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Saturday, November 09, 2013 

The trouble with groupthink and defeatism

Here is the case of Gital Dodelson, who, though the article is not clear, appears to be a Haredi woman whose loutish Haredi husband refuses to give her a divorce:
Four-and-a-half years ago, Gital Dodelson, now 25, of Lakewood, NJ, married Avrohom Meir Weiss, part of a respected rabbinic family on Staten Island. Ten months after the wedding, Dodelson left the marital home with their newborn son, claiming her husband was controlling and manipulative. Despite getting civilly divorced in August 2012, they remain married under Jewish law because Weiss refuses to grant the faith’s decree of divorce, known as a “get.” As a result, Dodelson’s life in the Orthodox community is in limbo and she is unable to date, let alone get married again. Now, after more than three years of pleading with Weiss to sign the document that will set her free, Dodelson has gone public with her story in The Post:

[...] only three days into the marriage, I knew I made a terrible mistake. It was our first Shabbat together as man and wife — and it was spent in silence. We were about to light the Sabbath candles, and we discussed how each of our families likes to light it. It’s a female tradition, and you typically do what your mother did. When my way contradicted his way, he criticized me and turned angry. Avrohom said: “You have no choice. It’s not my way,” and gave me the cold shoulder for the next 24 hours. From Friday night to Saturday night, we didn’t speak a word.

When I couldn’t stand the hostility anymore, I said, “You can’t just ignore me — this isn’t how a relationship works. We have to be able to talk about these things.” The only response he could muster was: “When I don’t get my way, I don’t know how to function.”

I got pregnant right away. As a Torah-observant man, Avrohom would study in the yeshiva all day while I was in school or working at my mom’s technology company.

I was the sole breadwinner, but he had control over our finances. Several times he would give handouts to his brother, who was unemployed. “Why are you giving away the money that I earned?” I asked Avrohom one day. “You don’t get to make the decisions,” he replied, adding that I’m stupid. “I’m the man of the house.” He wouldn’t allow me to employ an occasional housekeeper so, even though I was pregnant and exhausted, I had to do all the cooking and cleaning as well as work up to 40 hours a week.
So he was the kind of lazy bum Haredi who'd study at a yeshiva - in theory anyway - yet came away from all that without incorporating any of the beliefs and arguments made in the Talmud/Torah for why it's positive for a man to earn the bread for the household. And he even exploited her money for his own personal gain. Worst, he was quite insensitive during the birth of their son:
Our son, Aryeh, was born on Nov. 19, 2009 at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. He was two weeks early, and I wonder to this day if it was because of the mental strain I was under during the pregnancy.

The second the nurse handed him to me, the world was a perfect place. I had this beautiful, perfect person. But I was soon reminded that my husband was quite the opposite. 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. That’s a major taboo against women, and she was very shaken up. My father told Avrohom, “Don’t touch my wife,” and he backed off.

Finally, Avrohom gave in, and they came in to see me.

A few weeks after Aryeh arrived, Avrohom agreed to move together to a rented apartment in Lakewood. It was on one condition: that we took the baby and slept over with his family in Staten Island at least once a week.

Two weeks later, on a frigid December night, Avrohom insisted we drive to see his parents. I didn’t want to needlessly drag a newborn out in the freezing cold, so I said no. He was yelling at me, and the baby started crying because Avrohom’s shouting woke him up. He was only 1 month old.

Avrohom had already stormed out of the house twice after two other rows, but this time I reached my breaking point. I said, ‘This isn’t working, I’m moving back to my parents.’ I packed up Aryeh right then and there, and drove off. I told him I wasn’t coming back, and I meant it.
Does that disgraceful man really even care about his son? I doubt it, and thus, I'd say she did the right thing to pack her bags and head off with their son for all the right reasons.
Avrohom filed for full custody of Aryeh a few months later, in March 2010, at New Jersey civil court. He broke with tradition — instead of going straight to a beit din (a Jewish court) to resolve our issues, he filed in civil court, which shocked people because it takes a certain kind of person to thumb his nose at Jewish tradition like that.

But it was all a front. He was actually going to use Jewish tradition against me as a weapon.

While he agreed to a divorce in the civil courts (which blocked his bid for full custody of Aryeh but gave him custody every other weekend, plus every Tuesday and Thursday for a total 12 hours a week), he still holds the trump card. He will not sign the “get,” the all-important bill of divorce which is recognized by halacha (Jewish law).

Civil law governs the legal aspects of life, but under the eyes of God — and everyone who’s important to me — I’m still married to Avrohom. On paper, I am a free woman. But this means nothing in halacha, and I’m still imprisoned by my husband to this day.
I have to dispute this. Is she really still married and obligated by the Lord to adhere to such a fiend? I'll get to more on that in a moment.
On my last mission to ask for a get, a month ago, Avrohom said, “I can’t give you a get — how else would I control you?” I think that’s the key to it all. He insists the marriage isn’t over until he says it’s over.

