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Divorce in Our Community: A Plea
Author: rosenfeld, rabbi martin

Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld Divorce takes its toll on many individuals, in a ripple effect. It is no wonder that divorce is frequently listed among the five biggest traumas in the adult experience. Unfortunately, its negative impact affects multiple generations, with children often the greatest victims of all. It is estimated that more than half of the marriages in the U.S. will end in divorce. I have not seen comparable statistics for Jewish marri …
Divorce and the Beth Din System
Author: rosenfeld, rabbi martin

The other night, I watched a YouTube video showing “dueling protestors” confronting one another during a rally called in Brooklyn. The controversy regarded the recent matter of Agunah and a subsequent Facebook campaign aimed at eliciting a Get for Tamar Friedman of Philadelphia. This is an ongoing controversy, and I will not use this space to comment on this matter in any way. I have little uncontroverted information at my disposal with which to offer any thoughts to Matzav readers. I would like however to talk about Get and Agunah in the context of future deliberations. I believe there is much that has yet to be resolved in how we as a community deal with this matter.

Everyone’s experience is shaped by what they have personally observed. For a number of years in my adult life I have been involved in divorce matters as both a Menahel of a Bais Din and, more recently, as a divorce mediator. I believe there are usually five reasons why a spouse (husband or wife; the cooperation of both is needed for a Get to take place) will not cooperate in the Get process:

1. The spouse is battling mental or emotional issues. In such cases, there is even a halachic question as to whether a get can take place until mental health is established. The family and friends of the affected party (or the ex-spouse himself or herself), need to assure that there is proper therapeutic intervention for the “patient”. This may delay the Get process but it is a tragic situation which rises to the level of “ones” or unintended non-cooperation.

2. There are times where the party whose cooperation is needed is simply feeling the effects of the trauma of a dissolved relationship. They will not withhold the Get indefinitely, but they request additional time to deal with their feelings of being overwhelmed. It is likely that such a situation will need the proper testimony or documentation from mental health practitioners, but the request for more time before one will participate in the Get process, should be viewed with much seriousness by the involved Bais Din.

3. Some parties are simply spiteful. They wish to punish their spouse for the “audacity” of requesting a divorce. It always strikes me during mediations how it is so jarring to see how love for a party can turn, over time, into bitterness and hate. I have little sympathy for such spiteful parties and the Bais Din needs to remind such parties that it is time to “move on” in life. Bitterness and hate will not only consume the other spouse, it will affect the offending party, most of all. Living with hateful feelings will not make life very enjoyable for the party emitting this hatred. Perhaps this advice of the need to constructively plan for the future can be dispensed by the Bais Din in a manner that can be heard.

4. Some parties are going to use the Get process as a bargaining chip for money. There is nothing I can offer such parties in the way of understanding. This is the ultimate Chilul HaShem and it causes our community much embarrassment.

When I was in yeshiva high school, I had a history teacher who was Jewish but not known to be observant. He always suspected that there was cheating on his exams. His response was simple Before exams, he would remind us that we were yeshiva students. His words ring in my ears: “If you cheat on my test, you will be making a mockery of everything they teach you here in the morning.” There is little else that needs to be said about this category.

5. A party may be prepared to give a Get, but only after all matters in dispute have been resolved. Of late, I have seen many quoting Rav Moshe Feinstein as having been a proponent of such behavior. From my own review of Igros Moshe, I cannot say with definitiveness that was indeed Rav Moshe’s opinion. However, I do know that many Poskim offer such advice to those embroiled in divorce disputes. The only suggestion I would make is that perhaps Batei Din could see whether in such cases a Get could first be written and them kept in escrow until all conditions are met. However, I do not claim any special halachic expertise in this matter and all such questions need to be discussed with local Poskim and /or Batei Din should they arise. No two situations will be alike and these matters require much deliberation.

