By Larry Gordon –
Rabbi Mendel Epstein says he has seen enough abuse. That is abuse of the system that is supposed to be used to protect mostly women (though some men too) stuck or navigating their way through a difficult or what is commonly referred to as a bad marriage. Rabbi Epstein who is a veteran practitioner and “toyon,” which something like an attorney well versed in halacha that represents litigants in front of Jewish Rabbinical tribunals commonly referred to as a Beit Din.
Last week after decades of practicing and expressing some disgust with the system, the Rabbi issues what he has entitled a “Bill of Rights of a Jewish Wife.” In his introduction to his document the Rabbi writes: “I have authored the Bill of Rights of a Jewish Wife to clarify and strengthen the rights of the Jewish wife because I am disturbed by the number of women who find themselves in unbearably difficult situations due to incorrect hashkofos and advice that they have received and therefore come to blame the Torah and Rabbonim for their plight.”
Amongst the items on the Bill of Rights are, 1. A wife must be treated with respect and not abused. A woman in an abusive relationship has a right to seek a get. 2. She is entitled to be supported by her husband. Read the Kesuba. 3. A husband is obligated to honor and respect his wife’s parents. 4. She is entitled to a normal conjugal relationship.
As far as the proliferation of divorces in the frum community, Rabbi Epstein says that the inordinate number of divorces come about as a result if infidelity in marriages. He did not specifically refer to dalliances of this sort that start on the internet but said that they start very often in shul and with people coming and going freely in and out of each others homes.
He said that there is no age restriction on these circumstances that end in divorce. He added that the affect those who have been married a few months as well as those married a few decades. Rabbi Epstein is well known in the international Beit Din world for his representation of parties and halachic expertise primarily in disputes centered on marital woes. The first part of our conversation the other day dealt with the fullness of the ten point document he released last week and the matter of its sensitivity. The initial part or focal point of our talk was whether it was proper or healthy to be airing these issues out in public or not.
So why come forward at this juncture? And Rabbi Epstein says that it was imperative that he speak up at this point because of the great proliferation of divorces in the community. “There are so many women left in limbo by the process,” he says and adds, “There is hardly a family in the community that is not dealing with divorce or a Yeshiva that does not have one or two children at minimum in every class whose parents are either in the process or already divorced,” Rabbi Epstein says.
He says that an additional reason for speaking up at this point is because these cases that impact so dramatically on women and children translate into both feeling resentment towards the Beit Din process and as a result to Rabbonim in general. “Don’t minimize the impact this is having on frum homes as mothers begin to view trying to live according to a halachic or Torah lifestyle as being a prime cause of their problems,” Rabbi Epstein says. And he adds that this attitude can easily trickle down to the children where it can emotionally resonate for years.
“It’s not the Torah and it’s not the Rabbi’s that are at fault or responsible for all the misery, heartache and broken marriages and families out there,” Mendel Epstein says. He says that more than anything else it is long held false ideals and misguided hashkofos that have turned the way our community looks at these situations upside down.