June 16, 2024
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June 16, 2024
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Few Mazel Tovs at Vegas Wedding

Monsey—There are many who say the plight of agunot is overstated. There are those who roll their eyes when the subject comes up and mutter that there are two sides to every story every time someone brings up the subject of recalcitrant husbands. They say women exaggerate when they talk about men who won’t give their wives gets unless they get full custody of the children, full community property and whatever else they can get their hands on before—and if—they hand it over.

Last week, when International Agunah Day was observed because of its link to the Fast of Esther, the bleak scenario described by many agunot came to pass. A husband made outrageous demands, which his wife did not meet, and so he did not give her a get, and yet he managed to find a Jewish court to grant him permission of 100 rabbis (heter meah rabbanim)  to remarry. With a wife left in limbo, he married his third wife in Las Vegas. The man’s name was Meir Kin. His agunah’s name is Lonna. She granted JLBC an interview this week.

But before she did, last week, outside a Las Vegas wedding hall, protestors gathered, unbeknownst to her, on her behalf. Students from the Shalhevet School in LA were led to Vegas by their principal, Rabbi Ari Segal. Some people were with the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, affiliated with Yeshiva University, and there were those rallied by RabbiYosef  Kanefsky of B’nai David – Judea Congregation in Los Angeles. It was not the first time Mr. Kin had been confronted with agunah activists. They showed up in front of his home in LA in 2009, but he was not shamed into granting a get. This time, someone finally noticed and the story made it into the New York Times last week.

In a telephone interview with JLBC, Ms. Kin, 52, a real estate agent, said she read of the protests on her behalf. “He’s a bigamist,” she said.

Not so, according to an Internet post by Mishpat Tsedek, an anonymous haredi website that seems to be linked to the beis din who granted him the heter meah rabbanim. It is defending Mr. Kin and proclaims  his innocence, calling Ms. Kin a false agunah, her supporters “militant feminists” and the Jewish press and those who protest “unscrupulous organizations.” He accuses Ms. Kin of attempting to strip Mr. Kin of his halachic rights. Mishpat Tsedek also claims Mr. Kin filed a get (divorce document) with the Beth Din Zedek Kedushas Levi in Monsey. The site also attacks ORA.

Ms. Kin said, yes, a get is filed but according to the Beth Din Zedek Kedushas Levi, in order to be given the document all she has to do is give up total custody of her son and pay the judges $500,000.

Those conditions are not in the post defending Mr. Kin, who left New York for California after Ms. Kin initially filed for divorce in 2005. This put him out of New York’s jurisdiction and far away from enforcement of the “get” law passed in New York in 1982. According to that law, “a matrimonial action is an action in equity. One of the doctrines of equity is that the court should leave the parties with equal status.” With this law, a woman refused a religious divorce by her husband, and thus refused the right to remarry, civilly has a barrier to remarriage. This allows the issue to be submitted to a fact-finding and mediation panel. Depending on their recommendation, the judge can withhold final judgment on the civil divorce—particularly on key issue of custody and community property.

 

Unfortunately for thousands of women denied gitten by their recalcitrant husbands, the law only exists in New York and in no other state and not in Israel (where the state does have punishments it applies, from taking away licenses to putting people in jail).  There is a version in Canada, and Senator Loretta Weinberg has been asked by some agunah activists to consider introducing such a bill in Trenton.

Ms. Kin said she separated from her husband civilly but not religiously in 2005 because of his controlling nature, his difficult relationships, his cold and insensitive actions with the children, and his penuriousness. “He was unbearable to live with. He made my children’s lives miserable. He took my driver’s license and my credit cards away and made my life unbearable.” She’s been fighting for a get ever since.

For the sake of her children she was given permission by rabbis to get a civil divorce prior to the get in order to protect her children. Ms. Kin said her husband told her from the beginning that he would not give her a get unless she granted him full custody of their son, then a toddler, and $500,000. Though Ms. Kin started divorce proceedings, her attorney said it would be easier to receive a get if Mr. Kin filed first. However, Mr. Kin circumvented the “get” law by moving to California, established residency and six months to the date, filed for an uncontested divorce, which was granted in 2007, leaving Ms. Kin with everything but her freedom to remarry.

Ms. Kin said that although rabbis and organizations had urged Mr. Kin to free her, he refused and was even excommunicated. But not entirely, it turns out. While he is not counted for a minyan or given kebudim, he has still been allowed to daven at two Chabad-Lubavitch centers.

Dr. Michael Berenbaum of the Sigi Ziering Institute, which explores moral and ethical religious issues related to the Holocaust said, “The rabbis who permitted this abomination deserve our scorn. One can be grateful that Chabad does not count him for a minyan or give him honors within the synagogue. But he should not even be allowed to enter. And all of us who respect tradition must insist that Orthodox rabbis solve this problem. There is a way; all that is missing is courage and determination.”

Though Ms. Kin had gone through the process of getting four different batei din to write the get, including one in California, and to issue hazmanot and siruvim  (subpoenas, sort of),  Mr. Kin refused to go anywhere but the highly controversial Beth Din Zedek Kedushas Levi in Monsey, headed by Rabbi Tzvi Dov Abraham.

“He’s been telling everyone that he put a get in escrow with these rabbis,” but what Mr. Kin doesn’t say is that before Ms. Kin can receive the get she has to put $150,000 in escrow with the beis din, sign an arbitration agreement to reopen the civil court case to allow her son to live with his father in Las Vegas. The $150,000 said Ms. Kin is only to open the case, “It would go up to the $500,000.”

The usual price for a beit din to preside over gitten is usually no more than $200.

“In fact I have a letter from the Office of the Rishon LeZion Chief Rabbi of Israel and the President of the Great Rabbinical Court against this Rabbi Tzvi Dov Abraham and his court. According to the letter, as well as a letter dated 2007 from Rabbi Moshe Green, Dean of the Yeshiva of Monsey and a letter from Rabbi Yechiel Tauber, who presides over another beit din in Monsey, even if Ms. Kin paid the money and agreed to the conditions, no one else would recognize her get. They would never perform a wedding for a woman who received a get from Rabbi Tzvi Dov Abraham.

“The “wedding” is a chillul hashem. The protest is a Kiddush Hashem. Those rabbis (who organized the protest) deserve our praise, our admiration, and our gratitude,” said Berenbaum.

Rabbi Kanefsky, a YU musmach, has written about this case, too. He accuses Israel Meir Kin of “poking his finger” in Rabbenu Gershom’s work, work done 1,000 years ago to prevent women from being abused by men who discarded their wives whenever another woman struck their fancy. (Rabbenu Gershom said that both sides needed to accept the get, and if there were violations, the husband should be put in cherem. It ended polygamy in the Ashkenazic world.)

He makes an impassioned plea for Lonna Kin and all agunot. He wrote: “Make no mistake. Israel Meir Kin’s actions are not merely outrageous and despicable. His actions threaten all of our daughters and all of our sisters. I can guarantee you that at this very moment there are men who are watching, waiting to see whether Israel Meir Kin gets away with this. And if he does, there will be more Israel Meir Kins. And every single married Jewish woman will be shorn of the protection Rabbenu Gershom had afforded women for the past millennium.

“If you know Israel Meir Kin, a physician’s assistant now residing in Las Vegas, Nevada, or if you know someone who knows him, you must act now. Bring whatever legal form of social or economic pressure to bear on him that you can. This is a moment that has the potential to wreak havoc and misery for generations to come—unless we act to stop it.”

By Anne Phyllis Pinzow

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