After Artscroll, agunah advocates eye NY yeshiva

Gital Dodelson’s supporters claim victory over publishing house, turn to push ex-husband’s yeshiva to force him to grant divorce

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

The problem of 'agunot,' or chained women, is international (illustrative photo: Serge Attal/Flash 90)
The problem of 'agunot,' or chained women, is international (illustrative photo: Serge Attal/Flash 90)

WASHINGTON — Gital Dodelson is quite likely America’s most famous agunah. In recent weeks, the 25-year-old Orthodox law student has jumped to the headlines of major media outlets because of her struggle to force her ex-husband, Avrohom Meir Weiss, to give her a Jewish divorce, or get. On Tuesday, Dodelson’s enthusiastic and increasingly well-mobilized supporters noted a key victory as ArtScroll Publishing confirmed that Weiss’s father and uncle had taken unpaid leaves of absence from the prestigious publishing house. On the heels of their successful public pressure campaign, Dodelson’s supporters are now turning their sights toward the prestigious Yeshiva of Staten Island, publicly shunning the yeshiva’s leadership for allowing Weiss to continue to study there.

Dodelson’s story reached unprecedented national prominence last week, when the New Jersey resident published a detailed account of her 10-month marriage and ensuing almost-four-year-long struggle to obtain a get from Weiss in the New York Post, a newspaper with a daily circulation of a half-million readers. Since then, her story has been retold to millions of readers in the pages of the London-based Daily Mail and on the website of the popular US-based Newsweek.

“This step I’m taking is difficult but necessary,” Dodelson explained to the New York Post. “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.”

Dodelson’s backers have taken extreme measures as well. In recent months, over 2,000 people signed on to an Internet petition calling on ArtScroll to fire Weiss’s father and uncle who both serve as editors at the publishing house. On Tuesday, an organization established to advocate for Dodelson’s right to receive a get published an email confirmation that Weiss’s father and uncle had taken leave of absence from the ArtScroll Publishing House under intense public pressure.

According to an email published by Dodelson’s supporters, Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz — a student of Avrahom Meir Weiss’s illustrious great-grandfather Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and one of the founders of ArtScroll — wrote that neither Weiss’s father, Rabbi Yosaif Asher Weiss, nor his uncle Rabbi Yisroel Weiss, “will be drawing salaries from ArtScroll.”

Three days after Dodelson’s New York Post article, the two wrote to Zlotowitz, telling him that they “do not wish to distract ArtScroll Mesorah from its holy work to which we have dedicated ourselves for a quarter century.” It was for that reason, they said that they would leave the publishing house “until this situation is resolved.”

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.

“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.

Dodelson left her husband a month after having the couple’s son, telling her parents that her husband’s controlling and belittling behavior had become unbearable. Rather than turn to the rabbinical courts, Weiss responded by filing for full custody of their infant son in a civil court while sidestepping the Beit Din. Although the two are legally divorced in the civil courts, Dodelson is still married to Weiss according to religious law. Repeated attempts at arbitration have failed, and Dodelson has said that in their last attempt, Weiss demanded that she renounce custody of their son and pay Weiss over $300,000 in exchange for her get.

Weiss’s family has dismissed Dodelson’s allegations as false. In an interview with the Staten Island Advance, Weiss’s father said that the family “is horrified by the vitriol, lies and hate that permeate Gital’s article” in the New York Post, an article that he described as “full of misinformation and outright fabrications, as well as untruths.”

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