The above categories may not be all-inclusive, but I believe one can conjecture that more than 95% of Get disputes, fall into one of these categories. One category not covered above is the situation where one party is no longer frum and has little interest in cooperating. When I was a Bais Din Menahel I often advised non-observant Jews that the Get was needed to give them closure on the marital relationship. I was gratified to see how many parties told me afterwards that they believed that the Get process had indeed provided such closure, and they were happy that they had decided to participate fully in this process.

Now on to the Facebook campaign. Some think this was the ultimate “trump card” and some call it the ultimate Chilul HaShem. What can one do, and not do, after a Seruv has been issued and a spouse has been ordered to cooperate in the Get process? A Seruv does not always bring on the intended results of the Bais Din. I would like to make a modest proposal. A Bais Din clearly needs to schedule a hearing on the Get before any Seruv can issue. What happens post-Seruv? My proposal would be to then send the non-participating party a notice of a new Hearing. This hearing will review what actions the aggrieved party may take to publicize the Seruv. A party may not show for a hearing on the Get because s/he does not wish to go to that particular Bais Din. Perhaps they fear a pro-woman, pro-man, etc bias. This decision not to show led to the issuance of a Seruv. However, they should have the right to appear before this Bais Din or, at least, send documentation to the Bais Din, concerning any reasons for their non-compliance before rallies, writing campaigns may begin. If they choose not to appear, the moving party still needs to be guided by Bais Din mandates.

A Bais Din needs to consider that innocent parties may suffer from a Seruv. If a party is non-compliant, a rally outside their home may be halachically appropriate. Should the same apply to rallies before their Rav, their elderly parents, siblings, etc? All this needs to be under the direction of the Bais Din. If Get-related discussions will be reduced to writing, the text of such banners, petitions, should likewise be under the aegis of the Bais Din. It is simply wrong for everyone to shout in unison: “Ready,Fire,Aim”. These matters can harm the safety and well-being of children, family members, rabbanim. etc. Guidance of a Bais Din is absolutely crucial. Rav Yisrael Salanter once stated it succinctly: “Not everything thought has to be said. Not everything said has to be written down.”

The Batei Din are our bulwark against the potential of massive Chilul HaShem. They will guide us in proper halachic behavior. No activity regarding a get should be done without Halachic guidance that is specific and put in writing. The get process will be given a new sense of order and oversight. We will all benefit from this.

One last comment from Rav Yisroel Salanter. He described the person who in rushing to his seat in Shul, bumps into a fellow Jew and does not apologize. Rav Yisroel effectively described this as “Yotza Scharo B’Hefsedo”. (He has lost any gain he might have had.) The application of the above discussion to the YouTube incident described above is., I believe, self-evident. Every situation in family matters is unique. One size does not fit all in these delicate and charged Get matters. May we all be guided by our leaders and teachers

Rabbi Martin Rosenfeld is a Divorce Mediator in Fair Lawn,NJ. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

Google and You/Rabbi Martin Rosenfeld
Author: rosenfeld, rabbi martin

Article appeared frequently on ways to optimize the use of Google in internet searches. One suggested use: Use Google to find out what time it is in any spot around the world. Surely a valuable tool. In my musings, I pondered whether there is any method known to humankind that can tell us where we are. How do we know how we are faring in the human search for self-realization and meaning.

For the most part, the answer to this question will lie with the theologians and philosophers.  However, if you need a good self-test I would suggest the following: When you confront a difficult time, decision, etc. resist the temptation to fight or confront the other party.  Brute force, intimidations, et al are not always the answer. Try meaningful dialogue and discussion.  Learn how to speak and how to listen.  How can one come to this point? You cal learn from your neighborhood mediator, therapist,etc. A mediator will try to guide the parties to sharing information, learning to listen, and learning how to speak. These skills will serve you well in life. Want to know where you are in life, next time a crisis looms? Dialogue. Listen. Share information. You will not be disappointed with the results.

Rabbi Martin Rosenfeld is a Fair Lawn mediator, attorney, and former Menahel. 


