When is it Appropriate to Pressure Employers of Recalcitrant Spouses?

November 19, 2013

by Rabbi David Wolkenfeld

This Monday, ORA (the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot) organized a protest in Washington DC to pressure Aharon Friedman, chief of staff for Congressman David Camp, to deliver a gett to his ex-wife, Tamar Friedman. Aharon and Tamar divorced in civil courts five years ago and Aharon has refused to give a gett unless Tamar relents to Aharon’s demands viz. a new custody arrangement more favorable to him. Some have sought to pressure Aharon’s employer, Congressman Dave Camp (R – MI), a powerful committee chair, to insist that his employee, Aharon Friedman, deliver a gett. Congressman Camp represents a district with few Jews and no Orthodox community. When I suggested on Facebook last week that one of the Jewish-Republican organizations get involved, someone wrote to me, concerned by the implications of an employer pressuring an employee to take part in a private religious ceremony.

Consider the following scenarios:

Case A.

Avrohom Weiss is in contempt of a beit din order to deliver a get to his wife Gital Dodalson. Weiss and Dodalson divorced in civil courts more than 2 years ago and Weiss has delayed granting a gett until Gital agrees to renegotiate custody and alimony.  Weiss’s father and uncle were employed by Artscroll Publications.  A letter-writing campaign successfully pressured Artscroll to remove Asher and Yisrael Weiss from their payroll so long as they provide financial and moral support to Avrohom’s recalcitrance.

Case B (Fictional)

Joe Schwartz is a member of a large suburban Reform Synagogue. Recently, he invited a Chabad rabbi to open a weekly Shabbat service in his basement. This incurred the ire of the leadership of the Reform synagogue and they made it clear to Mr. Schwartz’s employer – the local community bank – that the synagogue would move its sizable endowment to another bank so long as Mr. Schwartz was employed at the bank.

 Case C (Fictional)

Chaim Schmerel is hosting a break-away minyan in his basement with a lower mechitzah than in the large neighborhood shul. Members of the large shul, upset by what they understand to be lower religious standards at Chaim Schmerel’s minyan, pressure Chaim’s employer, the local municipality, that they will vote against the mayor in the upcoming elections if Chaim remains employed as the towns’ fire commissioner.

It seems obvious to me that case A. is a legitimate instance of community activism. Artscroll is an Orthodox Jewish publishing company. Its success and authenticity depend on the Orthodox bona fides of its editors. Supporting gett recalcitrance undermines Artscroll’s ability to represent or educate the community.

Case B and C both seem like inappropriate efforts at enforcing conformity. However much someone else’s religious choices may offend us, most of us appreciate living in a country were religious issues are kept private and we are allowed to rise (and fall) professionally without reference to religious matters.

Congressman Camp and his chief of staff Aharon Feldman, are more similar to Case A than to Cases B or C. Congressman Camp is a politician and politicians accept upon themselves, and upon their staff members, a certain limitation on their personal privacy. Furthermore and more importantly, gett recalcitrance has been identified as a form of domestic abuse. It allows an ex-spouse to retain control over a former marriage partner even after the marriage has ended. Whether used as a negotiating strategy or as an expression of spite, gett recalcitrance is more than a personal issue, more than a “religious issue,” and an appropriate matter about which to educate Congressman Camp.

AIPAC routinely flies members of congress to Israel so that even politicians with few Jewish constituents can learn about the importance of the American-Israeli relationship. Dave Camp needs to learn about gett-recalcitrance and why all Americans should want their elected representatives to be clean of the taint of this form of abuse.