Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Free Gital

Doubtless you have read or heard the story making the rounds in the New York Press and throughout the Jewish world: Gital, law student and suffering wife of the great-grandson of Rav Moshe Feinstein*, this man refuses to give his wife a Get, employing the logic of "If she doesn't want me, then no one can have her."  If even half of what Gital reports about their brief marriage is true, then indeed, this Ultra-Orthodox couple got married too young and this man is a controlling bastard; unfortunately, their three year old has become collateral damage as well.

She only went to the press to plead her case with the public after it became clear that her community would not extricate her and her baby from a terrible situation.

Gital's feeling of helpless-ness saddens me the most, she states that already after their second "date" she already expressed that she did not want to marry him, and was pushed into the relationship. When she felt miserable and trapped and abused almost immediately after the wedding ceremony, she claims that she could not reach out for help, not even to her own parents, for fear of shaming her family.  That this woman was not even given the option of holding off on pregnancy until the marriage had solidified (or not) speaks volumes about the unrealistic and antiquated matchmaking and family practices of the Ultra Orthodox.

I pause, allowing myself to remember the cardinal rule on Star Trek, that of non-interference.  Perhaps it is not my place, or that of the press or the public to impose our own sense of morality upon another community.  Then I remember that each Captain of the Enterprise eventually violated that line in the sand, stepping in when it seemed not only necessary but vital to the survival of the future.

And so I say, the time has come to officially expose the Ultra Orthodox community in their mistreatment and generalized debasement of the rights of women, and good for Gital for seeking outside help.

I close with two stories from my personal experience in my Chiropractic Clinic:

Many years ago, when I started working in Israel, an "older" IE over thirty woman became my patient.  Well educated and gainfully employed, combined with her age, she was categorized as a lost cause within her community, and told that she should marry the first man who looks her way, because she "cannot be too picky."  She married a man who has been since banned from my office for bad behavior:  boorish, perpetually unemployed, obese and apparently covered in burn scars on half his body, this woman married so far below what she deserved for herself and her life.  Several years later, three children later, she works full time as the Principal of an Ultra Orthodox school, and suffers daily. But she is not allowed to complain because she must be grateful than any man was willing to have sex with her.

Yesterday, another patient, an older Arab woman came in for her maintenance care Chiropractic adjustment.  In the past year, her daughter, a young woman with two children, died suddenly and mysteriously;  because of questions about her death, her burial was delayed and the whole family lived a nightmare.  When this woman came in yesterday, I asked about her grandchildren, how they were coping these days with the loss of their mother.  "They have a new Mama," she answered.  It seems that the husband was forced to remarry rather quickly to a woman he didn't really know and doesn't love, because "someone has to be a mother to those children."

When I suggested that it might have been easier to hire a baby sitter or nanny, my patient responded, "That's how we do things."

*  Ironically, Rav Moshe was one of the first Orthodox Rabbis in the 20th century to actively fight for the rights of Jewish women in cases of divorce and Agunah  [Hebrew for a woman trapped in a marriage by her husband]


Midlife Singlemum said...

I've kept out of discussions on fb about this case but what I find incredulous is that all these educated and enlightened women are pleading with the Rabinate to help end Gital's plight instead of collectively taking control and boycotting the rabinute (on all issues - I mean turning their backs and walking away) until they start to treat women like human beings.
It's like negotiating about how much violence is allowed - none, period. How much control do you give a man over a woman who doesn't want to be married to him? - None period.
The whole aguna issue is a problem perpetuated by women who hand over the control of their lives to the Rabinate. We are the problem, not the Rabbis.

Doc said...

I agree with you actually, and I find it sad that everyone is so focused on this one woman and her story that they are ignoring the Giant Elephant in the room, which as you said, actually demands a complete overhaul of the system.

tesyaa said...

There are a lot of rules one has to abide by to remain an Orthodox Jew in good standing. The halachic system is frozen 200 years ago (more or less), so we do a lot of dumb things like avoid kitniyot and keep 2 days of yom tov (outside of Israel) and make women dependent on men for a "Jewish divorce". I'd love to see women turn their backs on the rabbis, but their religion actually tells them to listen to their rabbis, so it's a catch-22. Some people remain in the O community for the social benefits without believing, but a lot really believe that this is what God wants. (And don't get me started on how the religion bans any reading material that might indicate that this is not really what God wants).

tesyaa said...

Sorry, I meant to type 2,000 years ago, not 200.