The Third Person in the Room/Rabbi Martin Rosenfeld
Author: rosenfeld, rabbi martin

Parties who find it difficult to communicate often do better with a mediator in the room. Why is this so? I believe people learn to control emotions and anger when a new party arrives on the scene. This might be the "Eddie Haskell effect " (remember "Leave it to Beaver") of trying to impress a third party. More likely it is simply the fact that the interpersonal dynamic changes when a new party enters the fray. Do not underestimate the impact of the mediator's presence. If you are in doubt as to the effectiveness of mediation, give it a try. The potential good far outweighs any down side of expense or the openness of the process.

A mediator need not always be a paid professional. It is always helpful when people are "stuck" to introduce a neutral party to the discussion. This might be a Rav, friend, neighbor, etc. Changing the dynamic in the room often goes a long way to increasing chances for positive dialogue
Facebook and Our Society
Author: rosenfeld, rabbi martin

Facebook has certainly been in the news of late. Its creator's presence has become part of our national fascination. However, there is another side to the Facebook story. Recently, Steve Adubato, a communication coach and journalist, made a number of interesting points about Facebook and our society. Facebook has taught a generation how to communicate in cyberspace. What happens when such people try to communicate face-to-face? How prepared are they for such direct communication? Does Facebook and other social media teach people how to make the human connection? Cyberspace is fun but is it a real world? How will Facebook "graduates" learn how to negotiate differences with others, resolve conflicts with others, or even talk with others when eye-contact and not a keyboard becomes integral to the medium of communication?

Facebook has done much to revolutionize how we connect to others. But at what price? Are we losing human contact? If you question this thesis, just ask yourself this question: When you last had a delicate subject to discuss, did you opt for human dialogue or settle for impersonal E-Mails transmitted via cyberspace? We are having greater contact with other humans and yet we probably send less time in dialogue than did previous generations. Is this impersonal mode of communication going to mark the way you will choose to lead your life. There is much to think about in this context.
Divorce Court, Litigation, and You
Author: rosenfeld, rabbi martin

A recent post in the Divorce section of the HuffingtonPost is authored by Attorneys J. Richard Kulerski and Kari Cornelison. The title of their post is “What Do Divorce Lawyers Do in Their Own Divorces?”. The title raises our interest. What indeed is the “secret” ready to be disclosed? The answer is somewhat transparent. Attorneys will avoid court trials in their divorces; they will strive to reach an agreement with their spouse. The authors present a number of factors that prompt the decision to avoid litigation. For those who know something about mediation, the factors present a familiar litany. There is no emotional satisfaction that arises from litigation and confrontation. The court system is slow and taxes the patience of the parties. There are no real winners in divorce battles. A trial can rise to the level of mental cruelty. Why prepare for the ordeal of trial if more than 90% of divorces will never get to trial? The Court cannot assuage the pain that exists within each of the parties in a contested trial. That is not its purpose. The pain of family members rises with the likelihood of protracted and traumatic Court trials. In short, there are no positives in divorce trial; the many negatives dominate.

The article is worth reviewing. Want to go to trial? Think it over and gain insights from those who practice in the court system. No one wins in contested trials in the divorce area. In mediation, on the other hand, the goal is Win-Win. The choice is yours. I would opt for divorce mediation. Mediation works.
Considerations in Choosing a Beth Din
Author: rosenfeld, rabbi martin

In my former work as a Bais Din Menahel, and in my present work as a Divorce Mediator, I have heard various suggestions and reactions from the people the Gemara Pesachim refers to as “Children of Neviim.”  People who have experienced our Batei Din have varied comments and suggestions that flow from their experiences. I have collected 8 of these below in the hopes that they will lead to some constructive discussion, and will serve as valuable feedback for our Batei Din and communal organizations.

1.  Rabbanim will deal, from time to time, with the anguishing tale that comes from an ex-spouse who is dealing with a non-cooperative mate who is not cooperating in the Get process. Rabbanim will advise the spouse and/or parents that for X dollars the mate can be “persuaded” to give the Get. While this proposal may “help” a specific individual, it does perpetuate the idea that a Get can be withheld for a financial ransom. The social problem that this creates is quite harmful to our community. Rabbenu Gershom did not wish to be ransomed from non-Jewish extortionists and yet we have, inadvertently, created the same situation in contemporary times, in some situations. Perhaps the time has come to hold a candid discussion as to whether or not such behavior truly furthers the goals of our community.

