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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘divorce’

The Other Side Of The Mechitzah (Continued)

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Last week I shared the first part of a letter from a divorced man who complained that when it comes to divorce people generally are biased in favor of women. Our letter writer suffered for several years in an untenable marriage. His wife was emotionally ill. She needed constant medication, which she often neglected to take. There were two children involved and they were being damaged by the chaos in the home.

Here is the rest of his letter, followed by my response.

My situation became so unbearable that I realized I no longer had a choice. While I wanted to stay in the marriage because of the children, I also saw the children were suffering terribly, and would continue to whether I stayed or not. My wife’s mood swings left them battered and scarred.

Initially I did not want to burden my parents with my situation but once they became aware of it they encouraged me to leave. After much soul searching I concluded that if I did get a divorce, at least I would be able to take the children to my parents’ home so they might see a normal family and bask in the love of adoring grandparents.

A serious problem was my status as a kohen, which meant my chances for a second marriage would be limited. Yet to go on this way was impossible. I decided I had no option but to get a divorce.

My wife’s parents are wealthy and well respected. They have pull in the community. The get and divorce were accompanied by much stress and the kind of expenses I could ill afford. I did not have money, nor did my parents. I did not have a lucrative job. We lived day to day and depended on my wife’s family’s help. Nevertheless, I forged ahead and do not regret my decision. My children, baruch Hashem, are doing much better. They love Shabbos with their bubbie and zaidie and are thriving in school.

I have tried to date, but once the shadchanim learn I’m a kohen, they usually tell me they’ll do their best but that I should realize the options are very limited. “This lady would be perfect but she cannot marry a kohen” – I’ve heard that mantra again and again. I cannot deny it has been depressing, but despite everything the children are much better off and I have more peace in my life.

A few weeks ago some of my friends who are also divorced told me about the Shabbaton for frum divorced people where you were scheduled to speak. They urged me to join them. “A gathering of divorcees?” I asked dismissively. “For sure I will not find anyone there for me.”

Nevertheless, I was persuaded to go. I went without expectations but had an amazing surprise – your talk. You reminded me of my purpose as a Jew, which is so easy to forget in our tumultuous times. Avraham Avinu was charged by Hashem with an awesome mission – “Be a Blessing.” No matter where life takes you, no matter many how many hardships, no matter how many failures, be a blessing to others.

I am writing this for two reasons. One, to thank you; and two, to make people aware that it’s not only mothers who suffer when a divorce takes place but fathers as well.

I have not given up hope. I know that B’ezrat Hashem I will find my bashert and build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael. I extend my appreciation and berachahs to you, Rebbetzin. May Hashem enable you to continue doing your vital work for many more years. I do not expect a response. I just wanted your readers to know and understand the voice from the other side of the mechitzah.”

…………………………………… My Dear Friend,

Another NY Man Pleads Guilty of Violence against Divorce-Refusers

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Another New York City man has pleaded guilty to being part of a group of men who used violent means in exchange for pay to force Jewish husbands to give their wives religious divorces.

Simcha Bulmash, 30, of Brooklyn pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J., to participating in the extortion ring, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

He faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of $250,000 when he is sentenced in July. He remains out of jail on bail, which includes a $500,000 bond and GPS monitoring.

At least three other members of the ring have pleaded guilty in recent weeks and face the same punishments.

Several men, including two Orthodox rabbis, were arrested last October as part of an undercover FBI sting operation. The ring charged some $60,000 for its services.

The men allegedly kidnapped and beat up recalcitrant husbands until they agreed to the religious divorce.

Orthodox Jewish women cannot remarry without a get, or writ of divorce, granted by a rabbinical court, which requires the husband’s consent. Some husbands and wives withhold a get in order to gain more favorable terms for alimony or custody of children.

NY Man Pleads Guilty to Violently Forcing Husbands to Free ’Agunot’

Monday, March 10th, 2014

A New York personal trainer has pleaded guilty in federal court to being part of a group of men who used violent means in exchange for pay to force Jewish men to give their wives religious divorces.

