Accused of Domestic Violence
September 24, 2004 –– The following note was forward to The Awareness Center from Rabbi Mark Dratch:
Sam Rosenbloom is owner of the succah.com. He has refused to give his wife a get (a Jewish divorce decree). He also is non-complaint with the Beit-din (Jewish court panel). Until he gives a get, his wife cannot remarry. Please do not buy from his website. Let him know that this is unacceptable behavior.
Table of Contents:
- Definition - Seruv
- The Baltimore Bais Din (06/17/2004)
- 'Unchain your wife' Gaithersburg protesters urge man to give wife religious divorce (08/24/2004)
- Getora (08/24/2004)
- OU Strongly Recommends Not Buying from Site (08/28/2004)
- OU - Succah Website Owner Flouts Beth Din; Denies Wife a Get. OU Strongly Recommends Not Buying from Site (09/24/2004)
- Note From Rabbi Mark Dratch (09/24/2004)
- Jewish divorce protests lead to Gaithersburg ordinance (03/22/2006)
- Picketing at homes restricted (04/05/2006)
- City ready to halt home protest (04/15/2006)
- Mother: No need to be concerned about her children (04/05/2006)
- Ancient Divorce Laws' Modern Quandary (10/05/2006) Jewish Divorce Case Grabs Public Eye (10/06/2006)
- Orthodox Jewish women 'get' divorce support (02/27/2007)
- Important announcement (08/29/2007)
- Gaithersburg, MD - OU: Boycott Succah.com (09/20/2007)
Seruv is a document indicating that a person refuses to show up at beis din (Jewish religious court), or otherwise shows contempt of court. In most cases, the seruv would include a request that the person be shunned from business and synagogue honors. When really bad, it will trigger protests and picketing in front of the person's home and/or place of business. But in all cases, it means the other claimant has halachic permission to pursue the matter in civil courts.
The Baltimore Bais Din
June 17, 2004
by Sharon Samber, Special to WJW
Washington Jewish Week - August 26, 2004Instead of lazily enjoying a clear and sunny day, a group of Jews stood outside a man's house last Sunday, shouting at him to divorce his wife.
About 40 people gathered on a quiet Gaithersburg street, chanting slogans and holding signs intended to shame Sam Rosenbloom into giving his wife a get, a Jewish bill of divorce.
The Rosenblooms received a civil divorce five years ago, after 13 years of marriage. According to Jewish law, when a couple gets divorced, the man is to present the woman with a get. Without one, a woman is forbidden to remarry and is therefore called an agunah, literally a chained or an anchored woman.
"Sam Rosenbloom, unchain your wife!" the group clamored.
Jewish communities have long tried to deal with the problem of agunot. In talmudic days, the Jewish courts used their authority to beat men until they agreed to give a get. Some communities excommunicated husbands who would not grant a divorce.
Times have changed, but the Orthodox movement is still struggling with the issue of agunot, trying to find a way to prevent the problem without changing Jewish law.
Reaching across geographic lines, last Sunday's protest was partly organized by the New York-based Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) and supported by the Washington-area Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA).
Many of the protesters came from Baltimore, where (NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom lives.
ORA works with Jewish courts, rabbis, attorneys, psychologists and social workers to resolve current agunah cases and eliminate future problems.
JCADA president Barbara Zackheim said although only a few agunot have called her organization, their problem is serious. "It's the last vestige of abuse that a husband can perpetrate on his wife," she said. "It"s incumbent on the Jewish community to help."
This was the third protest to support (NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom, and there may be more to come.
It was unclear whether Sam Rosenbloom was home at the time of the protest. Rosenbloom is currently in contempt of the Baltimore Bais Din because he has refused to appear before that Jewish court and grant his wife a get.
Rosenbloom could not be reached for comment.
Since Jewish law states that a man must give a get of his own free will, the protesters found themselves needing to be both aggressive and deferential.
"We do the best we can," said Etta Vogel, one of the women who came in from Baltimore.
Positive thinking is essential, agreed her friend Molly Griner. "We never give up," she added.
Griner was an agunah for 36 years until her "ex" husband died. She empathized with (NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom and her four children. "It hurts a lot," Griner said.
Bruce Luchansky of Baltimore, the protest's unofficial leader, said other creative ideas such as public advertising or an e-mail campaign might be employed in the future.
A few people suggested picketing Rosenbloom's business, and Luchansky stressed the importance of remaining lawful.
The protests are lawful but still grating on the nerves of the neighbors. One neighbor, who declined to give his name, drowned out the sounds of "Unchain Your Wife" and "Free Your Wife, Free Your Soul" with his car radio. He said he didn't understand what the problem was since the couple had been divorced for years.
Derrick Cheung, who lives across the street, said it was hard for him to fully understand the situation since he isn't Jewish, but he could see both sides of the argument.
In an interview Sunday night, (NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom said that she was extremely grateful to all the people who went to support her. She had turned to ORA for help after her husband had physically abused her.
