Sunday, November 10, 2013

Standing One’s Ground When the Price is Too High

Rabbi Ronald Greenewald
I have been getting a lot of push-back about the views I expressed in my previous post. I believe that part of the reason for that is a misunderstanding of my views and part of it is based on the lack of consideration about what is best for the child. I therefore feel the need to further clarify and justify my position here. Let me begin by repeating what I wrote in the opening statement of my last post
Gital Dodelson has been trying to get her ex-husband to give her a ‘Get’ - a religious divorce - ever since they split up and certainly since the civil divorce last year.
The problem is that her ex-husband, Avrohom Meir Weiss, refuses to give it to her. For me the story ends here. Using a Get as a means of extortion – no matter how justified any counter claims might be – is an affront to justice.

Lest there be any doubt. I clearly believe that when a couple separates, a Get should be given immediately without any conditions. That there is even any attempt to use a Get as leverage by a husband to extort concessions from a wife is beneath contempt and a gross misuse of Halacha. So that even an attempt to renegotiate the terms of a divorce settlement using the Get as leverage is wrong and ought not to be used.

I hope that makes my view on the principle involved here clear.

Now let us look at the reality here. I am going to make the assumption that the main issue here is custody of the child. If I understand correctly, Ms. Dodelson (the Agunah of this case) was granted full custody. The judge – after hearing both sides - must have felt that this was in the best interests of the child.

It is my understanding that this type of arrangement is becoming more common these days rather than joint custody since it is psychologically confusing and unhealthy for the child to live in two worlds. I tend to agree with that. The problem is that even good fathers are short changed. Normally I would say, that’s tough. Too bad. That’s life. Life is not always fair.

End of story? Well yes if the husband can be convinced to give the Get and live with the consequences. And by convinced, I mean the use of all means to convince him - including embarrassing him in public or putting him in a state of Nidui where he would be seen a pariah by the entire observant world. I support anything short of torture.

Let us examine the fallout of all of this for all the parties involved. And that includes their child. Yes, Ms. Dodleson is right.  She should not have to submit to blackmail of any type – including submitting herself to a new arbitration with respect to the custody of her son.

One consequence of that is that she remains an Agunah. To see what that is like for her one need only read the article she wrote in the New York Post. She has made her husband look like a monster. If even half of what she said is true, he should never have anything to do with his ex wife or son again. If remaining an Agunah is the price for that. So be it. Her son’s well being is at stake.

I am however pretty sure that her husband has an entirely different version of events. That’s why he is using the Get as blackmail. That he wants to have another crack at the custody issue is wrong even if he is not the monster she says he is. He should not be rewarded by using a Get as blackmail. But that will not solve the problem.

If indeed the arbitrator is deemed to be a fair man and unbiased (and this is key), I think that despite the injustice of it, she should submit to the process. Rabbi Ronald Greenwald has been suggested for this and has an excellent reputation in that regard.

For the record I have been told that this is not the case and that Rabbi Greenwald has already expressed an opinion. If that’s true then all bets are off and I would reject this the way I would any condition placed on a Get.

But let us assume for a moment that this is not the case. (I have no way of knowing whether it is or not). And let us look at the consequences of continuing to drag the husband’s name through the mud.

Ms. Dodelson has apparently been doing this since the very beginning and it has not led anywhere. Continuing along these lines seems to me to be of no value towards goal of getting her a Get. It is therefore prolonging her status as an Agunah.

But more importantly what does all this public fighting and smearing by each side of the other do to the child? It is one thing to stand on principle and do what is right for yourself. It is another to do so on the back of your child. It doesn’t matter to the child which side is actually right or wrong here. All he will end up with is that his parents hate each other and that they are both very bad and vindictive people.

So for me, the best thing we can do with the facts at hand is to get this over with as quickly as possible in as fair a way as possible. As long as neither side has the upper hand; there is an arbitrator that is agreed upon by both sides who has a reputation for honesty and fairness, they should get it done as quickly as possible. Does that mean that Ms. Dodleson will remain with the original agreement? It’s possible but I doubt it. She will probably have to give up something.

Is that fair? No. It is not. But as I said, life is not always fair. The bottom line is that a child should not have to witness his parents being shred to pieces by each other. So in the end I stand by what I said, this ought to end now. If Ms. Dodelson’s ex-husband can somehow be convinced to give it all up, justice will be served. But if he continues to be intransigent yet willing to abide by the decision of an unbiased arbitrator, then I think this is what she should do. If the arbitrator is however found to be biased in any way, then of course I would advise her to reject it.

This is my view. Think of the child. If anyone has a better idea that would produce a Get without the parents names being dragged through the mud, I am all for it.

All this is predicated on the assumptions about the facts made in the post. If things are not as I assumed they are, then I withdraw my comments.