David Hellman, 31, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J. and could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison with a fine of $250,000 at his June 12 sentencing hearing.

Nine other men, including two Orthodox rabbis, were arrested in October 2013 as part of an FBI sting operation. The ring charged some $60,000 for its services. According to a complaint filed in court, the men kidnapped and beat up recalcitrant husbands until they agreed to the religious divorce.

Hellman was charged with “traveling in interstate commerce to commit extortion,” and the others were charged with kidnapping, Reuters reported, citing court documents.

Orthodox Jewish women waiting for a divorce, or “get,” granted by a rabbinical court, are known as “chained women” or “agunot” because recalcitrant husbands refuse to sign the divorce documents, although some husbands, and wives, withhold a get in order to gain more favorable terms for alimony or custody of children.

Second Chances

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Last week I shared a letter from a distraught mother who wrote about her family’s nightmarish experience: Two days prior to her daughter’s wedding, the groom sent his rabbi to inform the family he could not go through with the marriage.

Sadly, her situation is not an isolated one. In our troubled society we see such occurrences again and again. After last week’s column appeared, I received a number of letters and e-mails from parents who’d been in similar predicaments.

The following is one of those letters. B’ezrat Hashem I will respond to both letters, last week’s and this week’s, in next week’s column.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

Every week I receive e-mails from Hineni on the parshah and print them out before Shabbos so that my children and guests can read and discuss them during the Shabbos meals. I particularly appreciate the insights of your son Rabbi Jungreis but was jarred when I read his column on Mishpatim, in which the laws of the Hebrew slave are mentioned.

When speaking of a Hebrew slave, the Torah is referring to a common thief who is unable to make restitution for his crime. In ancient Israel there were no jails; instead, a family would take in such a person in order to rehabilitate him and help him live an honorable Torah life. The law demands that he as well as his family be taken in, treated with dignity, and given the wherewithal to start a new life.

The lesson is obvious. If a common criminal must be treated with such dignity and respect, how much more so must we relate with respect to all our fellow men and give everyone another chance?

So what was it that jarred me about that parshah column? It was the concept of a second chance.

A year and half ago my daughter met a man. She fell head over heels for him. She was 28 at the time. Most of her friends were already married. From the time she graduated college she was always the bridesmaid, never the bride, though she’s a beautiful girl who involvers herself with communal tzedakah and chesed activities. So you can imagine how thrilled I was for her when she told me she’d met the man for her.

There was only one problem.

“Mom,” she said, “he was married once before, though briefly. It didn’t work out. They were both very young at the time and thankfully there were no children.”

I was a little surprised, but in today’s world hearing that someone has been divorced does not have the same connotations it did when I was growing up. I told my daughter I believed in second chances but that she should get to know him better before making a long-lasting commitment. She took my advice. There was no rush. Seven months later he proposed and she was ecstatic.

Suddenly, though, I was filled with trepidation. When my good friend called to wish me a mazel tov, I broke down. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I said. “I davened for this, and now that it’s happened I’m so worried.”

My friend told me it was normal to have these feelings and that when the shock wore off I’d be happy and busy planning a wedding. She was right about one of her predictions. I was busy. But I was not happy. Slowly reports started coming in. People who never speak a word of lashon hara were asking me if I really knew the man’s family. Others were telling me to examine his background. I didn’t know what to do.

New Hope for ‘Agunot’ Women Trapped by Separated Husbands

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

A new independent rabbinical court to address the issue of agunot, so-called “chained women” whose husbands refuse to give them a religious writ of divorce, will be launched next year, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance announced this week at a conference in New York.

Jerusalem Rabbi Simcha Krauss, a leading Modern Orthodox rabbi and widely respected scholar, will head the court (Beit Din), which will have no institutional affiliation and will begin operating in New York.

Rabbi Krauss told JTA that the court will utilize little-used, obscure resources in Jewish religious law to free agunot, including the ex-communication from communal prayer of their husbands and Sephardic laws that allow for greater initiative from women in divorce cases.