Although she has done all she can through the beit din, she said her husband told her once he would "never, ever" divorce her.
"It shocks me I'm in this situation," she said.
Rosenbloom is hopeful that prenuptial agreements in which the husband and wife agree to refer their marital dispute to an arbitration panel for a decision, as well as changes in civil law, will help prevent other women from becoming agunot.
A New York law (commonly referred to as the "get law") requires anyone who had a religious marriage ceremony and petitions for a civil divorce to demonstrate to the court that there is no impediment to remarriage. A similar bill was proposed in the Maryland legislature in 1999 and in 2000, but failed.
Rosenbloom is unhappy that Jewish leaders did not galvanize around the issue.
"The Jewish community is so darn passive, it's afraid of rocking the boat," she said. "Rabbis and community leaders have to realize it's a horrible situation."
Orthodox rabbis are hoping prenuptial agreements and community pressure will eventually be enough to eradicate the issue of agunot.
Rabbi Elly Krimsky, the assistant rabbi at Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah in Potomac, talked about the Rosenbloom case in his sermon last Saturday.
Krimsky, who joined Sunday's protest, said he would not officiate at a wedding without a prenuptial agreement. But when it comes to community pressure, there is a fine line between forcing and influencing, he said.
"We're struggling," he said. "We"re looking for ways to help."
The use of prenuptial agreements is becoming more and more prevalent, according to Rabbi Yona Reiss, a lawyer and the director of the Beth Din of America, an Orthodox rabbinical court.
The Conservative movement encourages prenuptial agreements and also accepts a change to the ketubah (Jewish wedding document) that is an attempt to guarantee that both parties will come before a beit din and live by that court's decision.
The clause states either the husband or the wife can summon the other party to appear before a beit din to discuss the marital conflicts, and accept that there may be civil penalties if they refuse. Referred to as the "Lieberman clause," the change is named after the talmudic expert professor Saul Lieberman.
Conservative authorities also are willing to annul a marriage in the case of a recalcitrant husband. Reform and Reconstructionist authorities do not require a get.
Reiss could not answer how many agunot cases the Beth Din of America is involved in, saying only that there were a number of pending cases. "One such case is too many," he said. "And there's more than one case."
Succah Website Owner Flouts Beth Din; Denies Wife a Get.
OU Strongly Recommends Not Buying from Site.
OU - September 28, 2004
The owner of the website described below, www.succah.com (note: with this exact spelling only!), is in violation of Jewish law, in that he has not given his wife a get, a Jewish divorce decree. He has failed to comply with an order issued by the Baltimore Beit Din (Jewish court). Until he gives his wife a get, she is not permitted to remarry under Jewish law.
Sam Rosenbloom has a seruv issued against him by the Baltimore Beit Din. A copy of the seruv can be viewed at http://www.getora.com/seiruvim.htm.
Mr. Rosenbloom owns and operates an on-line succah business at www.succah.com (note: with this exact spelling only!). We strongly recommend that no Jewish person buy from his website, that no synagogue grant him an aliyah or other religious honor or benefit, and that no Jewish family invite Mr. Rosenbloom into their home or otherwise provide him with Yom Tov or Shabbat hospitality.
If you have a question regarding this announcement, please contact your local Orthodox rabbi for the appropriate guidance. If you do not have an Orthodox rabbi available, you may email email@example.com for the name of an Orthodox rabbi in your area.
Note From Rabbi Mark Dratch
JSAFE - September 24, 2004
Sam Rosenbloom is owner of the succah.com. He has refused to give his wife a get (a Jewish divorce decree). He also is non-complaint with the Beit-din (Jewish court panel). Until he gives a get, his wife cannot remarry. Please do not buy from his website. Let him know that this is unacceptable behavior.
by Jaime Ciavarra
Gazette - April 5, 2006
Jewish protesters who have picketed a Gaithersburg man’s home for several years won’t stop their protests, despite a new law the City Council passed Monday night, a religious leader says.
The group of 15 to 30 people, who can no longer stand outside of a private residence, will instead chant and carry signs while marching through the Walnut Grove neighborhood, pressuring Sam Rosenbloom to grant his wife a get, or Jewish bill or divorce.
‘‘We expect to alter our peaceful demonstrations...[and] continue to clear our activities with the Gaithersburg police department,” Rabbi Moshe Hauer of Baltimore, one of the group’s organizers, wrote in an e-mail.
The ordinance, which was drafted after Rosenbloom complained to the city, prohibits picketing in front of, or adjacent to, a private residence, provided that it is not the person’s sole place of business or during a public meeting.
Protesters are still permitted to march in the area, the document says.
The issue could get more complicated, as Rosenbloom and Gaithersburg police have indicated they have different interpretations of the law.
Rosenbloom, who maintains he has been harassed by the group for three years, said he expects the protesters to continue moving past his home, and his neighborhood, during a march. ‘‘Targeted harassment,” he said, should not be allowed.