We’ve tried everything — the informal route, negotiations. I’ve asked him myself, my parents have asked his, our camp tries to reason with his camp, but, counting down from the time when he sued for custody in March 2010 and I first asked him for a get, we’ve been shut down for 3¹/₂ years. One proposal his side put forward in January was for me to agree to override the court decision on custody of Aryeh and hand over a payment of $350,000. There’s no way I can afford that.

It’s been an uphill battle trying to appeal to his family — this almost untouchable, powerful rabbinic family. Many rabbis have called on his grandfather, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, who heads the Yeshiva of Staten Island, to influence his grandson to give a get, but he staunchly supports Avrohom. Prominent rabbis have even called for the dismissal of his father, Yosaif Asher Weiss, as editor for the major Jewish publisher ArtScroll. Ironically, [Avrohom’s] great-grandfather Moshe Feinstein was a major champion of agunot, and convinced many husbands to give their wives a get in his day. Now Avrohom is one of those insubordinate husbands.

I would love to find a stepfather for Aryeh, and someone who I could have more children with, but right now I can’t even have coffee with a guy. It wouldn’t be fair to him or myself.

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. Why should I?
Now wait a moment. Does the Torah really, truly uphold such an awkward belief that a woman can only be fully divorced if her husband signs the form? As I'd discovered earlier, there were once special steps taken by rabbis and priests to help a woman get a divorce without having to go to such trouble with a selfish husband. And if Dodelson's community would shun her for dating another guy, that only compounds the "with these kind of friends, who needs enemies" question. I've sometimes wondered if some Haredi educational curriculums lead to the misperceptions of both God and Torah that the Almighty literally believes an innocent woman should be hostage to an awful man, and I think it's unfair to the Lord to act as though this is his intention from A to Z. Indeed, why would God want such a defeatist mindset to reign? That's not how winners think.

I honestly think Dodelson should leave her community and the Haredi lifestyle if this is how they think, but stick with religion in a way that would serve everybody better. Non-Haredis aren't usually this defeatist.

Dodelson goes on to say that she's gotten a lot of support in her community. But she describes by telling that:
It’s an insulated community. It takes a strong push to step out beyond that. This step I’m taking is difficult but necessary. I’ve decided to go public with my story after exhausting every other possible means. the Orthodox are fiercely private, but I am willing to air my dirty laundry if it means I can finally get on with my life.
I'm disappointed she hasn't clarified, because all signs indicate her community is Haredi, not just merely Orthodox. There's a difference. Non-Haredi Orthodox Jews aren't perfect, but can talk about these issues without nearly as much concern.

This article also says:
Few people outside the tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community have heard of the get — the crucial document in Jewish law which a husband must sign before a divorce is finalized in the eyes of God.

Without it, the wife, known as an agunah, is not allowed to marry again. If she has children, they are considered bastards. The man, however, can move on without a get, openly dating other women. [...]

“The refusal to issue a get is never justified and is defined in Jewish law as domestic abuse,” says Rabbi Jeremy Stern, executive director of ORA.

Some agunot have been waiting as long as 10 years after their marriages ended in the civil courts. Others have been unable to unchain themselves from husbands who are criminals or even pedophiles.

“It’s the last form of control the husband has over his wife,” adds Stern. “The mentality is, ‘If I can’t have her, no one can.’ It’s fundamentally about control and spite.”
Good grief. While this is flawed, it does suggest how some parts of the Haredi world must view divorce proceedings. No, of course it's not justified, but then, as mentioned before, the theologists of ancient times didn't show weakness in the face of such abuse.
Stern says that in Modern Orthodox circles, the get is often used as leverage, so his organization tries to broker one before any civil decision is made.
I realize this can be prevalent even among modern Orthodoxy, but that still doesn't mean they should allow it to harm them either. What's featured in the Torah is historical context, and in ancient times, when the country was established and laws were meted out, there were some sadly flawed ones that were set up too. Why can't anybody recognize that humans aren't perfect and just because something took place in ancient history doesn't mean it still has to hold? If we kept on with that, we'd never have abolished the belief that adulterers should be stoned to death and understood that adultery is something that can be mended and isn't the worst felony one could commit. The stoning belief was ceased around the 1st century, and those Jews who decided it should be stopped were absolutely correct. And if that could be done away with, why couldn't the belief that divorce can only be finalized with a husband's approval?

We also shouldn't damn a woman's children as "bastards" as though they're wrong to even exist. It's time to start modifying laws accordingly.

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