2.  Many people who have had Dinei Torah have lamented the role of “Toanim” (i.e. “advisors”) who prolong the Din Torah process and who will, on occasion, resort to behavior that is far from constructive. There are Batei Din like the Beth Din of America, which have barred the presence of Toanim on halachic and professional grounds. Do we wish our system of Batei Din to grant access to individuals who are neither professionally regulated nor trained for their roles in Dinei Torah? Should Toanim be allowed to be part of the Bais Din process?

3.  The number of Gittin given each year is far less than the number of Jewish divorces. Have we done everything possible to reach out to the non-frum members of our community and encourage them to use our Batei Din for the Get process? I have heard many individuals state that they would gladly seek out a Get but they were unsure if they would be well-received by the Batei Din, due to their non-observance. The benefit of such outreach to those less observant would of inestimable help to Klal Yisrael.

4.  By the nature of the Bait Din structure, every woman who comes to such a forum will be outnumbered by the number of males in the room. Can we make our Batei Din less foreboding by having these women greeted by female office members and by encouraging them to take a female friend along for support and Chizuk?  On occasion, a male will come to the Bais Din and will know one of the rabbanim. He will likely be greeted warmly by this acquaintance. This is less likely to occur when a female enters our Batei Din. These are small items but they require our attention and sensitivity. (When I mediate matters, I always try to be careful to spend my “face time” equally divided between the male and female. These are small concerns, but they can make all the difference in how the process is viewed by all parties.)

5.  The rise of divorce and litigation in our community, is a warning signal to our leadership. Civility is becoming a lost art. Rabbanim may wish to dedicate drashos, seminars, and communal efforts towards an embrace of messages about positive communication, Shalom Bayis, and proper ways to resolve disputes. Rabbanim may even desire to learn more about mediation techniques and promote use of ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution”.) I stand ready, as do others, to volunteer to train Rabbanim in the basics of mediation theory so that the message of civility is brought to our communal consciousness.

6.  There has been a great increase in recent years in the number of frum therapists, social workers, mediators, etc. It would behoove Rabbanim to have formal relationships with such professionals.  A Rav once told me that Rav Pam ZT”L had been shown a book written on the topic of marriage and Shalom Bayis. When asked for a haskamah, Rav Pam said he would do so only if the author added the comment, in the book, that if the marriage as in peril, professional help had to be sought. There are many worthy individuals, and organizations, willing to be of assistance in such situations. It is of great importance that such “partnerships” be forged.

7.  The cost of litigation has spiraled out-of-sight. The average cost of a contested divorce is estimated to be $20,000. (The cost of divorce in the East is considerably higher due to the higher legal fees charged in this area.) It is a natural choice to allow Batei Din to be the forum for resolving marital and commercial disputes. In order for such rulings to be upheld by secular courts, Batei Din need to have clearly articulated policies and procedures.  The effort to universally achieve this is well worth it. Let the Bais Din be the first choice for disputes and not be the choice only when all other options fail. In addition, Batei Din need to get out the message that they stand ready to resolve all disputes that arise in our communities. This message cannot be emphasized enough.

8.  Most states require divorcing couples who have children, to take a course.  The course focuses on raising children who have been involved in a divorce process.  Should not our Batei Din be able to cooperate and develop a similar course from the Torah perspective? In addition, Bais Din personnel can be trained in spotting psychological issues, emotional needs, financial concerns, and need to be prepared to suggest proper referrals for such individuals.  There is more to a Get process than having the Sofer write 12 lines. Are we prepared to meet such challenges?

