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Cleves Get

During 1766–67, a great controversy flared up, which was to become known as the Cleves get (bill of divorce), one of the causes célèbres of the 18th century. Though its focal point was Frankfurt, it came to involve most of the great scholars of the day. On Elul 8, 5526 (August 14, 1766), Isaac (Itzik), son of Eliezer Neiberg of Mannheim, married Leah, daughter of Jacob Guenzhausen of Bonn. On the Sabbath following the wedding the bridegroom took 94 gold crowns of the dowry and disappeared. After an extensive search he was found two days later in the house of a non-Jew in the village of Farenheim and brought home. A few days later Isaac informed his wife's family that he could no longer stay in Germany because of the grave danger which threatened him there, and that he was obliged to immigrate to England. He declared his willingness to give his wife a divorce in order to prevent her from becoming an *agunah . His offer was accepted, and Cleves on the German-Dutch border was selected as the place for the get to be given. Consequently, on the 22nd of Elul, Israel b. Eliezer *Lipschuetz , the av bet din of Cleves, effected the divorce. Leah returned to Mannheim and Isaac proceeded to England. When his father learned of the divorce, he suspected that the whole affair had been contrived by the woman's relatives to extort the dowry money from Isaac. He turned to R. Tevele Hess of Mannheim who invalidated the get on the grounds that in his view the husband was not of sound mind when he delivered it. Hess, not relying upon his own judgment, applied to the bet din of Frankfurt and to Naphtali Hirsch Katzenellenbogen of Pfalz, Eliezer Katzenellenbogen of Hagenau, and Joseph Steinhardt of Fuerth, requesting their confirmation of his ruling. The bet din of Frankfurt, headed by Abraham b. Ẓevi Hirsch of Lissau, not only agreed, but demanded that Lipschuetz himself declare the get invalid and proclaim Leah to be still a married woman. The rabbis of Pfalz, Hagenau, and Fuerth, on the other hand, upheld Lipschuetz, declared the divorce valid, and the woman free to remarry. Both sides appealed to all the rabbinical authorities of the time. The rabbi of Cleves received the support of almost all of the leading scholars of the generation, among them Saul b. Aryeh Leib *Loewenstamm of Amsterdam, Jacob *Emden , Ezekiel *Landau of Prague, Isaac *Horowitz of Hamburg, David of Dessau, Aryeh of Metz, Elhanan of Danzig, Solomon b. Moses of Chelm, and ten scholars of the klaus (bet-midrash) of Brody. The bet din of Frankfurt was virtually alone in its opposition. The moving spirit in the dispute was the Frankfurt dayyan, Nathan b. Solomon Maas, on whose initiative the Frankfurt rabbis even went so far as publicly and with solemn ceremony to commit to flames the responsa of the Polish rabbis in protest against their intervention in favor of Lipschuetz. The couple finally remarried and out of deference to the opinion of Rabbi Abraham of Frankfurt, no blessings were pronounced at the ceremony. Instead the groom said that "with this ring you are still married to me." The complete episode of the Cleves divorce was recorded in Or ha-Yashar (Amsterdam, 1769) by Aaron Simeon Copenhagen who had followed the events and who had himself played a part in the granting of the get. Israel Lipschuetz devoted no less than 37 of his responsa to the polemic in his Or Yisrael (Cleves, 1770).


M. Horovitz, Matteh Levi (1819); idem, Frankfurter Rabbinen, 3 (1884); Tal, in: Sinai, 24 (1949), 152–67, 214–30.

[Shlomo Tal]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.