He said he will leave “no door unopened” in his quest to address the plight of agunot.

Eventually, Rabbi Krauss said, he wants to open an affiliate court in Israel. He also is working on attaining approval from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, which is necessary if the court’s judgments are to be upheld under Israeli law.

“The goal of this project is to humanize the Beit Din,” Rabbi Krauss told JTA. “You can’t solve these situations with sleight of hand. But hopefully we can use the right methodology, so that even these situations get solved.”

He acknowledged that the biggest challenge facing any avowedly independent religious court is mainstream acceptance, particularly within the Hared communities.

“Nobody wants agunot,” Rabbi Kraus said. “So hopefully, if [Haredim] see that we are solving these cases, maybe they will come to us. Or maybe they will follow.”

FBI Arrests NY Rabbis for Beating Husbands Who Refuse Divorce

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

The FBI raided a Monsey yeshiva Wednesday night and arrested four mean, including two rabbis, who allegedly kidnapped and beat recalcitrant husbands who had refused to grant their wives religious divorces and thereby prohibit them from re-marrying under Jewish law.

The “executors” used by the divorce gang included “electric cattle prods, karate, handcuffs and placed plastic bags over the heads of husbands,” the complaint charge stated.

The status of stranded Jewish women is known as “aguna” and is a problem that has received deserved focus in Israel and the Diaspora in recent years.

The FBI investigation and arrests bring to national attention the anguished situation of “aguna” women and perhaps will help put legal pressure on husbands who have separated from their wives but refuse to allow them to re-marry.

The suspects were arrested after a month-long sting operation in which a female FBI agent posed as an Orthodox woman trying to get a religious divorce from her husband. Another undercover agent posed as her brother.

Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark, along with Ariel Potash and a fourth individual known as Yaakov, appeared Thursday in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J. Six others could be charged, according to reports.

The FBI also raided Yeshiva Sha’arei Torah in Monsey and a yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J., Brooklyn and elsewhere.

The rabbis allegedly charged $10,000 to persuade the rabbis on the rabbinical court to approve kidnapping husbands, and another up to $60,000 to pay for others to abduct and beat husbands.

The FBI agents called Rabbi Wolmark in August and said they were “desperate for a religious divorce and were willing to pay a large sum of money to obtain a divorce,” according to the charge sheet.

“There are a couple of ways to do that,” Wolmark allegedly said in a recorded phone conversation. “You have to, we have to, convene a special Bet Din and see if there are grounds to, to, to coerce him on the ‘get’ [divorce decree].”

Wolmark allegedly added, “You need to get him to New York where someone either can harass him or nail him. Plain and simple,” he said, according to the complaint. The rabbi then set up a meeting between the undercover agents and Rabbi Epstein. A recorded conversation revealed that Rabbi Epstein spoke about “kidnapping, beating and torturing husbands in order to force a divorce.’

He allegedly added, “Basically what we are going to be doing is kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beating him up and torturing him and then getting him to give the ‘get.’”

One of the “tough guys,” supposedly Rabbi Epstein’s son, “uses his karate skills” on the victims, court papers said.

The FBI said the “divorce gang” has been operating for 20 years and that Rabbi Epstein said he carries out approximately one kidnapping a year.

Forcing husbands to grant a divorce is permitted under Jewish law, a rabbi told The Jewish Press Thursday. “Jewish law does not always seem humane, but it really is humane because physical force often is the only way to force angry husbands to release their wives from virtual bondage and to allow them to-remarry,” he said.

The rabbi added that rabbis often are blamed for the situation of the agunot but also are criticized for using force, recognized under Jewish law, to solve their dilemma.

He pointed out that force can be used only if a Bet Din [religious court] authorizes it and only if there are substantial reasons to order a divorce.

Husband Jumps Out of Court Window to Escape Divorce

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Jerusalem police deployed a helicopter Wednesday to help them look for a convict who jumped out from a bathroom window in rabbinical court rather than face divorce proceedings intended to free his estranged wife of 12 years to marry again.

