New York – OpEd: Agunah Crowd Shouldn’t Target Families

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    FILE photo - David BenkofNew York – The preeminent sacred cow to many Jews is compassion for agunot (“chained” women whose husbands withhold a Jewish bill of divorce, or “Get”). But enough already: the Internet crowd attacking Avrohom Meir Weiss in his divorce from Gital Dodelson is becoming as heartless and halachically problematic as Weiss himself.

    Dodelson fired the first public salvo with a Nov. 4 article in The New York Post stating that Weiss has refused her a Get for more than three years. She provided unquestionably disturbing details, such as that Weiss demanded $350,000 to back down and said “I can’t give you a Get – how else would I control you?”

    I sympathize with Dodelson – and here I completely accept her version of the truth. Every agunah situation is a tragedy, more so when children are involved (the couple has a son). Dodelson’s supporters have organized a Web site, setgitalfree.com, and an associated Facebook page.

    But their methods reflect poorly on the entire urgent movement to help agunot. Instead of the traditional focus on the recalcitrant husband, this bandwagon mostly targets Weiss’s relatives.

    First, Internet warriors boycotted Orthodox publisher ArtScroll until it fired Weiss’s father and uncle. A Facebook commenter claimed victory, saying ArtScroll “heard us loud and clear, and they did exactly what we asked.”

    Next, agunah activists turned against Yeshiva of Staten Island (YSI), where Weiss learns and which is run by his grandfather, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein. They demanded that the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) remove YSI’s accreditation and reject rabbis ordained by the yeshiva’s sister school. They also convinced at least one synagogue to cancel an appearance by Rabbi Feinstein.

    “Set Gital Free” even bullied Weiss’s elderly grandmother by publishing her telephone number and urging people to “politely and respectfully” inundate her with calls until a Get is granted.

    The pro-Dodelson site calls these family members “enablers” who “support” Weiss’s actions. But the relatives are pretty much chained themselves – caught in the no-win position of wishing to succor a humiliated loved one while wanting an ugly divorce resolved. Besides, who knows what they’ve said to Weiss privately?

    Those who punish relatives of Get refusers remind me of opponents of Israel’s policies on the West Bank who randomly say “I know – let’s boycott Israeli universities and scholars!” Only this improvisation is worse.

    No act, however spiteful, justifies a posse deciding to assault the livelihoods and reputations of relatives and colleagues. It doesn’t seem very Jewish to me: Did a horde attack Jacob because of Esau’s misdeeds, or Jonathan because of Saul’s?

    So I contacted RCA Executive Vice President Rabbi Mark Dratch, the rabbi “Set Gital Free” recommended to explain the Torah basis for their strategy. To my surprise, he said absolutely nothing in halachic literature endorses communal pressure on family members of Get refusers, and he never prescribed that approach. Thus, the activists are disregarding the counsel of the man they claim is their rabbi. Orthodox Jews just don’t do that.

    I later consulted Rabbi Jeremy Stern from the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), who also could think of no text in a Jewish source describing anything like the “Free Gital” tactics – and he would know. ORA’s extensive Web site promotes many ways to pressure husbands but none to pressure relatives.

    Rabbi Stern referenced the impressive “Kol Koreh” (proclamation) signed by ten leading American rabbis, including five from the renowned Council of Torah Sages and ORA’s halachic expert, Yeshiva University Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Herschel Schachter.

    The Kol Koreh imposes more than a dozen harsh penalties on Weiss, but only one regarding his family: that ArtScroll must terminate the father and uncle. That directive clearly relates to the laws of a Jewish court (beit din), not those of agunot, since any man who flouts a beit din’s rulings risks retribution. But the rabbis didn’t call for a boycott. (The Facebook site’s supposed triumph over ArtScroll is absurd – as if it had more sway than our generation’s most respected rabbis.) The proclamation also says nothing about canceled speeches, disaccreditations, rejected ordinations, or harassment of old ladies.

    Rabbi Schachter and several other Kol Koreh rabbis have been “consulted” throughout the process, Rabbi Stern said. But he would not answer specific questions whether Rabbi Schachter (who declined comment) approved the extreme actions against the relatives. Surely the Gedolei Hador (today’s leading rabbis) would have demanded further steps against the family in the Kol Koreh if they felt them licit and necessary.

