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Heter meah rabbanim (Hebrew: היתר מאה רבנים, "permission by one hundred rabbis") is a term in Jewish law which means that one hundred Rabbis agree with a Rabbinical court that a particular situation warrants an exemption to permit a man to remarry even though his wife refuses or is unable to accept a get (a legal divorce according to Jewish law).
In about 1000 C.E. the Ashkenazic halachic authority Rabbeinu Gershom of Mainz issued a decree called "Cherem de'Rabbeinu Gershom" banning bigamy. To prevent this decree from causing flippant divorces previously unnecessary, he also decreed that "a woman may not be divorced against her will."
In certain extreme cases, however, such as the case of a man whose wife is missing, or refuses to accept a get for an extended period, Beth din will only permit him to remarry after one hundred rabbis agree with them to issue an exemption.
After receiving a heter meah rabbanim, Beth din will require the husband to write a get for his wife and deposit it with them. His wife will remain married until she receives the get in her possession.
To ensure that a particular situation indeed justifies an exemption, the rabbis instituted a requirement, that at least one hundred Torah scholars domiciled in at least three different countries or, according to some authorities, it is enough three different jurisdictions, certify that dispensation for a second marriage is factually justified.
In order to get a heter meah rabbonim, it used to be that a man who got the go ahead from a Rabbinic court wandered from town to town and from one country to another with a letter from Beth din and had to plead his case with every town Rabbi to get his approval. Later on, written permission by mail was accepted and sometimes an intermediary was used to plead his case. In the last century with the ease of communication, it has become a more formal process in which Beth din takes the lead and secures the one hundred signatures required.
Situations where Beth din might see a justification which warrants this process includes:
- Where the Halacha requires a man to divorce his wife and she refuses to accept it.
- Where the wife has abandoned her husband and steadfastly refuses to accept a get.
- Where the wife disappeared and her whereabouts are unknown.
- Where the wife is mentally unable to give consent to receiving a get.
Ashkenazic Jews have followed Rabbeinu Gershom's ban since the beginning of the 11th century. Some Sephardi and Mizrachi (Oriental) Jews (particularly those from Yemen and Iran, where polygamy is a social norm) discontinued polygamy much more recently as they emigrated to countries where it was forbidden. The State of Israel has forbidden polygamous marriages and adheres to the ban, but instituted provisions for existing polygamous families immigrating from countries where the practice was legal.