Shai Cohen, 40, has been in jail for six years for refusing to divorce his wife, and his lawyer thought he was ready to agree to sign divorce papers, but Cohen apparently could not face the music.

Cohen previously had entered court hearings shackled and handcuffed, but this time, authorities accepted his claim that it was demeaning.

In what apparently was a pre-arranged plan, he asked to go the bathroom. After several minutes, guards began to worry something was wrong. When Cohen did not answer their calls, they broke down the door, but Cohen was nowhere to be found.

An escape car is suspected to have whisked him away.

His wife said in the courtroom, “I knew he would do something like this.  They should not have taken off the handcuffs and shackles.”

Tribute to my Wife on Our 25th Anniversary

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

A century is a large amount of time and any significant slice thereof is itself significant. A child of divorce whose parent’s marriage ended after 13 years can be forgiven at his own sense of astonishment that his marriage has, with God’s infinite blessing, reached the quarter century mark.

Those who know us would congratulate me, but they would give all the credit to Debbie. There are those women, stable and sturdy, capable of sharing their lives with wounded men and restoring them. There exist in this broken and hollow world creatures of light who can give chase to the darkness in a man’s shattered heart. There are human seraphs the wings of whose healing glow can gently touch a man’s pain and make it vanish.

Debbie and I come from opposite backgrounds. My parents love me infinitely and have both been remarkable sources of inspiration. But the conflict I witnessed as a child was ultimately internalized. A child of divorce is born on the front lines. Witnessing his parent’s hurt, he is essentially denied a childhood, forced as he is to become something of a caregiver to his mother and father. Seeing that the world is harsh rather than tender, he puts his guard up and is unaware of a time when he allowed himself to be completely vulnerable.

Mine, like many children of divorce, is a life built on a bedrock of battles and it shows in some of the confrontations I have been prepared to endure for convictions I strongly believed in. But when you’re a young woman who stems from a marriage that is all sweetness and harmony, it can be an awakening to follow your newly-wed husband across the world from Australia to Oxford, England, right after your twentieth birthday. I was ready for the mêlée. Debbie was wondering what she had got herself into.

That she won over, and continues to win over, all whom she meets, due to her kind and giving heart, was perhaps predictable. Any one of the thousands upon thousands of people whom Debbie has hosted for Shabbos dinners over the last twenty-five years can bear testimony to the warmth of her hospitality and glow of her smile. But that she would flourish, amid an essentially shy nature, as a role model to countless women of how to be retain their essential femininity in an aggressively masculine age, was something that softened her entire environment. That she has done so while being the mother of nine children makes the achievement all the more remarkable.

Men ultimately fall in love with those women who bring out their best qualities. Among the innumerable stories I can recall was the time an important politician was coming to our home for Shabbos, and, since she was arriving with a large retinue, I asked Debbie to cancel our regular guests, among which was an elderly woman with no place else to go. Debbie told me she would, and that I was fortunate since, with even her own place empty, since she would be eating at the elderly woman’s apartment with her, I could have fit even more important people that Shabbos. “I remember when every soul was equal to you, Shmuley. That’s the man I married, and that’s the man you’re going to be.”

After our engagement we had a stormy period and I thought of calling it off. I interpreted Debbie’s gentility as detachment. I needed more than I felt she could give me. As I said goodbye to her and dropped her off, perhaps for the last time, I saw that her eyes were bloodshot. She said, “I know that you’re going to do great things in your life. I look forward to reading about it. Some people just have it. You’re one of those people. Goodbye.” In my stubbornness I drove off but stopped two blocks later. In my agony, two things went through my mind. First, causing pain to one so noble and gentle was a sin against God and goodness. Second, her words pierced the cynical layer of doubt that lacquered my soul and made me believe that God had given me, like everyone else, a unique gift. I turned the car around, begged her forgiveness, and we married a short time later.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/america-rabbi-shmuley-boteach/tribute-to-my-wife-on-our-25th-anniversary/2013/02/26/

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