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Oneg Shabbos: Executed Plan

Yeruchem Yitzchak Landesman

Reb Ezra was sentenced to death in front of hundreds of cheering spectators. Why wouldn’t the Rav permit his widow to remarry and move on with her life?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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T he dayanim in the Aleppo beis din of 1780 were tense and anxious, after having sat for weeks deliberating over their psak. One of the pillars of the local Jewish community had been falsely accused of extorting state money and was slammed with the death penalty. The horrifying sentence had been carried out a month previously, to the outrage of the entire city. After the incident, the condemned man’s widow — crushed and devastated by the tragedy but determined to move on with her life — had gone to the beis din to ask for a ruling that she was permitted to remarry.

The question was not simple, however. The prison authorities refused to hand over the body for Jewish burial, and so the death could be authenticated only by the executioner himself. On the other hand, the dayanim reasoned, it could be safely assumed that the anti-Semites would be only too happy to fulfill the decree which had been gleefully announced in front of the hundreds of spectators present at the trial, and therefore, by all probability, the man was indeed no longer among the living. And so, after days and nights of deliberations, the dayanim presented their ruling to the widow that she was indeed permitted to remarry.

The shamash of the beis din was summoned to take the ruling to the holy gaon, Rav Refael Shlomo Laniado ztz”l, the esteemed rav of Aleppo. The rav didn’t take part in the actual beis din proceedings, but he was always presented with the rulings to give his final confirmation.

Rav Refael Shlomo welcomed the shamash and read the detailed halachic response. But to the shamash’s surprise, he exclaimed, “Tell the dayanim that I invalidate their ruling!”

The dayanim, all righteous talmidei chachamim in their own right, were astonished by the Rav’s refusal to conform to their ruling. They’d given a detailed and extensive explanation of what they’d based their arguments on, but Rav Refael Shlomo hadn’t even related to those arguments. What, they wondered, was his reasoning?

That same day, the widow’s family came to Rav Refael Shlomo and asked him why he had contradicted the ruling of the dayanim. The Rav looked at them with his kind eyes and said, “Tell the widow that I can’t reveal my reason, but I promise her that she will yet experience happiness and rejoicing!”

The righteous woman accepted her fate, and when anyone asked her about it she replied, “It’s a mitzvah to obey our chachamim, whether we understand or not.” 

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 703)

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