Stories of Jewish women trapped in dead-end marriages, held hostage by embittered husbands, always disturb me. Jewish law assigns the man the exclusive right to confer a divorce, and some men abuse that power, vengefully refusing to release unhappy spouses from the bonds of matrimony.
This time, though, the story strikes closer to home.
My cousin, Gital Dodelson — my beautiful, poised, second cousin who is entering her third year of law school in the evening program at Rutgers University, and who belongs to the strictly observant Orthodox community of Lakewood, N.J. — seemed destined for many happy years ahead in February 2009, when she married Avrohom Meir Weiss, the great-grandson of the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the revered Talmudic authority of his generation.
Gital herself comes from a distinguished Jewish family. Her mother, Saki (related to me by marriage), is the cousin of Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, rosh yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood. In a matchmaker’s eyes, the couple must have seemed preordained.
I still have photos from that wedding day, an image of Gital, her then long hair flying as her younger sister, Shira, spins her in a vigorous twirl of celebration.
Alas, the marriage was short-lived. After nine months, Gital gave birth to a baby boy, but just one month later, at Gital’s initiative, in December 2009, the couple parted ways. Three years later, she is still waiting for her “get” — her document of Jewish divorce.
That wait could take decades. There are cases like that, and my cousins report that Avrohom Meir has indicated if his conditions aren’t satisfied, he’ll wait until Gital’s hair turns gray to give her the get. It seems he isn’t satisfied with the settlement handed down last summer by the New Jersey courts, granting him custody of his son every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon as well as every other weekend. Among his other demands, according to my cousins: He wants to share custody 50-50, and he wants $350,000 to cover his legal expenses.
Also this: He’s not interested in going to a bet din, or rabbinic court, to resolve these matters, and has ignored a siruv (a contempt-of-court ruling issued by a rabbinic court) after failing to heed repeated summonses by Beis Din of Mechon L’Hoyroa, a reputable rabbinic court in Monsey, N.Y. He continues to ignore the siruv even after several of the most prominent rabbis in the country urged him in writing to go to a rabbinic court.
Gital sometimes wonders: “Avrohom Meir, why can’t we get on with this?”
I wondered, too. But when I called Avrohom Meir’s cell phone, the man who picked up, presumably him, said, “I prefer not to discuss the subject with you — thank you.”
Meeting with Gital and her father, Danny, recently, I was impressed by their quiet dignity. Gital, who is 25, seems to have inherited the family’s genes for a quick and gentle wit as well as an optimistic spirit, traits I’d always admired in my grandmother and her siblings. She and her father speak cautiously, almost kindly, of their adversary.
Gital says these years on her own haven’t been entirely bad. “I went to law school. I just bought a car.” She laughs at that last crazy thought. “I’m self-sufficient. I’m a good mom. I’d like to be able to move on with my life, but I get yanked back. Until he gives me a get, I’m stuck.”
Gital worries that her son will be harmed by the terrible tension between his parents. “It’s not something that can ever be explained. No child wants to think badly of his father or his mother.”
Avrohom Meir’s grandfather, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, serves as rosh yeshiva of the Yeshiva of Staten Island, where Avrohom Meir is a student; his father, Yosaif Asher Weiss, works at the ArtScroll publishing company as editor of “A Daily Dose of Torah Series.” Their support of Avrohom Meir’s conduct seems incongruous given their professional roles.
In a community that adheres to Jewish law, “This man who has a siruv against him by a highly respected beit din should be an outcast,” says Rivka Haut, who has worked for three decades helping agunot, women like Gital, trapped in unhappy marriages. “Nobody should do business with him. He should not be counted in a minyan.”
She also says the alleged conduct of Avrohom Meir disrespects the memory of his great grandfather. Rabbi Feinstein, says Haut, was “a great champion of agunot. I believe he would not have stood for this.”
Elicia Brown’s column appears the second week of the month. Eliciabrown@hotmail.com.