Negotiating Life
Author: rosenfeld, rabbi martin

Richard Haass, a career diplomat and public servant, recently appeared on a talk show and discussed the upcoming election. Mr. Haass opined that the winning formula for a successful candidate would need to be honesty. In effect the candidate will need to say: “We are facing problems in America, the remedy will not come quickly, but we can see this through.” Years ago, when President Eisenhower ran for office, he told a story with the similar theme of being straightforward. The anecdote was about the spiritually-minded small town farmer who wished to see his cow. When asked how much milk this cow normally produced, the farmer realized he did not know how to answer the question. Facts evaded him. The farmer simply replied: “This cow is an honest cow. Whatever milk she has, she will give you”.

People appreciate honesty and being given straight talk. If you have a legal dispute with another (family, commercial, etc.) why not settle for honest talk. “This is what I need, this is what I can give.” Chances are that the other party will appreciate this and will act in kind. Honest discussion helps both parties, reduces rancor, and ultimately reduces the cost of your legal representation. Honesty is a possible by-product of mediated discussion. It is virtually impossible to attain through litigation and confrontation. As always, the best advice is this; mediate don’t litigate.

What Happens to Me Post-Divorce?/Rabbi Martin Rosenfeld
Author: rosenfeld, rabbi martin

A recent blog appeared on the HuffingtonPost website by Amy Chan, entitled “Unhappily Ever After”. There were parts of the article that I found to be too syrupy and yet other portions were right on target. Ms. Chan deals with how a party should conduct themself post-divorce. In the first half of her post (the part I find more difficult to “buy into”), Ms. Chan discusses how a party should always choose the “high road” even where their “ex” does not do so because “love doesn’t disappear just because the titles have”. In other words, since you were once married to your “ex”, certain behavior is to be expected even where the other party does not act in kind. In principle, this type of high-minded behavior is wonderful, but I see this as a pipe-dream with little connection to reality. In like fashion, the advice to remember the happiness you once shared, sounds better in theory than it will do in reality.

Having pointed out the impracticality (in my opinion) of Ms. Chan’s first theses, I now turn to the second half of her advice. Ms. Chan reminds us of ethical behavior that is expected of us.  While your “ex” may not have chosen the “high road”, you must remember that you can only control your own behavior, not that of your former spouse.  It is never acceptable to explain away boorish behavior by saying “S/he started”. In the conclusion, Ms. Chan develops a fool-proof test. How will the “you” of five years from now view your own behavior during the time of divorce?  Things tend to look different after the trauma has passed.  Will you be proud, then, of your actions “now”.  Most decidedly, how will your children think of your behavior?  Is your behavior of the type that you would wish your children to emulate as they go through life’s challenges and traumas?

Acting civilly during divorce is not something many attorneys will necessarily focus upon.  But you will have a life post-divorce. How do you wish to view your own behavior as it played out during the throes of divorce.  The post by Ms. Chan gives us much food for thought in that direction.

Agunah and Divorce Mediation/Rabbi Martin Rosenfeld
Author: rosenfeld, rabbi martin

The late Rabbi Harry Wohlberg taught Midrash at Yeshiva University to generations of Semikha students. He asked his students on one occasion to explain why the Talmud states that the Mizbeah (altar of the Temple) itself cries for a couple going through a divorce proceeding. Why was this metaphor of a "crying altar" used? Rabbi Wohlberg explained that the altar was the scene of bloody activity on a daily basis, it had become de-sensitized to blood and gore; yet it could not tolerate the scene of a couple seeking to end their marital relationship.

Divorce takes its toll on many individuals, in a ripple effect. It is no wonder that divorce is frequently listed among the five biggest traumas in the adult experience. Unfortunately, its negative impact affects multiple generations, with children often the greatest victims of all.

It is estimated that more than half of the marriages in the U.S. will end in divorce. I have not seen comparable statistics for Jewish marriages but we know that the rate of divorce is growing significantly. In my post-rabbinic career, I have chosen to work in the field of divorce as a Divorce Mediator. I find this work to be both satisfying and greatly needed. I can think of no situation, with the possible exception of custody disputes, where mediation is not far more beneficial and therapeutic that that which can be found in the traditional adversarial system of battling attorneys.

Mediation, unlike litigation, fully involves the couple in an open discussion and negotiation concerning the conditions of the divorce settlement. This discussion is facilitated by a mediator who serves as a neutral party, assisting the couple in reaching an agreement. Mediation is an optimistic profession in that believes that adults, even when they possess variant interest and needs, can reach an accord that will be fair and balanced. Mediation utilizes skills that the couple will need to use even after the divorce if they share children. Mediation allows the couple to close the door on their marriage, but not slam it. It is an example of what constructive communication can yield.

There is a Hassidic insight that defines Pessah as the combination of two words: Peh Sah. "The mouth speaks". We show our most basic humanity when we become free enough to state opinions, wants and needs. Through the medium of speech we can define problems and we can then begin to seek solutions. The ability of a couple, even in the midst of divorce, to seek solutions rather than blame, lies at the heart of mediation. More importantly, mediation trains the couple in the power of working collaboratively toward a shard goal. The need for such positive and focused conversation can serve us on the communal level as well.

A question that occurs to me often is: why does our society expect a couple to marry as Benei Torah and yet allow them (frequently) to divorce as battle-hardened mercenaries? Judaic values are often observed only in their breach when many couples negotiate their divorce settlement. This situation is aggravated exponentially when the rancor becomes so great that the Get (religious divorce) becomes a bargaining chip. It is, at times, to our chagrin, withheld (or not accepted) by a recalcitrant spouse. I would like to propose in an outline form some suggestions that deal with Jewish divorce and the painful status of the Agunah. Many of these thoughts derive from the model of mediation where finger-pointing is rejected in favor of constructive searches for solutions and frank discussion. However, one caveat is in order. In order to discuss Jewish divorce, we first need to discuss Jewish marriage. In like manner, in order to discuss Agunah concerns, we must communally first address Jewish marriage as it currently exists.

Social critics have often commented on how society tests for driving competence before it issues a motor vehicle license, but does not do so before it issues a marriage license. How do we prepare our future generation for married life in a society which accepts "disposable" relationships as a cardinal principle of romantic faith? I believe we need to apply our education paradigms toward martial preparation and counseling. Many communities have begun projects, often called "Hupah Project" "Shalom Project" etc. In some communities, such programs involve an interface between Jewish Family Services and the rabbinic community. The purpose of these programs is to offer sessions with the newly-engaged couples in order to teach communication skills, introduce halakhic norms, and offer guidance on issues that will need to be negotiated in marital life. For many couples, this will represent their first opportunity to meet community professionals in the religious sphere as well as the mental health arena. The group setting offers the couple a chance to listen and also a chance to dialogue. They are introduced to potential challenges and also strategies for a successful resolution of the same. The couple learns to listen, to talk, and to problem-solve; these are qualities that serve us all well in our daily exchanges.

I have seen in recent years a dramatic growth of mental health professionals who are well-versed in both Jewish law and social theory and practice. It is no longer unusual to see a young man/woman go through many years of Yeshiva education and then choose to serve her/his community by electing to become a mental health practitioner. The rabbinate and the mental health professionals need to work hand-in-hand and cross-refer when appropriate in this area. It would be a worthy project to have a national roster of such professionals whose expertise in the areas of marital life and Shalom Bayit make them a natural resource for married couples. I know of no organization that is limited to those who specialize in issues affecting married life but I think the need for such a group is self-evident.

The role of Rashei Yeshiva has been discussed and debated in multiple journal entries. I will only offer the observation that the influence of these leaders among our religious young adults is great. I do believe that their role in stressing the need to learn proper communication skills would be most valuable. These rabbinic leaders should encourage students to seek professional intervention when this is called for. Their lectures should stress the need for positive communication and the need to seek solutions in a spirit of collaboration. Finally, these leaders, and others, when confronting the reality of the dissolution of a marriage, should encourage the positive method of mediation rather than the divisive alternative of lengthy confrontation and litigation. (As an aside, mediated divorces have been projected as representing 20% of the cost of a litigated divorce. The money saving is, however, far from being the real benefit of such an approach.). We need, in short, to teach the skills for a positive home life, reinforce them, give hizzuk where needed and set a tone for an integration of Jewish values coupled with insights from contemporary social thought. We also need to remember the advice that "Values are not taught, they are caught".

