Dubious Distinction

I’m frequently asked what the divorce rate is Israel.

So, below is an article from the Jerusalem Post with the stats (in real numbers) for 2013 as released by the Rabbinical Courts Administration. Because the statistics are from the Rabbinical Courts, they only relate to divorces between Jews. It would have been nice to see the statistics from the authorities responsible for divorces between Muslims, Christians, and civil dissolution of marriages.

My town, Jerusalem, seems to have the dubious distinction of the most number of divorces.

There was a continued rise in the rate of divorce in 2013, with the Rabbinical Courts Administration announcing on Tuesday night a 5.8 percent increase in the numbers of couples ending their marriages over the 2012 figures.

In total, 11,219 couples got divorced in 2013, compared with 10,602 in 2012.

Jerusalem was the city with the most divorces, with 733 couples formally separating, while 678 couples divorced in Tel Aviv, 502 in Haifa and 492 in Rishon Lezion.

The rabbinical courts, which have exclusive jurisdiction over Jewish marriage and divorce, said it took an average of 96 days to complete a divorce case in 2013, 10 days quicker than a year earlier.

Additionally, the administrations’ special unit for obtaining bills of divorce (gets) for women whose husbands refuse to grant them obtained 159 gets in 2013 from men who had fled the country, compared to 163 in 2012.

There was a significant increase in the number of times the rabbinical courts imposed sanctions on men refusing to give their wives a bill of divorce.

You can read the rest here.

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School Daze

I’m all for being evenhanded, but sometimes it is this very evenhandedness that blinds us to what is really going on, and does not allow us, as a system, to effectively protect children from the damage being inflicted on them.  That was the case in a court-appointed psychologist’s recommendation about where a child should learn, a recommendation rejected by the court.

In this unusual move, Judge Tal Paperny of the Hadera Family Court, rejected the court-appointed psychologist’s recommendations and showed an appreciation for the overall family dynamics. Specifically, without being heavy-handed, he was sensitive to the impact of the mother – currently the custodial parent – on the child of divorce, as she subtly and not so subtly elbowed the  father out of a significant area of the child’s life.

From my perspective, the decision is important since it recognizes the signs of incipient parental alienation, (without naming it) and seeks to nip the phenomenon, if not in the bud, at least before the sapling become a full-grown tree.

In this case, the mother filed a suit that the court allow the child, a 12 year old boy, to be homeschooled.

For any North Americans reading this, it’s worthwhile to point out that while homeschooling in your part of the world often associated with Christian families of a particular social-religious orientation, here in Israel it’s generally families living in a counter-culture lifestyle, whether on their own, or in specific communities.

In any case, in addition to filing with the court, the mother asked the Ministry of Education, – which has a special division to supervise homeschooling – for permission to homeschool the child. To their credit, the staff at the Ministry turned down her request, primarily because of the mother’s failure to involve the father in the process. (Apparently she even failed to mention him in the relevant form!) As policy, the Ministry of Education requests a report from social services in case of divorce or separated parents to ensure that there is cooperation and ongoing contact between the two.

The need for parental cooperation is explained by first, the high degree of parental involvement and supervision required by homeschooling, and second, to ensure that two sets of eyes are on the child, to see that the system agrees with him, and that the child’s will and well-being are being served by the homeschooling.

What’s interesting here for those of us involved in family conflicts is that we see how people become so entrenched in their own animosity to their former spouses that they actually sabotage their own goals. The mother was so inflexible and involved in a zero-sum game with the father – she actually stated to the authorities that she would not so much as allow the father into her home – that despite the fact that she was very ideologically committed to homeschooling, her steadfast unwillingness to involve the father in the child’s education meant that she effectively guaranteed that the authorities would deny her request.

More shocking to me, at some point she actually said that if the court didn’t approve home schooling, she no longer wanted custody of the child! Continue reading

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Got the Get

I posted a while back about Gital Dodelson, and her campaign to receive a get from her husband.
So, I was happy to see the following article in the Times of Israel:

NEW YORK – Gital Dodelson, the “chained” woman featured on the front page of the New York Post last fall, says she has received a get, or religious writ of divorce, from her husband.

