The Rabbinical Council of America’s release Wednesday of a statement condemning the refusal to deliver or receive a get is being touted by supporters of Gital Dodelson as proof that the high-profile public campaign to end her agunah status is working.
Earlier this month, the 25-year-old law student from New Jersey took her story beyond social media and the Jewish press to the mainstream media in efforts to get her recalcitrant husband, Avrohom Meir Weiss, to give her a Jewish divorce. Without his giving her the divorce decree, she remains an agunah, or “chained woman” who is unable to date other men or remarry.
The public exposure of Dodelson’s case led to Weiss’s father and uncle’s resignation last week from their positions at Artscroll, a leading Orthodox publishing house.
Dodelson’s well-mobilized supporters are now putting pressure on the leadership of Yeshiva of Staten Island, where Weiss, the scion of a leading rabbinical family, studies. They are effectively asking the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, to expel his grandson.
The RCA is the rabbinic authority of the Orthodox Union. In its statement, it equated get refusal with domestic abuse: “The Rabbinical Council of America strongly condemns the refusal of spouses to participate in the delivery and receipt of a get, the Jewish religious divorce process, when the marriage is functionally over and the relationship between the husband and wife has irreversibly ended.
‘We deem the withholding of a get a manifestation of domestic abuse’
“We deem the withholding of a get under such circumstances to be an exploitation of the halachic process and a manifestation of domestic abuse.”
“The timing of this statement is significant. The efforts of Gital Dodelson have pushed the issue of the agunah within Orthodoxy to the forefront of the communal agenda,” claimed Shira Dicker, Dodelson’s publicist.
Rabbi Mark Dratch, RCA executive vice president, confirmed Dicker’s assertion.
“We were certainly motivated to release the statement by the Dodelson case,” he told The Times of Israel. “We are not commenting on the specific case, as that would require more investigation and due diligence. However, we are definitely issuing this statement now because this case is currently in the public interest.”
Dratch pointed out that the RCA has passed a number of resolutions on the get refusal issue, and that its position has remained consistent. It has not only taken a position against get refusal, but it has also asserted the importance of using halachic prenuptial agreements, which are designed to prevent agunot.
‘I especially hope they can agree on a way to raise their child, who is a real victim in all of this’
“I just hope it gets resolved and that the people involved can move on and live healthy, happy, fulfilling lives,” Dratch said. “I especially hope they can agree on a way to raise their child, who is a real victim in all of this.”
Dratch said the RCA supports ORA: The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, which has helped Dodelson and whose executive director, Jeremy Stern, has spoken to the media on her behalf.
“But too much public pressure can be counterproductive,” Dratch warned. “Sometimes you need to back off on the pressure so that the sides can do some face saving and be willing to reach a resolution.”
Dratch pointed out that not every agunah is willing as Dodelson to go public, and to bear the attendant consequences for herself and her family. Still, no woman should suffer from a husband’s using a get as a tool.
“It’s abuse of the law,” the rabbi said.
“When there is no hope of the relationship being healed, there is no justifiable reason to withhold a get,” he said. “It’s not meant to be a trump card.”