New technology may be key to set ‘chained women’ free

The ‘social agitator’ behind the recent headlines made by agunah Gital Dodelson says it’s a mitzva to use social media to subvert abuse

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

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)

Gital Dodelson and her ongoing fight to convince her husband Avrohom Meir Weiss to give her a get, or Jewish decree of divorce, made international headlines this week after a widely read recent New York Post article.

Like that of most women in her situation, the story of her struggle isn’t one likely to attract traditional press attention. Luckily, it went viral first on social media.

Luck has nothing to do with it, says public relations professional Shira Dicker.

Dicker, who calls herself “an innovative social agitator,” says she planned from the start to use Facebook and other social media platforms to gain initial public interest for Dodelson’s situation.

One of Dicker’s clients connected her last July to Dodelson’s mother Saki, of Lakewood, New Jersey, who informed her of her daughter’s plight. Four-and-a-half years ago, Gital, now 25, married Weiss, the great-grandson of leading Orthodox rabbinical authority Moshe Feinstein, after being set up by a matchmaker.

They were engaged just two months after having first met

The young couple followed the strict customs of Orthodox dating, first meeting in a public place to talk over a soda, and eventually graduating to having dinner or visiting a museum together. They were engaged just two months after having first met.

Dodelson claims that as soon as they were married shortly thereafter, her husband became controlling and manipulative. Ten months after the wedding, she left together with the couple’s newborn son.

Dodelson and Weiss were civilly divorced in October 2012, but Weiss has since refused to give his wife a get.

Living with her parents and studying law at Rutgers University, Dodelson, who has no wish to leave the Orthodox community and way of life, longs to be free to remarry and move on. According to the Post, she cannot and will not accede to Weiss’s demands that she relinquish her rights to custody of their son and pay Weiss $350,000 in return for a get.

Dodelson has the support of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), a New York-based nonprofit.

“The refusal to issue a get is never justified and is defined in Jewish law as domestic abuse,” Rabbi Jeremy Stern, executive director of ORA, told the Post. The organization condemns all forms of violence and extortion used to attain a get.

(Coincidentally, recent news of  Brooklyn rabbis accused of charging agunot tens of thousands of dollars to kidnap and torture their recalcitrant husbands broke just as Dodelson’s social media campaign against her husband went into high gear.)

Media maven Shira Dicker (photo credit: Ari L. Goldman)
Media maven Shira Dicker (photo credit: Ari L. Goldman)

Whereas only a couple of hundred protesters personally showed up in front of Weiss’s home on Staten Island in June 2012 and June 2013, the Facebook page Dicker set up for Dodelson last August has more than 12,000 “Likes.” Many posts on it get tens of comments and are shared hundreds of times.

Dicker claims that “Free Gital: Tell Avrohom Meir Weiss to Give His Wife a ‘Get’” is the first Facebook page set up for an agunah.

Dicker also had a complimentary “Set Gital Free” website built, which provides additional information and specific instructions on how to get in touch with Weiss, his parents, and grandparents.

Weiss’s father, Yosaif Asher Weiss, is an editor for the major Orthodox publisher Artscroll, and his grandfather, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, heads the Yeshiva of Staten Island, where Weiss studies.

On Rosh Hashanah, Dicker sent out an e-blast with an image of an apple in chains. And instead of sending out conventional press releases, Dicker wrote personalized memos to specific reporters.

The combination of these targeted missives, together with viral marketing of the anti-agunah message, has reaped (as of yet unpublished) interviews of Dodelson by a New York Times reporter and for NPR’s “This American Life” program.

For Dicker, Dodelson is more than just a client.

“This is a cause,” Dicker says. “I saw what this girl was up against, and I also saw the tremendous opportunity, the celebrity endorsement aspect,” she said, referring to the potential impact this particular campaign could have for other agunot.

Dicker is grateful to the Dodelsons for giving her “creative license” to use cutting-edge tools in the campaign to free Gital.

“Social media is absolutely phenomenal,” she says. “The technology of the 21st century is helping to reverse the subversion of a law that is centuries old. It is a mitzva to utilize it.”

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