Eleventh-grade Halacha students at Yeshivat Frisch had the opportunity to hear from Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth professor of Talmud and contemporary Halacha at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and longtime spiritual leader of Young Israel of Riverdale in the Bronx, on January 15, 2018.
Rabbi Willig spoke to the students about his role as a posek in eight cases that tragically came before his Beit Din in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The halachic question was how to resolve the cases of women whose husbands went missing during the horrific events of the day, but whose bodies had not been recovered and whose deaths had no direct witnesses. Would these women be considered agunot, or would they be allowed to remarry? Ultimately, the Beit Din was able to resolve all eight cases, avoiding agunah status for the women involved and freeing them to marry in the future. Willig discussed the halachic intricacies and methodology used to decide the different cases, and how information ranging from DNA evidence to farewell phone calls and the location of the missing husbands’ offices could be utilized within the halachic framework.
Frisch Halacha Department Chair Rabbi Asher Bush, who teaches contemporary halacha courses on health, medicine and kashrut, noted that Rabbi Willig’s visit enriched students’ understanding of how unexpected halachic issues can arise in the midst of national events.
“We wanted to have an example for the students of someone who had a real-life role in making these halachic decisions,” said Bush about the importance of students being exposed to Torah scholars. “Rabbi Willig is a major posek within our community, consulted by national Jewish organizations, as well as someone whose rulings we sometimes quote in class.”
Frisch senior Gabe Mehler stated that Willig’s talk was a unique learning experience, providing insight about how to “understand something as big as the tragedy of 9/11 on a Jewish level.”
After Rabbi Willig delivered his presentation to the students, he led a meeting with the faculty of Frisch’s Talmud department about Talmudic pedagogy and sensitive halachic guidance for high school students.