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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 3/12/10



Dear Rachel,

I bet your readers have rarely heard of a male agunah. After a difficult marriage that lasted a year, my wife moved back to her parents and we have been living separately for the past several months. Taking my marriage seriously, I unsuccessfully tried to win her back with marital counseling, but by year’s end we both agreed that divorce was the best option.

At that point, my mother-in-law cut in. Citing her daughter’s poor health, she argued that my wife couldn’t legally represent herself and demanded that I wait a few months until she heals from a major surgery. And even then, she is planning on getting a lawyer to represent her.

We have very little money to our names and no children to fight over, so I don’t see a need for a costly court battle. When I spoke to my rabbi, he told me that the beis din usually does not grant a get until after the couple has obtained their secular divorce.

My wife will not take my calls and refuses to meet with my rabbi. With only a part-time job I cannot afford a lawyer to represent me. My family told me to wait a full year and then cite “abandonment” as my legal grounds for divorce.

My parents are secular. “If only you would abandon Orthodoxy, you wouldn’t be having these issues,” my father tells me. “You would have a girlfriend, and live with her before marriage, like most people do.”

In the meantime I cannot date anyone, and it brings me much pain to sing Eishes Chayil to an empty table every Friday night. My friends, parents and grandparents already have women in mind for me, but without a get I cannot date them, and what self-respecting woman would date a man who did not obtain his divorce? So, I have no choice but to wait it out, as my friends get married and have children, while I try to save money for a lawyer.

Perhaps you have some useful advice for me.

A trapped husband

Dear Trapped,

As far as mothers-in-law go, well that’s a chapter in itself. Unfortunately, they can cause way more trouble than anyone else. In your case, though, your wife may not be well enough to speak or think for herself and so you needlessly suffer the ruthlessness of your mother-in-law.

Where is your father-in-law in all of this? It is sometimes easier to communicate man to man, but then again that would take a man, not a hen-pecked husband who fears his dominating wife.

There is an organization called ORA, which is dedicated to the cause of assisting couples resolve serious issues and differences. They will also see couples through the proper Jewish divorce process. You can contact ORA through their website at www.getora.com.

You mention “major surgery.” Was your wife ill at the time you married her? Did she perhaps have a pre-existing condition that you were unaware of at the time you married her? This alone can be grounds for divorce.

In any case, the issue of obtaining a secular divorce should have no bearing on the beis din’s granting a get. You were barely married a year and had no children. And besides, you both opted to end the marriage. Under these circumstances, why the need for legal representation? Your situation should not be all that difficult to sort out.

Hatzlacha in freeing yourself of your shackles!

Dear Rachel,

A mother-in-law’s job is to try to teach her son how to be civil to people through her actions. Most often a mother-in-law earns her name because they can be nice to everyone else, but when it comes to the daughter-in-law she has choice words for her.

After the wedding, this lady becomes overbearing. She criticizes her daughter-in-law for her weight, for the way she cooks, for how she looks, etc.

In short, mothers-in-law fail to realize that they are not to place it all on the daughter-in-law. They must take a look in the mirror and find their own flaws and own up to them.

They must be very nice to their daughter-in-law in front of their son and not ask any questions such as what school are you putting your child into.

The reason I mention this is because usually it’s up to the couple to decide what school to put their kids in. The mother-in-law should not meddle in the event the daughter-in-law chooses not to answer her.

She should realize her position in the family and not try to see where she can get a little bit of power over something, even if it is only for a minute.

As I see it

Dear See,

Of course it is up to the parents to decide which school their children will attend. But it is never a good idea “not to answer her mother-in-law” – in particular when all she is asking is which school her grandchildren will be going to. I should hope that grandparents have a right to know that much.

It sounds like you may be at odds with your own mother-in-law. Since you are not asking for any advice, let’s just say that it’s a two-way street. A mother-in-law should hold back from criticizing her daughter-in-law’s weight or her cooking (both absolute no-no’s), and a daughter-in-law should refrain from being catty and insolent to her in-laws – who should be accorded the same respect as parents.

You start your letter by saying “A mother-in-law’s job is to try to teach her son how to be civil to people through her actions.” Wrong. That’s not a mother-in-law’s job at all – it is a mother’s (and father’s), while their son still lives at home and is being raised by them. Once the mom becomes a mother-in-law, she’s done raising him and he is yours to deal with.

I wish you hatzlacha in your relationship with your mother-in-law as well as with her son.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.

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