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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi| 5763

Pninat Mishpat

Classical Agunah Issue- Cumulative Circumstantial Evidence
As we have seen in past weeks, the normal and preferred manner to substantiate the claim that a missing man has died includes some type of eyewitness account. However, in some cases, this type of account is unavailable, yet a combination of circumstances makes the case for an assumption of death very strong. In some cases, leading poskim have shown a significant level of creativity and flexibility to find a halachic basis for such an assumption.
One such example appears in Igrot Moshe, Even Ha’ezer IV, 58.7, regarding a man who was apparently deported from Belgium to Auschwitz and was never heard from again. Rav Moshe z.t.l. combined five reasons for leniency to come up with a lenient ruling (it is unclear from this ruling how many of the five were crucial, and how many were additional).
The reasons include the following. 1. An official government document that the man was taken to Auschwitz. 2. The fact that we would have expected him to contact relatives in America, over time. 3. The fact that he didn’t return to his home in Belgium. 4. The opinions (including Chatam Sofer) that in our age of improved communication, the disappearance of a person is a strong indication of death.
Of course, great authorities are required to weigh each specific set of circumstances.
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