Lt. Chris Bonvillain of the Gaithersburg police department doesn’t agree.
‘‘If they want to march around the block in a circle, that’s OK,” he said.
To physically stop and picket a particular house, however, is now considered criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 or 90 days in jail.
Neighbors of the townhouse community have rallied behind Rosenbloom, saying the protesters, who are mostly from Baltimore, are outside agitators that are disrupting the peace and quiet of their homes.
Depending how the ordinance is enforced, their disdain for the Sunday morning protest may not be relieved.
The City Council passed the law unanimously, but did not discuss the matter that is largely insulated by a religious quandary.
The protesters, organized by a New York-based Jewish group, say the picketing will stop when Rosenbloom gives his former wife a religious document that would allow her to go on with her romantic life. Protesting has long been a way to apply this social pressure in some sectors of Judaism, religious experts say.
The couple was civilly divorced five years ago, Rosenbloom said.
Rosenbloom, who says he has been deeply hurt by his ex-wife, calls the issue a personal matter, and the ordinance an important step towards protecting a homeowner’s privacy.
‘‘It’s an issue that doesn’t revolve around religion, and I don’t think it’s fair to characterize it that way,” he said. ‘‘It’s about Gaithersburg and targeted harassment.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has called the ordinance, patterned off county law, a ‘‘perverse restriction on freedom of speech.”
City Attorney Cathy Borten has said it mirrors a law upheld in a previous Supreme Court case.
by Eric Fingerhut
Washington Jewish Week - March 22, 2006
Gaithersburg City Hall is the latest battleground in the fight over a local man's refusal to give his ex-wife a get, or Jewish divorce.
The Gaithersburg City Council held a public hearing Monday night on an emergency ordinance that would restrict the protests in front of the house of Gaithersburg resident Sam Rosenbloom. But organizers of the regular Sunday morning demonstrations say that while they will conform to the law, the new regulations will not stop them from continuing their protests until Rosenbloom relents and grants (NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom a get.
The protests, which have been held periodically for almost two years, and in recent months have been occurring on an almost weekly basis, are organized by the New York-based Organization for the Resolution of Agunot. The crowd averaging a dozen to 18 people held signs and chanted slogans such as "Unchain your wife" as a way to "apply social pressure to free" (NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom from her marriage, said ORA founder Yehoshua Zev.
Under Jewish law, when a couple divorces, a woman must receive a get from her ex-husband. Without it, she may not remarry and is considered an agunah, or chained woman.
The proposed ordinance, which Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz said was suggested by Sam Rosenbloom, states that a "person or group of persons must not picket in front of or adjacent to any private residence."
It would not prevent people from "marching in a residential area without stopping at any particular private residence" or picketing a private residence during a "public meeting" at the dwelling or if that residence is the occupant's sole place of business.
The ordinance is virtually identical to a Montgomery County law that was not applicable in the Gaithersburg city limits. A 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld a similar Brookfield, Wisc., law.
The "emergency" designation for the ordinance means only that if passed, the law would take effect immediately instead of needing the customary 15-day wait. Katz said that the city chose that route because the new regulation is so similar to existing county law. A vote is expected April 3.
Council members did not indicate their feelings on the potential change in the law; the public hearing merely provided three minutes each for anyone to express an opinion on the proposal. Of those who did speak, seven, including Sam Rosenbloom, were in favor and only one was opposed.
Leah and Webster Tarpley, Rosenbloom's neighbor, told the council that the protests often woke them up on Sunday mornings.
While the proposed ordinance would not ban protesters from the neighborhood, Webster Tarpley said in an interview that he hopes the requirement that they keep moving would disperse the noise enough so that it would be less of a disturbance.
Leah Tarpley called Rosenbloom a "wonderful" neighbor, and said that the divorce is a "personal matter" that should not be aired publicly.
Rosenbloom said in an interview that he is usually out of the house when the picketers arrive.
Others at the hearing said they felt that the protests are unsafe because protesters gather on an island in the center of the street violate their privacy and even lower property values.
Rabbi Moshe Hauer, (NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom's rabbi and the leader of Orthodox B'nai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation in Baltimore, was the only person to speak in defense of the protests.
"Everyone is interested in living in peace," but "(NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom is not able to live in peace," he said, adding that Sam Rosenbloom could stop the protests by granting a get.
In an interview after the hearing, Hauer noted that the ordinance would not prohibit picketing, just spread it "beyond the house," and that "we will do what we need to do."
But, he added, "we hope it could just be ended" with a get.
"We'll adhere to the restrictions, but there is no way we're going to stop," said Zev.
It has been eight years since the Rosenblooms separated; they were granted a civil divorce almost six years ago. But Sam Rosenbloom refuses to give his ex-wife a get because, he said, she lodged criminal allegations against him which were dropped before coming to trial and has refused to apologize and make restitution.
"Before I agree [to a get], the truth must be accepted and must be told," said Rosenbloom, 46.
