The NY Post Agunah Story is About Much More Than Jewish Divorce
One of our Jewish sisters, Gital Dodelson (Weiss) published a heartrending account of her marriage to a now-recalcitrant husband Avrohom Weiss. Reading her story brought tears to my eyes. It’s so painful to hear of her struggle and there were a few lines in there that resonate with all of us who may have some issues with parts of the Orthodox Jewish establishment.
There are two sides to every story and her husband’s family and supporters have supported Mr. Weiss’s right to withhold the get.
I’ll be quick on the get issue. I don’t care what the supposed justification might be, I don’t care how terrible of a person a wife might be, I don’t care if she broke Jewish tradition, broke Jewish law, is an adulterer, is a bad mother, I don’t care about any of it. There is no justification for withholding a get. Wielding a legal document as a weapon to a person whom one willingly entered into a marriage and supposedly loved and shared a life with, is abuse. I cannot condone any forms of abuse. Emotional, financial, sexual, verbal, or any other form of abuse is against Torah principles.
(For more on this topic see: Answering the Most Difficult Question About the Agunah Crisis)
Further, the statement from the Weiss camp does not justify not giving a get. Not even in their own words.
In fact, in this case there is apparently a letter (I say apparently, because one never knows if a letter is real these days) from leading Charedi rabbis who support Gital. This is an important fact as the Weiss family carries heavy rabbinic credentials and mockingly claimed that Gital was only being supported by YU and ORA. This is obviously untrue. More importantly, it doesn’t matter. There is no justification for withholding a get.
As an aside, this saga demonstrates how little social sanctions matter in contemporary Orthodox Judaism. No one cares. This guy is not suffering any serious social consequences for his recalcitrance.
But I think this story is more about Orthodox Jewish marriage than it is about Orthodox Jewish divorce.
Gital claims she did not want to continue dating Avrohom after the first or second date. Her parents and support group pushed her into it. And from there, her troubles began.
We’ve discussed the infantilization of young adults within Orthodox Judaism. Parents love their children very much and want what is best for their children. But parents are often wrong and often have different interests than their children. Yet, in the Shidduch System parents vet potential suitors, parents push children to continue dating, parents pay for the wedding and make it a party for their friends that the children are invited to, parents support their children and we all know that money comes with strings attached, the married couple eventually is thrust into difficult life situations with no real life experience, a minivan full of their own children, and no idea how they got there.
Young couples are hardly even given the opportunity to work things out. Dating is short. The focus is on external things and simple things like getting along nicely. But there is rarely enough time to even work out a problem together. Engagements are too quick and hectic to encounter and tackle real challenges. Obviously couples do not live together before marriage so there is no way of really knowing what that is going to be like. They get married and it’s traumatic for most couples. Which would be okay if they had the tools and skills to figure it out. But they don’t. Almost always, pregnancy begins almost immediately and now the focus is on a young woman surviving the difficulties of pregnancy. Eventually that becomes navigating parenthood. But again, there is little time to work on the marriage and the relationship. Let alone time to figure out one’s religious feelings.
Indeed, the system as it is today makes it increasingly difficult to be prepared for life’s challenges. According to Gital, Avrohom says he can’t handle it when things don’t go his way. He’s not the only one.
This dovetails into a bit of anecdotal disillusionment with Orthodox Jewish marriage and post-Yeshiva life. Anecdotally, people are finding it harder to make marriages work and finding it harder to make their frum lifestyle work in sync with their spouse. The sometimes spoken, but always unspoken goal of Orthodox Jewish life until 20years old is to get married. Get a good shidduch. Be a desirable match. That’s what it’s about and then everything is supposed to just work out nicely. Fall in line with the communal standards and way of life. People get married young and before they’ve had a chance to find their religious niche. It can change a lot between the age of 20 and 30. But most of us are married closer to 20 and by the time 30 comes along, it feels like it’s too late.
“If I move on romantically without a get, I would have to leave this community — my friends and family and entire support system — because it’s committing adultery. My children and I would be ostracized and not welcomed in the community.”
“Some people might argue that I should ignore the traditions of the Torah. But I’m deeply religious and won’t go against the God I believe in.”
This is one part that made me cry. The feeling of being stuck is more and more common. These people want to be frum. They believe in God. They believe in the Torah. But they don’t believe in many aspects of the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle. But our communities are so monolithic that it makes being a non-conformist very challenging. Sometimes it’s even social suicide.
It’s easier in Modern Orthodox Judaism, but even there we see an expected conformity that can be uncomfortable for some. Today’s Orthodox Judaism is very rigid in its organization of people and groups. That kind of inflexibility is having an adverse affect on many people.
I am sure there is some Yeshiva guy out there who, after reading this article, says he wants to date for longer or spend more time getting to know a potential shidduch. But will the community and his parents allow it? Unlikely.
Others will read this and wonder why it’s okay for Weiss to terrorize his ex-wife but a woman who wears the wrong clothing is ostracized.
These are legitimate issues that are all raised by the saga between Gital, Avraham, and their supporters. I hope their situation is resolved soon. I really do. But I think the story illustrates some of our more systemic problems that are affecting many more people than just the few Agunos out there.
I thank Gital for writing her story. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on the state of normative Orthodox Judaism today and perhaps a chance to right the ship. It’s a big ship and it doesn’t handle very well. But the next generation of Orthodox Judaism will have a say in how it is steered.
Link: NY Post (and Weiss’s old Statement)
Posted On: November 5, 2013