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Widowhood Release of Golda Leitman Weiss

Weiss, Golda Leitman, rabbinic certificate of widowhood 1946
US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Courtesy of Eva and Nisen Ganz

After the devastation of the Holocaust, rebuilding family life assumed primary importance for many Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs).1 For all too many survivors, attempts to locate loved ones and confirm how family members had died and where often ended in failure. For those still living, a profound sense of the unknown defined the postwar experience.

This lack of closure had practical as well as psychological implications. For religious Jews—particularly for observant Jewish women—the inability to prove the death of a husband presented a problem in traditional Jewish law, or Halacha. According to these traditions, a woman who could not prove her husband's death became an agunah: "chained" to her marriage and unable to wed another. Normally, rabbinic authorities would require a death certificate or a witness to the death in order to declare a Jewish woman a widow. The Holocaust, however, introduced special circumstances in which deaths often had no official certification and living witnesses could not be identified.2

Concerns over these issues affected Jewish communities even as the war still raged. Rabbi Shlomo Kahane, who left Warsaw in May 1940, organized special bureaus to resolve these problems almost immediately after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.3 After the war, when a more complete understanding of the genocide began to emerge, these questions became more urgent. In order for women to be able to remarry, a new procedure was needed to release them from their ties to their deceased husbands. In August 1946, a general committee of rabbis formed in the DP camps in the US zone of occupied Germany to address the issue of agunot and created new standards for proof of death that accounted for the processes of industrialized killing.4

The featured document from the Hungarian Orthodox rabbinate in Budapest highlights questions and concerns that were important to religious Jews throughout the region. The document released Golda Leitman Weiss from her marriage to Moshe Weiss, who was presumed dead. He had been deported to Auschwitz in 1944 as part of the mass deportations from Hungary that resulted in the murder of nearly 450,000 Jews.5 This standard printed form reveals that this was not an uncommon event. It also might suggest her intention to remarry. After the Holocaust and World War II, Jewish communities experienced a postwar marriage and "baby boom."6 In addition to allowing its recipient to remarry within the Jewish faith, the form served another purpose as well: in the eyes of Jewish law, this document is also a de facto death certificate.

Golda was the Hebrew name of Olga Leitman Weiss, who was originally married to Laszlo Weiss. In 1944, Laszlo was taken to a slave labor camp. Olga survived in one of Raoul Wallenberg's safe houses, and her daughter Eva also survived in hiding in Budapest. In 1946, she married Albert Freedman, who had lost his entire family. It is likely that the prospect of this marriage provided the impetus for applying for this release from widowhood. Olga gave birth to a son in 1947, and the family immigrated to Canada in January 1951.

 For more on the impacts of the Holocaust on family life, see the Experiencing History collection Family Life During the Holocaust.

This remains a concern in rabbinic responsa for other modern-day events. For one contemporary example, see Leora Nathan, "Preventing an Agunah Crisis in the Wake of the World Trade Center Disaster by Establishing Death Through Various Forms of Evidence," Alberta Law Review 40 (April 2003): 895–916.

For more information about rabbinic responses to the Holocaust more generally, see the Experiencing History collection, Jewish Religious Life and the Holocaust. see Stephen T. Katz, Shlomo Biderman, and Gershon Greenberg, eds., Wrestling with God: Jewish Theological Responses During and After the Holocaust (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

For more information about these types of agunah cases, see Esther Farbstein, Hidden in Thunder: Perspectives on Faith, Halachah, and Leadership During the Holocaust, Volume I (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 2007), 371.

For more information about the Holocaust in Hungary, see László Csősz, Gábor Kádár, and Zoltán Vági, The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2013).

For more on the postwar "baby boom" amongst Jewish displaced persons, see Atina Grossmann, Jews, Germans, and Allies: close encounters in Occupied Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

A codification of Jewish law edited by Yosef Karo in the sixteenth century. 

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Special Court to Adjudicate Abandoned Wives

Permit , # [typed] 1424/250

Conducted in the main office of the orthodox congregations in Hungary (God willing).

Appearing before the special court to adjudicate abandoned wives was the undersigned, who gave evidence regarding the death of [typed] Moshe Toby, son of Yehoshua Weiss, who was the husband of Golda daughter of Abraham Jacob residing in [typed] Budapest, and according to this testimony and in line with the laws in "Shulchan Aruch"1 and fundamental religious judgments provided by Hungarian rabbis we decided to release the woman [typed] Golda daughter of Abraham Jacob Leitman from the shackles of abandonment.  

Thus it became clear to us that she [typed] was neither divorced [typed] nor dependent, and is allowed to marry any man, and even a Cohen. Thus, we give permission to any rabbi to preside over her marriage, if the latter does not conflict with the state laws.

In witness is [signed] Rabbi Jacob David Klein.

The [typed] 13th of Iyar, 1946,60 central offices of the orthodox congregations, Hungary.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Courtesy of Eva and Nisen Ganz
Source Number 12609
Date Created
May 14, 1946
Author / Creator
Orthodox Rabbinic Court, Budapest
Language(s)
Hebrew
Location
Budapest, Hungary
Document Type Petition
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