Heard In The Bagel Store – A JEWISH WIFE’S RIGHTS

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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.

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3 thoughts on “Heard In The Bagel Store – A JEWISH WIFE’S RIGHTS

  • August 25, 2013 at 10:58 am

    What about Kollel? At what point is it understood that a man will leave Kollel and support his wife?

  • August 25, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Rabbi Epstein was a G-D send shaliach to help me receive my GET this past Rosh Chodesh Elul!!!! He saved my life on a spiritual level!!

    He was sincere, mentchlich and really caring through out. I can not thank him enough! ‘As a result of my suffering and watching my friends suffer…. I fully intend to become a strong advocate in helping women avoid falling into the trap of miserable marriages and aguna’s…..

    We as a society- owe it to our women- to be their voice of freedom!!! We must unite as one- because that agunah may be your sister, mother, daughter, niece.. etc.. chas v’shalom!!!

    A major revolution in the marital system should be worked on in hopes of avoiding the increasingly alarmingly high divorce rate in our communities!!

    I wish Rabbi Epstein Much success and siyatta dishmaya!!!! May HKB”H bless him forever for being the perfect shaliach in freeing me of my marital chains!!!

  • August 26, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Many of my friends were very disappointed with your article, “Heard in the Bagel Shop”. Journalists often write on controversial topics in an effort to augment their readership, but I feel that here you have crossed the line. First of all quoting R Epstein in regards to problems of divorce is like quoting a frog about the kashrus of bugs. Not only does he destroy many beautiful yiddishe mishpochos, he also magnifies many small trivial issues that should be quickly and quietly fixed. For example, telling a woman that is mad at her husband not to go to the mikvah is not only immature, but creates a much more difficult situation. This is something that he is known to be notorious for. He seems to rather divorce a couple than to try to fix it, he even calls the women “stupid” for trying to keep the family together. Did he not learn the Perek hasholom in Maseches kallah zutah? Does he not know the famous gemorah in sanhedrin of how the mizbeach cries for each divorce? True, often divorce is necessary, but most of them are probably fixable. Isn’t it worth the effort of trying to save a family? Isn’t it worth keeping a child’s family together? Why jump to the “easy” way out and not try to see how to work things out? There are no perfect people out there to marry, but the one you do get can and with a little encouragement will improve. It may not be easy, but what’s the alternative? People have a misconception that if marriage is difficult then divorce must be better. The truth is, divorce becomes much more difficult for many reasons. The financial strain becomes greater, since the expenses are more (2 households instead of 1). Also, raising children is challenging when there are two parents, how much more so with one. Not only is it more difficult for the single parent, but the child loses out by not having both parents in his/her life. Marriage is not an iPod that you can easily replace if it breaks. There are children also involved, and a spouse can and does improve. It isn’t easy, but it’s far more rewarding to be “stupid” than to divorce.

    Another big problem he minimizes is court. He feels that court is usually expensive and prolongs the get. This is true, but there are much more serious issues. Every child knows that a Jew is forbidden to go to secular courts. Besides the tremendous chilul Hashem, there is an issur in the Torah. The only way where one is permitted to go to court is with a heter from a Bais din that had looked into the issues and given specific permission to take the matter to secular court. A Jew isn’t permitted to go to court just because “there are times where going to court is beneficial”. What is even more concerning is the many lawyers, and even “frum” lawyers that tell women to lie to the court and police with false allegations in order to give them an upper hand in the proceedings. Not only is this a terrible lie and chilul Hashem, but it is the worst case of mesirah! We know what the gemorah and shulchan aruch say about the seriousness of mesirah when the allegations are true, how much more would they say about those that lie about these allegations. How low has klal Yisroel sunk?!

    I believe that you owe your readers an article about the sweetness and nobility of shalom and of those who chase shalom. Tell them also how beneficial it is to the children and even their parents. Write about the great reward that people like Aharon Hakohen receive for chasing shalom. May this year bring an end to the horrible Sinas chinam that has been plaguing us these last couple decades with the coming of mashiach, speedily in our days. I wish all your readers and all of klal Yisroel a ksivah vachasimah tovah!

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