The announcement appeared Wednesday afternoon on a Facebook page dedicated to helping Dodelson obtain a get and was confirmed by a publicist who has worked with the Dodelson family.

In a story than ran in the Post on Nov. 4, 2013 and in subsequent media interviews, Dodelson detailed her struggle to obtain a religious divorce from her ex-husband, Avrohom Meir Weiss, whom she had divorced in civil court in August 2012.

According to traditional Jewish law, or halachah, a woman must obtain a get from her husband to be considered divorced; women whose husbands deny them a get are called agunot, or chained wives.

Shira Dicker, the publicist who has worked with the Dodelson family in their public campaign to compel Weiss to give the get, said the pressure finally worked.

“The community pressure really just began to multiply, and then something changed,” Dicker told JTA.

Dodelson’s claim of having received the get could not be independently verified with Weiss, who is a great-grandson of the late Orthodox luminary Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.

Dicker said Dodelson will continue to advocate for the countless Orthodox women chained to recalcitrant husbands.

“The family wants to remain as aguna advocates,” Dicker said. “It doesn’t end with Gital’s get.”

My wishes to Ms. Dodelson, her son, and also to her former husband, with every blessing in forging their new lives.

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New Woman

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

In anticipation, the Israeli women’s organization, Na’amat, produced a video with Israeli singer Yardena Arazi.

Basically, the words of the song encourage women in abusive relationships to get up and leave, and describe the process of gathering strength from saying no to the violence; thus, the title, The New Woman.

One of the nice aspects of the video is that it features prominent women in Israeli public life, including retired Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat, and tennis star Shahar Peer. Parenthetically, when Judge Dorner was still a District Court judge, and when the issue of domestic violence was not really on anybody’s radar screen, she gave some important decisions protecting women.

 

At the time of the making of the video, 14 women had been killed by their partners in the past year.

Yesterday, Nov. 24th, a 15th woman was killed by her husband in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem. May her memory be a blessing and her family somehow find their way through the darkness to find comfort.

 

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Fetal Relocation

Lawyers have been known to counsel an unmarried pregnant woman to move to the jurisdiction in which she wants to live before the baby is born, in order to avoid ongoing legal conflict with the father’s child over custody and/or the place of residence of the child.

Seems that at least a couple of courts in the United States take issue with this practice.

 When Bode Miller, the Olympic ski star known for daring Alpine racing, met Sara A. McKenna in San Diego last year through the high-end matchmaker Kelleher International, they were both professing interest in finding a marriage partner, she recalls.

The relationship did not last long — but she did become pregnant. And now the skier, 36, and Ms. McKenna, 27, a former Marine and firefighter who is attending Columbia University with G.I. Bill support, are locked in a cross-country custody fight that has become not only tabloid fodder but also a closely watched legal battle over the rights of pregnant women to travel and make life choices.

In December, when she was seven months pregnant and already sparring with Mr. Miller about their future relations, Ms. McKenna moved to New York to start school. Mr. Miller accused her of fleeing to find a sympathetic court, and a New York judge agreed, castigating Ms. McKenna for virtually absconding with her fetus. This allowed a California court to subsequently grant custody of the baby, a boy, to Mr. Miller and also set off alarm bells among advocates for women’s rights.

I should say. Continue reading

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Artscroll – Getting the Point

Further to my post of a few days ago about Gital Dodelson, the young woman being denied a get by her husband, turns out the public pressure on Artscroll and the recalcitrant husband’s family has made an impact.

According to the Artscroll blog, the husband’s father and uncle have resigned from Artscroll:

For the least several months, we have invested enormous time and effort to facilitate a mutually acceptable outcome to the very sad matter of the Weiss-Dodelson differences. We have been motivated by one desire: to help bring about a get so that Gital and Avrohom Meir can build new futures for themselves and so that their child should be provided for in the most positive manner, for his benefit. Unfortunately, these efforts have not yet borne fruit.

In order to avoid further distraction from the harbotzas haTorah of ArtScroll/Mesorah, Rabbis Yosaif Asher and Yisroel Weiss have decided to give up their positions with our firm until this situation is resolved. Their letter to this effect is attached.