He said the dispute began after he asked for joint custody of his then-8-year-old son, one of the couple's four kids, in a meeting with his ex-wife and Hauer citing a book on Jewish law that states that a father should get custody of a son at the age of 8 or above.
He said Hauer told him that the law depends on the father's "religiosity" implying that Rosenbloom's lesser Jewish observance should be a factor.
Hauer called Rosenbloom's citation of Jewish law "selective," but said his own opinion on custody was irrelevant since a legal court, not a rabbi, had ruled on custody.
The rabbi also said that Rosenbloom refused to grant his ex-wife a get well before anything he now cites had occurred.
"It's a moving target," he said of Rosenbloom's charges, noting that the Gaithersburg resident first refused to give a get because he didn't want to end the marriage, and has used other excuses over the years such as not knowing who his ex-wife might bring into the house with his children to deny her the opportunity to get on with her life.
"He just doesn't want to give her a get," Hauer said. "He's been able to move on," and continues to "manipulate the situation."
Hauer also said (NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom has been willing to work on a compromise with her ex-husband, but Sam Rosenbloom has made that difficult.
"She has shown a willingness to discuss certain things, but she can't go to the extent of his demands," he said.
Sam Rosenbloom said no one from the Jewish community has attempted to mediate what he believes would be a just solution with him.
However, Zev, Hauer and Dovid Lefkowitz, a Baltimore organizer of the protests, said their efforts have been fruitless.
Rosenbloom has refused a summons to appear at a Baltimore beit din, or religious court, because he feels such a tribunal would be biased against him.
(NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom said her ex-husband's demands are a continuation of the "controlling" behavior he displayed during the marriage, but said she still hoped that her ex-husband would allow her to be free.
"I have to have hope," she said, adding that the protests buoy her because people who don't even know her are showing they care about her situation.
Gazette - March 15, 2006
Gaithersburg is drafting a law against picketing to prevent a Jewish group from chanting and wielding signs outside a city home.
Around mid-morning on a cool Sunday in February, Walnut Grove resident Mike Wunder heard them shouting: ‘‘Give your wife a get!”
The 15 people organized by a New York religious group faced the house for about an hour, Wunder said, calling on a neighbor to grant his wife a get, a Jewish bill of divorce that religiously allows her to move on with her romantic life.
The occasional picketing has caused a stir among some neighbors, and at least nine residents have complained to Gaithersburg police about the three protests since October, according to the police.
Gaithersburg, which does not have a law against picketing, is looking to adopt an ordinance that prohibits picketing in front of or adjacent to a private residence, provided that it is not the person’s sole place of business or during a public meeting.
Protestors would still be allowed to march in the area, the document says.
The proposal, patterned after a county law, will go to public hearing next week.
The issue illustrates an unusual debate between ancient Jewish law and the modern quandary of protecting a resident’s privacy.
Sam Rosenbloom, who lives at the house and could not be reached for comment, requested the same protection from picketing as those who live under county jurisdiction, Assistant City Manager Frederick Felton said.
But protesting a man’s home or business to show a communities’ disdain for his actions, particularly in divorce, has been supported for centuries in some sectors of Judaism, said Ronald Halber, executive director of the Jewish Communities Relations Council of Greater Washington.
While Rosenbloom and his wife are civilly divorced, he has refused to give his wife a religious document that would allow her to remarry or, in some instances, even date other men. She is considered an agunah, which in Hebrew means ‘‘chained woman.”
‘‘For generations men have used this as a weapon,” Halber said. ‘‘And we get women who are languishing as a result.”
The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot — a New-York based nonprofit group that educates on behalf of these women — have organized the pickets of Rosenbloom’s house, in addition to about 100 other cases in the Northeast since the group formed three years ago, said Yehoshua Zez, an ORA volunteer organizer.
Many of the protesters who make their trek to Gaithersburg on Sunday mornings are from Baltimore, where the wife resides, Zez said. Picketing, he added, is key to the organization’s mission.
‘‘The only way we can deal with this issue is to apply social pressure,” he said.
This social pressure, some say, could dwindle if Gaithersburg’s ordinance is passed.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland argues that Gaithersburg’s draft of the law is a bad policy that could have unintended effects.
According to the document, the protestors may still walk around a residential area, but are not allowed to stop at a particular residence.
‘‘When a group is picketing a particular person, it makes no sense to picket other people who aren’t their target,” said David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland.
The ACLU, he added, will follow the issue.
‘‘It’s obviously a perverse restriction on freedom of speech,” Rocah said.
As for ORA, should the ordinance pass, Zez said protestors will follow all laws and continue their peaceful picketing.
‘‘Everything we do, we follow Jewish and Civil law,” Zez said. ‘‘We don’t mean to do any harm.
‘‘We just want to get a point across.”
Gazette - April 4, 2006
(NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom, Baltimore
I would like to address the letter by Neal Zarin (‘‘Consider the children,” March 29) regarding the protests made on my behalf to secure a Jewish divorce or ‘‘get.” Mr. Zarin expresses concern for my four children.