    It’s alarming that poor Gital’s agunah case would arouse the most disproportionate response in Jewish history undoubtedly due to a 2,500-word essay in a non-Jewish newspaper. Now, before you get out the pitchforks: I don’t defend Weiss one bit. I just think we should heed the measured voice of the Kol Koreh instead of the “Set Gital Free” overreaction.

    David Benkof lives in Jerusalem, where he teaches Hebrew at a yeshiva and constructs the weekly Jerusalem Post crossword puzzle.

    He can be reached atDavidBenkof@gmail.com.

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    48 COMMENTS

    1. I had a brother who refused a GET to his wife for 4 1/2 years and it was only after all the pressure on my parents and family that caused him to give a GET…
      Yes if someone knows he looses his Parnassah,Shul,Yeshiva ,Friends he will end up giving his wife a GET…(except if you are dealing with a total looser nutcase)….

      • You missed the point. You may be right. But you can’t persecute the family. The Dodelsons should behave with more dignity. I feel for her but a jew still has to treat another jew with respect whatever it may be.

    2. there are rabbis out there who think they are a bais din or G-d themselves.
      they are so full of themselves that they decide things that are way beyond what they should be doing. they need to relearn mentchlechkeit

      • Epstein case #2. Wait till the FBI gets involved. Then we will all scream like the wronged Cossack, who –While in the process of robbing people’s houses– was himself robbed of his stolen possessions. The extortionist “Agunah” movement has become a Frankenstein monster that can only be stopped by public outrage.

    3. Quote,.”Surly would today’s leading rabbis have issued in the lol Koran further steps against the family if the felt its important.” Well you Might be right but I’d take out the word Surly.
      Cuz its very very hard in today’s generation were people don’t heed so much to the Gedoli Hador and they’re just afraid to say their word.

    4. Firstly, early on in the Saga, Gital asked Avrohom Meir for a get and he told her “speak to my uncle”
      Second, AM apparently holds his grandfather in the highest esteem (stated once that his grandfather has ruach hakodesh) and I believe that he’d give the get if his grandfather told him to.

      And before you get all indignant about “harassment of old ladies”. I approached Sheila Feinstein on this matter and she started yelling that Gital is a liar and a witch and IF ONLY Gital would “stop backing out of negotiation, he’d give the get”
      The “negotiation” being demands to change the court ordered custody arrangement and the reimbursement of Weiss’ legal fees.
      A friend of mine spoke to Sheila a few months ago, and Shiela told her that for a million dollars AM would consider giving a get.

      Finally, seeing that you’re such a maven, what do you suggest the Dodelsons do?
      Under the circumstances, the Dodelsons are behaving with remarkable dignity. Rachmana Litzlan, I don’t wish this on any good yid, but wouldn’t you tear down walls to save your daughters life?

    5. To the contrary, while I initially believed Dodelson, her (family’s) attacks against everybody else, including Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, have led me to believe that she is not being totally truthful, and that she is as guilty as Weiss in “stretching” the truth. Her actions make it clear that there is absolutely no reason to believe her side of the story over his, leading me to take no side at all. I also note that her toein is Shmuel Fried, a dishonest scumbag if there ever was one. If that is who she picks for her toein, then I further question her overall honesty.

    6. I think the Kohanim in Nov pretty much did arrange for the killing of much of Shaul’s and Yonatan’s family. As for Yaakov and Eisav, they pretty much lived separate lives.

      In any event, I think the issue here was that Weiss’ family was prominent and therefore was able to shield him from the consequences of his actions. It therefore became necessary to shake up his defenses. No one said it was fair or good, just maybe an unfortunate necessity.

      The people in the less powerful positions are the ones that have to resort to unconventional warfare and this has become a war.

      • Did you just claim the Dodlesons are in a less powerful position???

        When was the last time you saw a kol koreh signed by the same people on behalf of an agunah in a powerless position?

        Get real. None of us have any idea what happened in this marriage and how to split the blame for its failure and the current situation.

        The issuance of a kk for a woman who just happens to be related to the BMG management carries little weight when there have hundreds of woman in similar just in the last decade and BMG Inc. didn’t lift a finger to help.

        Just. Coincidence that the one case that is so egregious that the wife deserves special action is also the one involving a relative of the Kotlers? Wow! What are the odds of that???

        I’m sure no other case ever deserved their attention and no one is giving this case extra attention for any other reason. Not.

