Our Gemara on Amud Aleph tells us:

״וְעָשִׂיתָ״ — אַזְהָרָה לְבֵית דִּין שֶׁיְּעַשּׂוּךְ. לְמָה לִי? מִ״יַּקְרִיב אוֹתוֹ״ נָפְקָא, דְּתַנְיָא: ״יַקְרִיב אוֹתוֹ״ — מְלַמֵּד שֶׁכּוֹפִין אוֹתוֹ. יָכוֹל בְּעַל כׇּרְחוֹ — תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר: ״לִרְצוֹנוֹ״, הָא כֵּיצַד? כּוֹפִין אוֹתוֹ עַד שֶׁיֹּאמַר רוֹצֶה אֲנִי.

“And do”; this is a warning to the court to make you fulfill your vow. Why do I need this derivation? This rule is derived from the verse: “He shall offer it” (Leviticus 1:3), as it is taught in a baraita: The verse states: “He shall offer it,” which teaches that he must be forced to bring his offering. One might have thought that he may be forced to bring his offering even against his will. Therefore, the verse states: “In accordance with his will” (Leviticus 1:3). How so? The court coerces him until he says: I want to bring the offering. 

What does it really mean, to force him until he says, “I want to”?  This can be misinterpreted dangerously as, “Beating the devil out of him.”  There is a Rambam that is often quoted. The Rambam (Laws of Divorce 2:20) asks how Bais Din can force a man to give a get, when in order for the Get to be kosher, it must be with full voluntary intent on the husband’s part:

Why is this get not void? For he is being compelled - either by Jews or by gentiles - [to divorce] against his will [and a get must be given voluntarily].

Because the concept of being compelled against one's will applies only when speaking about a person who is being compelled and forced to do something that the Torah does not obligate him to do - e.g., a person who was beaten until he consented to a sale, or to give a present. If, however, a person's evil inclination presses him to negate [the observance of] a mitzvah or to commit a transgression, and he was beaten until he performed the action he was obligated to perform, or he dissociated himself from the forbidden action, he is not considered to have been forced against his will. On the contrary, it is he himself who is forcing [his own conduct to become debased].

With regard to this person who [outwardly] refuses to divorce [his wife] - he wants to be part of the Jewish people, and he wants to perform all the mitzvot and eschew all the transgressions; it is only his evil inclination that presses him. Therefore, when he is beaten until his [evil] inclination has been weakened, and he consents [to the divorce], he is considered to have performed the divorce willfully.  (Translated by Eliyahu Touger.)

Basically, the Rambam is saying that once he is being forced to give the Get and he cannot have his way, he re-considers and figures he should do a mitzvah and follow the right moral path. This is also why “get laws” and pre-nuptial agreements are complex halakhically because a get cannot be forced unless it comes from a Bais Din sanctioned situation where it has been determined that he is required by halakha to give a get.  (There are halakhic pre-nuptial agreement that have met the standards of many poskim.  Martin Freidlander, Esq, is a co-founder of Yashar, and orginzation that has worked extensively with poskim from all sects of Orthodoxy to develop a universally accepted halakhic pre-nup.)

Of course, in order for society to run, whomever is in charge must sometimes use aggression to enforce its standards.  In Jewish society, Bais Din is the agent that is empowered in certain areas to make sure that laws that are deemed essential for well-being are adhered to. In a modern society, we are most uncomfortable with people being forced to do anything, certainly anything religious that would seem to be a victimless crime.  So while secular law will enforce public safety and well-fare, it would not enforce religion.  This may seem fine to modern sensibilities, but in Torah thought, societal welfare also meant adherence to basic religious dictates, be that keeping a vow for a sacrifice or giving a get when it was deemed necessary.

If we only focused on the forcing part of this discussion, we would be missing a point that is more relevant to us.  Most of us would agree that in today’s world, forcing, compelling or shaming people to perform mitzvos would be counter-productive.  This is for the simple and practical fact that it is too easy to leave the community and little is to be gained by coercion. In ancient times, being in Cherem (social excommunication) was life and death.

(True, Rabbenu Tam in Tosafos Bava Metzi’a 70b “Tashich” considered commerce with Gentiles routine and necessary, apparently the Cherem had enough power socially that it affected a person deeply. Maybe Gentiles weren’t inclined to do business with a Jew whom his own brothers would not trust.) In any case, this obviously is not our reality.

So do we discard this halakha?  No, actually the changed circumstances are an opportunity. The core belief that a person wants to do the right thing and the Jewish soul yearns for Torah is even more operative. The veil has been removed. We cannot force external compliance and hope that they must deep down want to do it anyway. We must now act and believe that people want to do the right thing and find non-aggressive, non-coercive measures to bring that about.  God is expecting us to do more and has given us a much harder, more delicate mission. We need to find creative ways that the inner truth of the Torah and the person come out without force.


For Video versions of this click here, and look for title and daf.  

Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, (except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation cool.)