I left Sam Rosenbloom over eight years ago and received a civil divorce over six years ago. Sam and I were married according to Jewish law, and, thus, are required to be divorced according to Jewish law, a very simple procedure.
After six years of Sam refusing to give me a get, I was approached about having rallies, which have been used successfully before.
Before giving my approval, I discussed the idea with my children, and each one said I should do what needs to be done. Would I and my children have preferred not to have had to take this step? Of course!
Besides for incorrectly assuming that my children do not wholeheartedly support me in my desire to obtain a get, Mr. Zarin makes other assumptions as well — all incorrect. He assumes my children are in the house where the protests are being held. In fact, I have always had full custody of my children and they live in Baltimore with me.
He assumes that because of the publicity that my children are subject to ‘‘ridicule.” In fact, the people in my community, and this includes my children’s peers, are very sensitive. Nobody talks about it with them. Besides, if anyone were foolish enough to make an insensitive remark, my children would quickly set them straight.
Which brings me to the next assumption — that just because their parents are divorced that my children are fragile. In fact, my children are highly motivated, compassionate, friendly, resilient, well-adjusted individuals, who are well-liked by their peers, their neighbors, and their teachers⁄employers.
As far as the potential costs to taxpayers, isn’t it my right as an American to protest?
Unfortunately, people like Mr. Zarin make assumptions, and as my 14-year-old son said, ‘‘Did anybody bother interviewing us? Why does he act like he knows what we think?”
More importantly, as my 19-year-old daughter said, ‘‘People need to understand that your not having a get affects us too! It’s been over eight years. We also want it to be over with already!”
I hope the following quote from Albert Einstein will give Mr. Zarin, Sam Rosenbloom’s neighbors and everyone else who does not understand pause: ‘‘The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
Finally, to the protestors — my children and I feel deep gratitude to all of you. May there be more like you.
By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer - February 5, 2006
(NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom is stuck in a marital netherworld. She and her husband divorced seven years ago in Maryland civil court. But she remains married under Jewish law because he has refused to give her a religious divorce document known in Hebrew as a get .
She can't date, let alone remarry, without violating the tenets of her faith -- and the 44-year-old Orthodox Jew is not about to take that step.
"I truly believe it would be a terrible thing if I acted like I had a get ," said Rosenbloom, an English teacher who lives in Baltimore. "Do I question my faith? Sure. Do I rail against God? Sure. I can always question, but I am not going to give up my Judaism, my religiosity."
Her case illustrates a growing debate among Orthodox Jews and members of other faiths over whether ancient religious laws governing divorce need to be adapted to the modern era. Devout people of all faiths are seeking divorce in higher numbers, experts say, which is putting pressure on religious authorities to loosen restrictions.
Rosenbloom's predicament would have been unusual in an earlier time. Although Jewish law bars a woman from getting a divorce without her husband's consent, she may bring her case to a religious court. The courts in the past could pressure a man who denied his wife a divorce by ordering Jews to boycott his business or barring him access to synagogue.
But such methods are not as effective in an Orthodox Jewish community that has become much more dispersed. Rosenbloom's ex-husband, Sam, who said he is still upset at her after a bitter custody fight, simply ignored the summons from Baltimore's Jewish court and moved to Gaithersburg. He also disregarded a ruling from the same court holding him in contempt.
Women in Rosenbloom's situation are called agunah in Hebrew, which means "chained woman." There are no official figures on the number of agunah, but the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot -- a New York-based group that organizes pickets in front of the houses and businesses of men who refuse to give their wives divorces -- said it has been involved in about 100 cases since it formed less than three years ago. There are thousands of such women in New York alone, according to group member Yehoshua Zev.
Faced with these contemporary quagmires, some Jewish officials are bending and reinterpreting religious law in an effort to join divine purpose with modern mores.
Several Jewish courts in recent years have annulled marriages in cases similar to the Rosenblooms', citing evidence that the marriage was fraudulent -- a misrepresentation by one of the spouses, for example. Many rabbis have criticized those rulings, however, and warned that women who remarry in such cases will be guilty of adultery.
A growing number of Orthodox Jews are signing prenuptial agreements -- documents enforceable in U.S. civil courts -- that require both sides in any future divorce proceeding to use the religious court system and abide by its ruling.
The Beth Din of America, the nation's largest Jewish court, handles more than 300 divorces a year, a number that has been rising steadily, said Rabbi Yona Reiss, the organization's president. Despite its name, the Beth Din of America has no more authority than such local courts as the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington and the Bais Din in Baltimore. The decentralized judicial system has added to the lack of consensus on the issue.
Among Muslims, the rules surrounding divorce vary widely according to interpretation of sharia , or Islamic law. In some parts of the world, only a man can end a marriage -- unless he has legally shared that right with his wife. In other places, a woman can bring the matter before a court. Islamic legal authorities have begun expanding the circumstances in which a court can hear a divorce as well as the legitimate grounds for divorce to include, for example, incompatibility.
Divorce is forbidden among Catholics, though a marriage can be annulled if a church tribunal rules that it never existed -- if, for example, one party lacked the capacity to consent or it was never consummated. The Vatican issued a streamlined procedure last year for Catholics seeking an annulment. Among the changes was one that allows a church appeals court to uphold an annulment even if it disagrees with the initial tribunal on the reasons the marriage should be voided.
Vatican officials emphasized that the changes were merely bureaucratic and that the grounds for annulments had not changed, although they said the number of annulments granted in the United States has gone from fewer than 350 in 1968 to tens of thousands in recent years.
Southern Baptists launched their own debate about divorce in 2000 when Charles Stanley, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a popular television preacher, got divorced.
Long-standing tradition in that denomination holds that men are disqualified from being pastors once they divorce, based on the biblical mandate that ministers be "blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior." But some questioned how to apply those words, and an official at Stanley's church in Atlanta said to loud applause that Stanley would stay in his position, his "personal pain" having validated his ability to minister.
Debate over divorce has increased in the Orthodox Jewish community as efforts to help such women as Rosenbloom have escalated in recent years. In addition to the use of prenuptials and annulments, New York's legislature has passed laws that put Jewish men who won't grant a religious divorce at a disadvantage in their civil divorce. Maryland lawmakers introduced similar legislation unsuccessfully for four straight years in the late 1990s; opponents said it was an unconstitutional mixing of church and state.
The Jewish Press, one of the nation's largest Jewish newspapers, each week runs the names of men who have divorce-related court orders against them in an effort to embarrass them.
"The agunah problem is a very serious one. [It] is one aspect of a greater recognition of family problems that maybe we've been sweeping under the carpet," said Rabbi Irving Breitowitz, a University of Maryland law professor who wrote a book about agunah. "We are bound by the principles, but we can try to devise new mechanisms."
Among the protests held by agunah advocates was one a week ago at Sam Rosenbloom's home in Gaithersburg. A dozen people came out in the rain and began, as usual, with a prayer from the book of Psalms, asking God to hear their plea.
"Sam Rosenbloom, give your wife a get ," they chanted. The protests started two years ago and have occurred almost weekly for the past month.
But is this what God intended? To Naomi Klass Mauer, an editor at the Jewish Press and a former agunah, the problem is not God or the law but human beings.
"There is no way the intention would be that a woman should be held up," said Mauer, whose ex-husband withheld a get for four years. "But there are a lot of laws I don't fully understand the reason for, but I believe. I believe that the Torah is divine law. Whether or not I can understand everything with my finite ability -- it would be nice. But just because I can't doesn't mean that I am going to discount the law or pick and choose."
(NAME REOMVED) Rosenbloom also said the experience has not shaken her faith. "Can people pervert the law? Yes, and that's what Sam is doing," she said.
Sam Rosenbloom does not see it that way. He believes the Orthodox community took his wife's side because they felt he was not observant enough. Harsh, untrue things were said about him, he said, adding that when (NAME REMOVED) apologizes and tells "the truth," she will get her divorce. To him, that seems in line with God's intention.
"It's not a matter of complying with the [Jewish court] or a Jewish thing at all. It's about me being devalued as a human being," said Rosenbloom, who was raised in the less strict Conservative Jewish denomination. "I personally look to religion as a moral compass. But I am an independent thinker."
His ex-wife said she sees religion more as a rule book than a compass.
"Look, I don't think it's supposed to be that we say, 'This is God's will,' and we just sit there. I think we are supposed to put forth our maximum effort," she said, noting that in addition to the protests in front of her ex-husband's house, several Maryland rabbis have told their congregants not to buy from an Internet site on which he sells religious goods. "And I pray. I pray a lot."
The legislation “releases captives,” said Cynthia Ohana, a Baltimore City woman whose struggle to get an Orthodox Jewish divorce from her husband, Ephraim Ohana, launched city protests.
“This is a hostage situation. We are being held for ransom,” she said before the House Judiciary Committee in Annapolis.
Orthodox Jewish law prevents women from remarrying until their husbands give them a “get,” or religious divorce.
For women who don’t receive a get to remarry, they must do so outside of the synagogue, and any subsequent children could not be Orthodox Jews.
Del. Sandy Rosenberg, D-Baltimore City, sponsored a bill that would require men to sign an affidavit promising they remove all religious barriers to remarriage when a couple files for a civil divorce.
Rosenberg’s bill failed in 1998, but he said he made a better case this year with the testimony of Cynthia Ohana and (NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom, another “agunah,” the Hebrew word for “anchored.”
Ephraim Ohana argued that the legislation violated the U.S. Constitution and his religion.
“A get can only be voluntarily given,” he said. “Any coercion invalidates a get.”
Cynthia Ohana, who divorced Ephraim in 2005, and (NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom, who divorced Sam Rosenbloom, of Gaithersburg, in 1999, have held protests to call attention to their plights.