        So let’s all butt out unless the signers of the kk are suddenly stepping up to the plate and dealing with ALL agunah problems.

        Weiss might be the devil imcarnate for all I know but a kk generated by the BMG crowd means ZERO.

      • Oh really. The “Powerful Weiss Family”. Are you unaware of the Dodelsons family members? They scared nine (eight) Gedolim into signing something for them by just sending their relatives on their behalf without even talking to the Weiss side!

    7. Holding back a get is an extreme torturous situation . You do what is necessary to procure it. It may not be nice, but that is her situation . I’m not taking sides, but holding back sometimes backfires. They should sit down in a beis din and listen to them, otherwise don’t complain .

      • If she wanted the get and asked for the divorce, he owes her nothing. The kesuba money is only paid when HE decides to divorce her. It is supposed to stop men from divorcing their wives willy-nilly.

    8. According to halacha he is obligated to give her kesuba money equivalent 2 years of current living expenses or what ever it says in the kesuba not the other way around. If he has no answer why he doesn’t give her a get then he is on the guilty side.

    9. Why doesnt Rav Reuven release a statement explaining his position on his grandson’s refusal? Why doesn’t he make it irrevocably clear to us all that he’s disgusted by how long it’s taken? We know that his grandson holds him in extremely high esteem…does he not realize that he has the ability to bring an end to this colossal Chillul Hashem? If money is the problem…the whole yeshiva should be shut down. How dare Mr. Weiss refuse to give his wife a get over money. This is an affront to the memory of Rav Moshe ztzvk”l, and the whole Feinstein/Weiss family should be ashamed. At least explain why a bas yisroel is unable to get on with her life 4 YEARS AFTER A CIVIL DIVORCE WAS COMPLETED! This is infuriating

      • It is very possible that AW doesn’t want to give the get for a very different reason. He may believe that his wife walked out on him for a trivial reason, took his child away, and now he will have almost no input in that child’s upbringing for the rest of his life. The loser here is the child, who will never have a stable home with two loving and equal parents.

        The Torah deliberately made it hard for either spouse to simply walk away, but rather wanted them to stay and work out their problems.

        If AW’s only reason for refusing is that he wants his wife to reconcile, come back, and raise the family together, he is not necessarily wrong. Quite possibly, all these other demands are only to buy time, but have nothing to do with the real reason for the situation.

    10. I am a semi-retired attorney who had an active divorce component to my practice. In my experience, which is admittedly, (despite its breath and duration, anecdotal, the father of the husband refusing to give a get, was usually the main source of the problem.
      While i can’t locate a copy of the statement made by the husband’s father at the outset of the public phase of this dispute, I do recall that it asserted the right of the husband to withhold the get until his demands were met, even if those demands had already been adjudicated.

    11. And I must mention that I personally spoke to multiple of the Gedolim that signed the Kol Koreh and two of them told me that what they signed didn’t say anything about Weiss’s family (including the entire paragraph about Artscroll).

    12. Dear Mr. Benkof, Even if your argument was persuasive, which it isn’t, the question would still beg as to, why would are you so compelled to defend the position of the family of the “Get refuser” and not the “chained woman”, Gitel. You are like the people who rush to the defense of people accused of molestation and not to the side of the victim. This question especially presents in this particular case, where the man’s family are chashivah Rabbanim and could influence this “Get refuser” to get (no pun) the mental help that he needs to deal with his control issues and to deliver the “Get”. The entire flavor of your piece distastes with disingenuousness. This isn’t a crossword puzzle, this is the life of a woman and we will apply any and all legal pressure to this family that is possible.

      • c: Thank you for your comments. I always like hearing from readers. Please look at my piece again. I neither defended the position of Weiss’s family nor that of Dodelson. The piece simply examines the tactics of a Web site and finds them inappropriate and halachically problematic. You say you’ll apply “any and all legal pressure” – that’s fine, follow the Kol Koreh. But harassing the grandmother and canceling Rabbi Feinstein’s speaking engagements and refusing to recognize ordainees of his yeshiva are not Jewishly legal per se, the have no precedent in Jewish law or history.

        • Thank you for your response. I’ll read the piece again, but I don’t think your addressing my main point. Something is compelling you to write this and the point you are making maybe true. But why is that more compelling to you, than the act of withholding a get four years after a civil divorce? Why do the tactics being employed by the wife, (which are far less severe than other tactics we have recently seen), make for a more compelling issue?

