Another in a long line of similar cases of haredi and Orthodox women who are trapped in dead Jewish marriages by recalcitrant husbands who try to use withholding the Jewish divorce document to extort their wife and her family to get better child custody settlements – and, quite often, to get large monetary payouts. But this time, there's a twist.
Above: Rivky Stein and Youel Weiss
The NY Daily News has a long article about a 24-year-old haredi woman who is an agunah (a woman trapped in a Jewish marriage and unable to remarry or cohabit with another man).
Rivky Stein's 31-year-old husband-in-Jewish-law-only, Yoel Weiss, admits he is withholding the Jewish divorce document, known as a get:
[Weiss] insists he’ll give it to her as soon as their messy custody battle is hashed out in family court.
“This is something that’s settled together,” he said. “That’s how the Jewish thing goes. Ever bought a house and moved into it without paying?”
The couple have two children.
Stein, a former foster child, alleges that Weiss raped her and punched her in the stomach while she was pregnant.
Weiss, a nephew of haredi Ponzi schemer Sholam Weiss, denies this.
In other words, this is just another in a long line of similar cases of haredi and Orthodox women who are trapped in dead Jewish marriages by recalcitrant husbands who try to use withholding the Jewish divorce document to extort their wife and her family to get better child custody settlements – and, quite often, to get large monetary payouts. (Woman and her family pay Husband several hundred thousand dollars, and Woman gets her Jewish divorce. No pay? No divorce.)
That is what this sad but all too common story would be except for one brief point noted in the Daily News piece – the two were never legally married:
The couple never formally obtained a civil marriage license, both partners said.
Instead they used a Jewish marriage contract, called a ketubah , which is technically illegal but still recognized by family court.
This type of arrangement – which is illegal in New York State, where the couple live – is often used to defraud various government programs. A single mother and her children often get more government aid than a married woman, her husband and children get. Sometimes – more often with young families – the 'single mother' and children get aid when the married mother, her husband and kids would not.
Many haredim allegedly marry illegally like Stein and Weiss did, to exploit government aid programs.
Did Stein and Weiss use their lack of a legal marriage to do this?
I don't know.
I'm told Stein wanted the civil marriage but Weiss refused it.
Even so, clergy are not legally allowed to perform marriages if the couple doesn't have a civil marriage license. But this is New York State, after all, and it is Brooklyn, and corruption and malfeasance is the norm, not the exception.
But once a marriage is illegally performed, state family courts recognize it like they recognize other common-law marriages.
Government agencies that provide aid would do the same – if they could prove the marriage took place and that the couple were actually living together.
But these government agencies have weak enforcement and don't look too hard to find these cases of cheating, especially when they are tied to well-connected and large voting blocs.
Whether Stein and Weiss were welfare cheats or not, what Weiss is doing is wrong.
But as long as haredi women continue to risk the lives and the lives of their future children by marrying in a system that treats them as chattel and can easily doom them to a life of misery and loneliness, there will be many more Rivky Steins.
The answer is for haredi girls to refuse these marriages and to refuse ketubas – documents that once, many hundreds of years ago, protected women – that are now essentially nothing more than instruments of extortion and pain.
There have been many stories of agunahs made public over the past few years.
Haredi girls can no longer say they haven't been warned.
Opt out, or risk your lives.
If you choose the latter, realize your fate is, at least partially, your own fault.
You could end up like this: