Friday, November 08, 2013

A Way Out for an Agunah

Gital Dodelson and Avrohom Meir Weiss - Photo credit: New York Post
I have been reluctant to write about the plight of Gital Dodelson. She is an Agunah. As commonly used an Agunah is someone Halachicly married even after there has been a legal separation and civil divorce. This is the case here. 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.

A woman who is Halachicly married – even if she never sees her ex-husband again, is forbidden to re-marry. If she does it is considered biblical level adultery which in Jewish law is punishable with death by stoning under the ‘right’ conditions.

Any children that are a product of this union are considered Mamzerim. Which the Torah forbids any Jew to marry. Although there could not possibly be any kind of death sentence meted out today since - among other reasons - we have no Beis Din of 23 judges qualified to do this, this is still serious stuff. And the children are in fact Mamzerim.

The man on the other hand is only subject to a Cherem D’Rabbenu Gershom. That is a rabbinic edict issued by Rabbi Gershom ben Yehuda, a medieval Talmudist and Halachist that forbids a man to marry more than one wife (which is nonetheless biblically permitted). Even though it violates the Cherem, any children of such a marriage are completely legitimate. He may also utilize Halachic loopholes like the Heter Meah Rabbanim to re-marry even though he is still Halachicly married to his first wife.

I’m not going to get into the details of this procedure. I mention it only to show why I feel that in cases of an Agunah, the man should ‘Man up’ and give his wife a Get; free her to re-marrry and get on with her life. Any issues between them should be resolved separately – even custody issues like the ones in this case. So I support Ms. Dodleson’s plea and urge her ex-husband to give her a Get immediately.

That said, there are always two sides to every story. Which was the reason for my reluctance to post about it. Ms. Dodelson made her case quite eloquently in an article published in the New York Post. Viewing things from her perspective, one can completely sympathize with her predicament. She is suffering emotionally from this. She describes how they met, dated and married. She also describes how her husband mentally abused her from the very start of their marriage. And gives many examples of it in the artcle. Just to mention one instance from the NY Post article. It happened when she gave birth to their son, Aryeh: 
My parents had been in the waiting room for hours during the labor. When they asked to come in to see me afterward, Avrohom steadfastly refused to let them into the room. I later found out that he actually manhandled my mom, shoving her back as she tried to walk out of the room.  
After reading her story, it was pretty difficult to see any other side to this. But as I said, there is always another side.

Rabbi Daniel Eidenshon has published a response by Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, son of Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, who is a member of her ex-husband’s family. And there seems to be a contradiction to Ms. Dodelson’s claim that she is  a ‘chained Agunah’ with no recourse other than to make her case publicly. Which she seems to have done in spades with the help of social media specialist, Shira Dicker.

According to the response, her ex-husband has agreed to binding arbitration to resolve any remaining issues between them - even if he disagrees with the result. The mediator chosen is Ronny Greenwald - a respected Torah personality.

It is troubling to me that knowing about this ‘out’, Ms. Dodelson decided to make this so public. To me that signals that she is not interested in compromise and is willing to remain an Agunah in order to get her way. Even though I still agree with her in principle - this takes away from her credibility. Was making all of this so public really the right thing to do? I can’t imagine how airing her grievances to the world will make things better for her than agreeing to binding arbitration.

The bottom line for me is that Mr. Weiss is wrong to require binding arbitration over his issues before giving a Get. He should give it to her unconditionally. But it seems to me that at least this is a way out for Ms. Dodelson. If I were her, I would take it.