan found out what had transpired, they stormed up in protest. Of course such a divorce is not valid, they argued; their poor son was forced to give it against his will, and a get given under duress is not legitimate.

They went to their Rabbi and told him the whole story. They insisted that their son was perfectly normal. It was not uncommon for a young chattan to become terrified the morning after the wedding, or even to suffer some sort of breakdown. Presumably he'll get over it, just like all the others. Meanwhile, they had forced him to give a get against his will, so of course there is no validity to it.

Their rabbi consulted with the other rabbis and scholars of Frankfurt. There was general agreement with the parents of the chattan that the divorce had no basis.

At this point the storm of controversy blew to the neighboring cities and surrounding lands. Throughout the rabbinical world, sides were taken. Some insisted that the rabbi of Klieva was correct and the get was kosher, while others agreed with the rabbis of Frankfurt that it was not right and should be disallowed.

The highly respected scholar and chassidic tsaddik, Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz, later to be known as the Ba'al Hafla'ah, received letters of appeal for support from both sides. After studying the case, he sat down and wrote a long responsum, in which he supported the position of the Rabbi of Klieva. Before he quite finished, he was called out of his room to attend to something urgent. When he returned, he saw that a cat and jumped on the table and knocked over the ink bottle, splattering large blotches onto his carefully prepared missive and making it totally illegible. He said to himself, "Surely this is a sign from heaven that I shouldn't mix into this dispute."

A few years after that, the Jewish community of Frankfurt needed to hire a new chief rabbi. This was a highly prestigious position, and many leading rabbis and scholars hoped expectantly for the offer. The selection committee invited several of them to come visit so everyone could meet and experience them firsthand, but first they screened and rejected as candidates all those who had sided with the Rabbi of Klieva in the get controversy.

One of the candidates was R. Pinchas. They had checked through all the relevant correspondence and responsa, and saw that he had not taken part in the dispute at all. In 1771, he was offered the position, which he held in glory for several decades.

[Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English) from Reshimat Devorim vol. 4, pp. 262-3. You may pass on this email rendition to whomever you wish as long as you give full credit, including Ascent's email and internet addresses.]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz (1730-7 Tammuz 1805) was a follower of the Maggid of Mezritch, along with his older brother, Rabbi Shmuel ("Shmelke") of Nicholsburg (1726-2 Iyar 1778). He attained scholarly repute as the author of Hafla'ah (on Talmud and halacha), HaMikneh (same) and Panim Yafos (on Scripture). Like many rabbinical authors, he is commonly referred to by the title of his most famous work, in this case as the Ba'al Hafla'ah. His most illustrious student was R. Moshe Schreiber, the famed Chattam Sofer.

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