May our shared hope be fulfilled: that Hashem will provide all parties with the wisdom and good will to bring a peaceful conclusion to this tragic situation, and may Klal Yisrael everywhere come together and enjoy the blessings of peace.

Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz

Anyone interested can take a look at the letter from the father and uncle which is attached to Rabbi Zlotowitz’s piece.

Let’s hope that this is a giant step towards Gital receiving her get and moving forward.

Update:

Well, since the pressure on Artscroll and the Weiss family employed there hasn’t yet delivered the get into Gital’s hands, Gital’s supporters are upping the ante and considering pressure on the husband’s family’s yeshiva, Yeshiva of Staten Island. Not only does the husband ostensibly learn Torah there, but his grandfather, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, is the dean.

From an article in the Times of Israel:

But together they may have resigned from ArtScroll, the Weisses also continue to defend the actions of Avrahom Meir Weiss, arguing that “the campaign of slander leveled against our families, including the heinous desecration of G-d’s Name recently perpetrated by the Dodelson family, are based on untruths and lies.”

The letter confirmed Dodelson’s supporters’ fears — even the very public removal of the Weisses from ArtScroll was insufficient to pressure the family into delivering Dodelson’s get. But with over 13,000 “likes” on a Facebook page in support of Gital and a victory under their belt, the campaign to “Free Gital” will now target the Yeshiva of Staten Island.

I read the letter, which is posted on the Artscroll blog, and have to say that my reaction was also one of disappointment. There are no two sides when a get has been withheld for years, any “slander and heinous desecration of G-d’s name” appear to exist due to the failure of the young man to release his wife. Both can be halted immediately with a simple action that will be over in an hour or two.

The notion that because there are other issues outstanding anyone is justified in not giving or receiving a get, is at once amoral and indefensible.
Substantive disputes can be resolved by the competent tribunal.

“We have confirmation from a trusted party that the ArtScroll board heard us loud and clear, and they did exactly what we asked of them,” wrote one of the activists who run the “Free Gital” Facebook page. “It’s now time to move on from ArtScroll and put our focus on the Yeshiva of Staten Island, where Avrohom Meir Weiss is in Kollel, despite the Kol Koreh stating that he should not be allowed.”

The kol koreh – a general proclamation issued by respected religious figures — called upon community institutions, including explicitly the yeshiva run by his grandfather, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, to shun Weiss until he gives Dodelson a get.

No such action has been taken. Now, Dodelson’s supporters are calling the Staten Island Yeshiva to ask for Weiss’s removal — a difficult request for a yeshiva run by his mother’s family. As an additional step, supporters are being encouraged via Facebook to work to disinvite the yeshiva’s head from guest appearances at local synagogues. Supporters have already contacted a Highland Park, New Jersey, synagogue that is expected to host Feinstein this Saturday night, asking it to withdraw its invitation to Feinstein.

Let’s hope that the next thing I post on this subject is that there is nothing else to post, since Mr. Weiss has done the right thing.

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Surrogacy Old and New

“Bring me sons; if not, I shall die.” (Genesis 30:1).

This is the pained call by Rachel to her husband Jacob which we read in synagogue yesterday during the Shabbat Torah reading.

The immediate solution to Rachel’s infertility, is for her to give her maidservant Bilhah to have relations with her husband, and that the child (and eventually, children) borne from this union, will be raised by Rachel as her own.

There are those who see this as the first surrogate motherhood in recorded history. Now that a few millenia have passed since then, how is this surrogate thing working out?

In a world of ever-expanding reproductive technologies, we tend to take surrogacy for granted, and generally fail to think seriously about the complex dimensions of the surrogacy contract.

The New Republic recently ran an excellent review by Jessica Grose of a new book on surrogacy. The title of her review is “Stop Celebrating Surrogate Motherhood” and in case the title leaves you wondering what her position on surrogacy really is, her review of Leslie Morgan Steiner’s The Baby Chase: How Surrogacy is Transforming the American Family,  the body of  the review leaves no confusion as to her take on surrogacy.

Here’s a little taste of the review: Continue reading

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