Rachel is suffering. Alienation from her family. Social shaming. Gaslighting and pressure to take psychiatric medication. Estrangement from the community. Banned from attending her own son’s wedding. All mandated by community rabbis and rubber-stamped by Israel’s Rabbinic Court system. And for what heinous crime?
**Another tragic story coming from the Gerrer Hassidic community. Maybe this time, though, we can save the woman. Please share far and wide**
In the past few weeks, much has been written about the late Esti Weinstein, who chose to end her life to escape the unbearable trauma she suffered as a Gerrer Hassidic woman. We wanted to shed light on another aspect of this saga, encountered in our work at CWJ: How the rabbinic judges in our State-sanctioned Rabbinic Courts treat a case similar to Esti’s and how they rule on such divorce disputes. Read about Rachel, one of our clients, who is currently dealing with insufferable injustice at the hands of the Gerrer Hassidic community.
About 30 years ago, Rachel and Yitzchak, both Gerrer Hassids, were married. Shortly after the wedding, however, Rachel understood that living with Yitzchak was unbearably difficult. She confided in some people within the Hassidic community about her situation. From that moment onward, she was shuttled by the community’s rabbis between dozens of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. Some of them tried to reconcile the couple’s marriage while others were asked to evaluate Rachel for a host of mental illnesses—all because she had expressed the “crazy” idea of wanting a divorce.
This routine became Rachel’s life for over two decades. Finally, a few years ago, Rachel mustered the courage to file for divorce in the Rabbinic Court, a move that those at the top of the Gerrer Hassidic community deemed “simply not done.”
At this point, Rachel’s “treatments” were stepped up a notch. The heads of the hassidic community (including, it seems, its leader) called for everyone close to Rachel to sever ties with her, including her grown children, siblings and other relatives.
Rachel was completely isolated. She continued to live in their shared home with her husband and children while they thoroughly ignored her existence. Rachel ate shabbat meals alone in one room while Yitzchak sat at the shabbat table with the children in another. Even her own siblings refused to host her as per instructions from the higher-ups. Without the financial means to move out of the shared home, Rachel had no choice but to live in what amounted to psychological hell. At the same time, she was also coerced into taking psychiatric medication. As a way of exerting familial pressure on her, one of her relatives was threatened by sources within the hassidic community that he would be fired from his job in one of the Gerrer institutions because of his wayward sister.
It is important to note that Rachel’s only crime was asking for a divorce. Throughout this ordeal, Rachel remained (and remains) fully religious according to all the strictures of the hareidi Gur community.
Meanwhile, in the Rabbinic Court, Yitzchak refused to grant Rachel a get. The couple had not been intimate for several years and there had been no communication between them for about a year and a half. Rachel declared in the Rabbinic Court: “I don’t want to live with him. It’s torture and hell for me. Have mercy on me. He does not love me. He hates me” (direct quote from the court transcript). And yet, the get was still withheld for several more years.
How did the Rabbinic Court judges respond to Rachel’s cries of suffering, the forced estrangement of her own family by the hassidic community and the forced administration of psychiatric medication?
The judges endorsed—and continue to endorse—the behavior of the hassidic community. At first, they pressured the woman to rescind her request for divorce because she was hassidic, or, as the court transcript states, “The Rabbinic Court conveyed the severity of the couple’s potential divorce, especially in the Hareidi circles of the Gerrer Hassidic community.” The judges heard testimony from a representative of the Gerrer community on behalf of the husband, who claimed that the couple should agree to “shalom bayit” (reconciliation). Despite hearing direct testimony from Rachel about how much she had suffered for nearly 30 years, they urged her to agree to “shalom bayit” as instructed by the hassidic community.
When they realized that reconciliation was not a realistic option, the rabbinic judges tried a new tactic: they urged Rachel to “put up” with the awful marriage until her last child was married off in a shidduch (arranged marriage). The transcript states: “Finish off the child’s shidduch and then come back here for your get.”
The judges also received various confidential “documents” from sources within the hassidic community. Contrary to the law and court procedures, these documents were not included in their files and were kept hidden from Rachel. Only the judges were allowed to look at them. How was Rachel expected to respond or prepare a defense for documentation that she was not allowed to see? The situation was Kafkaesque.
The Rabbinic Court’s complicity with the Gerrer Hassidic community did not end after the get was finally given. The rabbinic court is currently determining custody and child support arrangements for the couple. Because the hassidic community has successfully severed all psychological ties between Rachel and her children and forbidden her grown children from interacting with her, Yitchak now is claiming custody over their minor children. Once again, the Rabbinic Court has received various documents from figures within the Gerrer hassidic community. One of these documents states that the mother is unfit to raise her children because the father’s behavior is more in line with the Gerrer Hassidic dictates than the mother.
Now, Rachel faces a new battle: One of her children is about to get married. The mother, who is deeply connected to her child, was not invited to the wedding. During court proceedings, the father announced that the Gerrer Rabbis were the ones who decided that the mother should not be invited. Rachel still hopes that her son will come to his senses and invite her to his wedding. In the meantime, though, it seems that her son is bowing to pressure from the hassidic community. How much can you hope for when the Rabbinic Court itself has become a marionette of the hassidic wheeler-dealers and their interests?
Rachel is a lone woman trapped in a patriarchal system ruled by rabbis and rabbinic court judges. She has turned to us in hopes that if we bring her story to light, someone might be able to help save her and her relationship with her children, in particular her son who is about to be married. In the meantime, she says, only a miracle would help.
What do you think? What can we do so that Rachel doesn’t suffer the same fate as Esti Weinstein?
Share this far and wide! The wedding is in a few days and maybe you can make a difference!