This bill wouldn’t help them because they had civil divorces.
Some delegates questioned whether the legislation entangled the state with religion, but several rabbis testified that a constitutional precedent exists in New York, where a similar law was passed 20 years ago.
“We are treading very closely on the separation of church and state … and we have to be very cautious here, but I believe we have accomplished that,” said Del. Benjamin Kramer, D-Montgomery County.
“Let us not have two other women sitting here in five years” asking for the same measure, said Nathan Lewin, the attorney who wrote New York’s law in 1983.
By Laura Berg
Baltimore Jewish Times - OCTOBER 06, 2006
Cynthia Ohana says she plans to do whatever it takes to obtain a get, the divorce document required under traditional Jewish law, from her ex-husband, Ephraim Ohana.
"I've learned to be my own best advocate," said Mrs. Ohana, who secured a civil divorce from Mr. Ohana in May 2005 after 19 years of marriage. "I'm not going away."
Mrs. Ohana, 40, has recently received a good deal of local print and broadcast media attention, and the resulting buzz, as part of a community push to free her from remaining an agunah, "anchored down" in Hebrew. Until she receives a get, Mrs. Ohana is prohibited by Jewish law from remarrying.
"I would like to be in a healthy relationship for me and for my children," said Mrs. Ohana, who has sole custody of her five children. Mr. Ohana does have visitation rights and spends time with his children, several of whom still live in the area.
On Sept. 18, a rally attended by a few dozen people was held outside the University of Baltimore School of Law, where Mr. Ohana is a student.
"It was very important to do it right before the holidays, hoping that maybe it would appeal to [Mr. Ohana's] conscience," said Mrs. Ohana.
The rally, initiated by Mrs. Ohana and sponsored by the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot Inc. (ORA) in New York City, was the community's third public attempt to pressure Mr. Ohana, 44, into granting a religious divorce.
Two other rallies were held in June and July, both outside of Mr. Ohana's home in Upper Park Heights.
The case also has gained attention in the Reform community, which does not make Jewish religious divorce decrees mandatory.
Rabbi Rex D. Perlmeter, of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, attended one of the rallies outside of Mr. Ohana's home. He said the case cuts across denominational lines because "this is not just an Orthodox issue. This is an issue of Jewish justice."
Although Mr. Ohana gave a lengthy, detailed interview to the Baltimore Jewish Times last week regarding all accusations against him, he decided to retract his comments, per a previous agreement with the Jewish Times. Instead, he issued a statement (see sidebar). Mr. Ohana's civil divorce attorney, Roanne Handler, also declined to comment.
Mrs. Ohana disputed her husband's statement, saying that she sent 13 letters to Rabbi Simcha Shafran, secretary of the Baltimore Bais Din, to request a hearing date. She said that she received permission from Rabbi Shafran to sue in secular court when Mr. Ohana refused to come.
Mr. Ohana's father, Rabbi Samuel Ohana, of Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel in Los Angeles, and a dayan (judge) recognized by the chief rabbinate in Israel, said he is still hopeful that Mrs. Ohana will receive a get.
"I have recommended to my son that he give the get," said Rabbi Ohana. "However, I was disappointed how the Jewish community has acted in a selective way," referring to his belief that other situations were handled quietly.
"He is not an abuser and has been a good husband and a good provider," Rabbi Ohana added. "This is a man who went to work as a plumber in the winter to provide for his family."
The Counseling, Helpline & Aid Network for Abused Women (CHANA), a program of the Women's Department of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore became involved when Mrs. Ohana became a client in September 2003.
In a final protective order, dated Dec. 21, 2004, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Sylvester B. Cox found that on Dec. 13, 2004, Mr. Ohana put Mrs. Ohana "in fear of imminent serious bodily harm."
Additionally, on May 31, 2005, as part of the divorce judgment, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Audrey S. Carrion found Mr. Ohana "voluntarily impoverished himself." Judge Carrion ordered him to pay future monthly child support as well as outstanding child support and alimony.
Mrs. Ohana's complaint to the court for divorce included that Mr. Ohana engaged in several adulterous affairs, according to Larry Feldman, an attorney for Mrs. Ohana who said he is working pro bono on the case.
For the past eight months, the Rabbinic Council of Greater Baltimore, also known as the Vaad HaRabbonim, has banned Mr. Ohana from area synagogues and Jewish homes. In a letter posted in area synagogues dated Feb. 17, 2006, Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, president of the Rabbinic Council, wrote, "Mr. Ohana has conducted himself in a manner that is unacceptable and that will not be tolerated within our community. As such, we declare Mr. Ohana persona-non-grata within our community."
Rabbi Moshe Hauer of B'nai Jacob Shaarei Zion, and a member of the Rabbinic Council, added, "We're trying every which way to bring across to Ephraim that granting the get is the right and appropriate thing to do. Once he does that, we look forward to welcoming him back to the community and we will offer him every opportunity to appear before a Bais Din."
Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz, of Woodside Synagogue in Silver Spring and a professor of law at University of Maryland Baltimore, also sympathizes with Mrs. Ohana.
"Unfortunately, there are people who use the get to victimize, and this is a very repulsive and repugnant thing to do," said Rabbi Breitowitz. "Even if there are disagreements, a get should not be used as blackmail or a bargaining chip."
But it has not just been Baltimore's religious Jewish community that is supporting Mrs. Ohana. The Awareness Center, Inc., the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse in Rockville, Jewish Women International in Washington, D.C., and CHANA are some of the agencies involved.
"At the rallies, I was surrounded by Jews, non-Jews, women working for the House of Ruth, as well as rabbis from each denomination of Judaism, because after hearing Cynthia's story, people in the community want to go out and support her," said Nancy F. Aiken, director of CHANA.
Such public pressure is often seen as a step of last resort.
Yehoshua Zev, director of ORA, said the non-profit group organizes rallies for agunot throughout the country. Over the past two years, more than 15 rallies also have been held in support of (NAME REMOVED) Rosenbloom, whose husband, Sam Rosenbloom of Gaithersburg, still refuses to give her a get, even though a civil divorce was finalized in 1999, Mr. Zev said.
Mrs. Ohana said she hopes her case will dissuade other husbands who refuse to grant gets to their ex-wives.
"It's validating to have the community's support," she said. "The exposure is terrifying. But I know there's another guy out there who is going to try and pull this same stunt, and I hope instead he thinks, ‘No, I don't want it be like what happened with Ohana.'" n
The following statement was provided to the Baltimore Jewish Times by Ephraim Ohana:
I have not been vocal about the tragic difficulties in this divorce because I feel it is very detrimental to my children's wellbeing. While it would be too involved to address all the issues, I would like to highlight one.
A Jewish divorce is most often worked out in a Bais Din, and usually as a legally binding arbitration. Cynthia and I signed two agreements to enter into arbitration through the Baltimore Bais Din. She continuously breached these agreements and chose to address issues in other arenas, which included false allegations and malicious abuse of the judicial system.
Over the past year-and-a-half, my attorney has sent several letters to the Bais Din and met with its representatives in an effort to pressure her to abide by those agreements. She refused and the Bais Din remained silent. I have also made many attempts to offer to resolve our differences through negotiation asking only that she cease the hostilities she continues to instigate. She has refused all of these attempts. More recently, Judge Kathleen Sweeney recommended that we enter into mediation. She again refused.
There are still many outstanding issues that need resolution, including the get, and my offer to resolve them still stands.
Getorah.com - August 9, 2007
As you know, either a man or woman refusing to give or accept a get to allow a marriage to fully dissolve thereby holding the spouse hostage, is entirely unacceptable and intolerable. Our community takes this issue very seriously and has made great efforts to help resolve conflicts from recalcitrant spouses both in the past and unfortunately in the present. I ask you therefore, to please respect the announcement below from the OU and to not purchase from succah.com or have any connection with its proprietor, Sam Rosenbloom.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Senior Rabbi
Boca Raton Synagogue
Seruv Against Sam Rosenbloom (A Seruv is a declaration that a personis in contempt of a beit din a Jewish Court of Law)
August 09, 2007
The owner of the website described below, www.succah.com, is in violation of Jewish law, in that he has not given his wife a get, a Jewish divorce decree. He has failed to comply with an order issued by the Baltimore Bet Din (Jewish court). Until he gives his wife a get, she is not permitted to remarry under Jewish law.
Sam Rosenbloom has a seruv issued against him by the Baltimore Bet Din. A copy of the seruv can be viewed at www.getora.com/seiruvim.htm (See above)
Mr. Rosenbloom owns and operates an on-line sukkah business at http://www.succah.com . We strongly recommend that no Jewish person buy from his website, that no synagogue grant him an aliyah or other religious honor or benefit, and that no Jewish family invite Mr. Rosenbloom into their home or otherwise provide him with Yom Tov or Shabbat hospitality.
Jewish Week - September 20, 2007
Gaithersburg, MD - One online supplier of sukkah kits is again the subject of a boycott by several Orthodox organizations.
The Orthodox Union for the last several years has advised its supporters on its Web site not to patronize www.succah.com because its owner, Sam Rosenbloom, a resident of Gaithersburg, Md., refuses to grant a religious divorce to his ex-wife; the couple had a civil divorce eight years ago.
“We strongly recommend that no Jewish person buy from this Web site, that no synagogue grant him an aliyah or other religious honor or benefit, and that no Jewish family invite Mr. Rosenbloom into their home or otherwise provide him with Yom Tov or Shabbat hospitality,” the OU Web site states.
The Baltimore Bais Din in 2004 issued a seruv, or contempt-of-court citation, against Rosenbloom, alleging that he is not in compliance with its decree that he issue a get to his ex-wife, who is not free to date again or remarry until halachically freed from her previous marriage.
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