          • c, lots and lots and lots of people have defended the wife. I don’t know what I could add to that plethora of conversation. But virtually nobody has called out SetGital.com for their inappropriate and apparently extra-halachic and even non-halachic actions. If I had written yet another “Gital Needs a Get” article, it wouldn’t have been published and it wouldn’t have added anything to the conversation. I bring up a legitimate point that hasn’t been discussed, and I don’t take a side at all.

          • I know a case where years after the civil it is SHE who refuses to step inside beis din. This ex-husband offered it multiple times with the only condition that she walk into beis din to pick it up! No extortion, no demands for change in custody (he is going to secular court to try to get fairer terms to see his daughters as it was legally decided there since she took him to secular court). People claimed he was making her an agunah when she is the only one stopping things! She wants pity and revenge (by staining his name) but it is she who is refusing to move on with her life!!!

      • You don’t het it. He is not defneding the “position” of any side. He is just saying leave the family out. He does not neeed to defend the women. Perhpas another article should be written towards that. The fact remains the same leave out the family.

        As a victim of such abuse when my family member went threough the same parsha thank you Rabbi Benkof for caring about us.

    13. Furthermore, your article only serves to give strength to this cretin “Get refuser”, so that people will have to double their efforts against him and his family until they relent. I hope your article only serves to cause further pressure against the family.

    14. I believe the Author misses some points.
      a- Not giving a get is a form of abuse. Since Halacha limits the power of the woman, the man has the “koach” and if he uses it to trap his wife that is categorical abuse. If Gital had bruises on her face would anyone support the abuser?
      b- For those who have allowed the traditional use of shaming and community exclusion as practiced in Ashkenaz (Sephardi rabbanim never accepted R’ Tam) not giving aliyot and other public demonstrations that the recalcitrant husband is “outside the fold.” That was the limit of their power.
      c- If the family publicly enable the abuse- woe unto them. If these are the midot of the Yeshiva or Kollel, G’virim should support yeshivot that encourage ethical behavior. One is under no obligation to support mosdos or businesses that ally themselves with get abusers. Anyone who gives a get abuser money is preventing an Agunah from getting her get. It really is that simple. If AMW had no support, he’d give the get
      d- Knowing both R’ Dratch and R’ Stern personal and public conversations I find your quotes are taken out of context. Both of them do in fact support the public demonstrations ORA is famous for.

      • Dan-

        How can you know my quotes are taken out of context? You don’t know the context. Anyone who wants it can E-mail me at DavidBenkof@gmail.com, you’ll see the full quotes. But saying R’ Dratch and R’ Stern support public demonstrations is very different from saying they have found sources in Jewish texts that support boycotts, harassments, canceled speeches, etc of the relatives (not of Weiss himself). Both said there are no such sources, which is what my piece says.

    15. This article gave me a chuckle. You want to say that prominent members of a family that work at ArtScroll, grandfathers that rode on prominent golden parachute of famed last name and a family that has their own yeshiva does not have the power and influence over their sons and grandsons to force them to give a Get? You’re not fooling us. If such prominent families raised a rosha son who won’t listen to them, then they even more so don’t belong in education business until they sort their own families.

    16. A brief preface: I hope this ugly issue gets resolved.

      But assuming Gital was telling the truth, I have no sympathy whatsoever for this family, whatever their yichus. In fact, their yichus is more the reason they should be ashamed of what they did — conning her into marrying this loser. My antennae went up when she wrote that, after the first date, his family begged her to reconsider. They propped him up every inch of the way.

      While I understand a family’s desperation & concern for their reputation (especially when there are still unmarried siblings), there is no excuse to do this to a young & innocent person. I have seen this over & over again — families trying to hide a psychiatric issue or brush it off as an idiosyncracy. Some people shouldn’t get marrried, period. Of find someone who knows exactly what he/she is getting into. Usually it’s someone who him/herself is nebby or stunted. He/she will be too ditsy to care about abuse or too dependent to leave the partner. No one with a modicum of mental health will stay in the marriage.

    17. Very unconvincing article. Bottom line, this guy is not giving his wife a get and seems to be trying to shake her down. I have no sympathy for him, and his extended family doesn’t seem to be helpful at all.

    18. What very few seem to realize is that in this case it is the MOTHER of the GIRL who is holding up the works. I believe Gital is a victim, as is Avraham Meir.

      And yes, she is the powerful one in this situation.

      And yes, he tried giving a get years ago but she (and by she it is safe to assume we are talking about Saki here and not Gital) refused to accept it until HER side’s conditions are met.

      Of course he must give the get, no one feels otherwise, but enough falsely vilifying him, ignoring halachah and disregarding some of her immediate family’s members powerful and aggressive nature

      • Do you realize how little sense your comment makes? There is a huge campaign to try and convince the husband to give the Get. If what you are stating is true the opposite would be true. Your comment is really foolish.

        • sorry if my comment was unclear.

          On second thought, I probably shouldn’t have said anything because I don’t have the time or the liberty to explain what I mean.

          It just makes me so, so sad to see someone victimized based on one side’s say so and “huge campaign”.

          Must he give a get? Absolutely!

          But he is not the villain he is painted as and he and his family are not the only ones holding up the get. I implore you to do a bit more research on the matter, because what you read in the media is giving a completely slanted, and at times absolutely false picture.

          Or better yet, stop with the judgment, the obsession (not you #29, I mean everyone) and just daven hard that all of the involved parties find peace and happiness and this matter is resolved very soon.

        • What part makes no sense???

          That in order to force the husband to give a get on the MIL’s terms there is a campaign to force a get while the husband is still vulnerable to the demands of the MIL?

          I have no idea if the claim is true but it certainly can be true. This wouldn’t be the first time one spouse wants to give or receive a get (to be released to remarry) but otoh wants to be able to keep fighting for other issues.

          Never heard of having your cake and eating it too?

          No odea if this is the case here but it certainly is plausible.

          None of us knows who is to blame for the failure of the marriage or who is being unreasonable or for what reason.

          Why do so many have opinions?

      • So far no one has showed me a real reason why he didn’t go to a Beis din. Until that happens, it’s his fault as far as I am concerned. If you can prove otherwise, go ahead. But so far, it’s been Gital who has proven her accusations while the other side use the daas Torah blog from a guy called eidensohn , and his brother, to bashmutz her family and all the Gedolim involved. Not a very good sign.

    19. Where is the pressure after the husband gives the get, and the wife finds excuse after excuse to stop the husband from seeing the children, all the while poisoning the child’s mind against the father?

      • It seems to me that both sides have an agenda here. Let’s step back for a moment, and look at this without a personal bias: 1) Every case is different. There infinate fuctal ditails that readers

      • I agree. It seems foolish to me for outsiders to know exactly what happened here. There are literally thousands of facts pertaining to this case, or any other divorce case for that matter. Every case is different. Therefore, neither husbands nor wives ought to be automatically presumed to be right or wrong. I can think of many cases where the husband had no choice but to refuse a get, and equally as many cases where the wife was forced to expose the husband’s antics by going public. While I sympathize with the agonos, I’m not certain that the right to remarry overrides all other considerations.

    20. Not to give a get is not a solution and also I am wondering how respectful families do not get involved. I would have also expected a statement. It is obvious that at this stage there are probably two coins to the story. however, not to give a get is not the right punishement. give a get and carry out legal procedure in the court divorce. there custody and money things might belong too.
      unfortunately all too often get related issues are about money at the end

    21. …There are thousands of facts pertaining to each case, and it would be foolish for readers to assume that we know them all. 2) In a perfect world, all husbands will always give a get when called for, and all wives always respect their husbands. However, in reality we know this is not (always) true and things are infinitely more complicated. Therefore, neither husbands who refuse a get, nor wives who demand one are automatically presumed to be right or wrong. It depends. Thus, outsiders should be careful before they take sides. 3) Without diminishing the plight of agonos, I’m not sure that the right to remarry overrides all over considerations.

    22. He has to give the Get. His family is in a position to tell him to give it and they failed to, at least publicly. You haven’t cited any halachic violations, just a lack of a mesorah. Surely halacha allows for much more drastic and even barbaric measures. Would you prefer the halachic methods of physical force be used? Beat him until wants to give the get?

      • c, you’re not allowed to ignore the counsel of your mara d’atra, at least as far as I’ve learned. Rabbi Dratch said he knew of no halachic source endorsing those methods, and he didn’t tell the Web site to use them. That seems to me to violate at the very least the spirit of Jewish law. And I don’t think any mainstream posek today says physical force is allowed, because the consent would not be voluntary and thus would be meaningless.

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