Preparation for married life needs to be a prime focus of our educational and communal curricula. We must ask how are we to train our students for the life skills they will need for successful married life. Yemei Iyun on such topics as communication skills, pre-nuptial agreements, Jewish sexuality need to be more widespread. More importantly, we need to ask what objectives we seek, and how to we plan to get there. It might be appropriate to recall the thought that "If you don't know where you are going, all roads will take you there". I daresay that we know where we are going. My question is directed at the query as to whether we know how to get there.

There is a story about a young child who saw some starfish awash on the seashore. She took them one at a time and hurled them back into the sea. She was asked: "There are so many starfish here, do you think you can possibly help them all?" She answered: "I don't know, but I just made a difference in the life of the one I sent back to the ocean". I do not have a solution which will remedy the "Agunah problem". I do believe however, that like the girl in the story, we need to focus attention on the micro as much as the macro, i.e. why do we have an Agunah problem, and can we make a difference?"

A few years ago, attorney Joseph Rackman, wrote an article about a registry that would contain the names of recalcitrant spouses. Their respective communities would put the appropriate pressure on such individuals to bring about the desired effect of effecting the granting of Gittin. I met with attorney Rackman to discuss his proposal and made a suggestion. Should we not first meet with each spouse who was acting in such a defiant fashion and explore what was sparking the unacceptable behavior? It is easy to accuse all recalcitrant spouses of being "money-hungry" and manipulative. However, this may not have been the original trigger. There may have been a call for "someone to listen" that was never heeded. There may have been a negative experience with a Beth Din. There may have been pre-existing threats from the opposing spouse. Idle legal threats may have caused a violent reaction. We will never know unless we try to reach out and communicate. Our system is not fool-proof and neither are our appointed representatives. In our zeal to help one spouse (as sacred as that work is) we dare not demonize the other without first trying to hear from them. Communal pressure ultimately is quite important. But let us not forget the need to first enter into conversation with those who flaunt our halakhic and ethical norms.

One of the organizations working with this issue, ORA, has offered couples pro bono mediation when there is a hope that communication can be productive. Even if we fail in our attempts to reach out to these individuals, we will gain a wealth of insight into how our community structure has "broken down" and why we have failed to impress some community members with the thought that "Her ways are ways of peace".

We have much to gain by offering mediation assistance to couples who are unable to find the proper manner to dissolve their marriage and its attendant issues. I do not believe we have made the institution of marriage a communal priority in terms of education , outreach and financial support. To cite one example, the Catholic groups have family institutions, seminars, lecture bureaus, etc. Prominent Church leaders head such efforts and have even become national figures. What have we done in our community to try to emulate such work? (On a personal note, I have communicated with 5 major Jewish organizations, in order to volunteer to try to initiate some of the proposals outlined herein. Only 1 of the 5 actually responded.) Marital life is probably the most vital Jewish institution to ensure continuity of our value system. What have we invested in such an undertaking? Where are our communal structures?

If we felt the pressing need, we could convene a meeting on Agunah and divorce. Papers could be presented, issues debated, and dialogue begun. With every year that we fail to do something of this nature, we miss an opportunity that is desperately needed. Indeed our national conferences always have the occasional session on issues of Jewish marriage. But don't we need and deserve more? We have organizations for Agunah. Do we have similar organizations that deal with Jewish marriage, Jewish divorce, and the halakhic norms that surround them?

To the above, I would add the need for blogs so that community members with specific needs have a place to go for direction and inspiration. I maintain such a website for those who seek a Get but do not know where to turn. A great Kiruv opportunity exists if we make the effort to explain to the non-Orthodox what a Get entails, help them find a proper Beth Din, and organize volunteers to help them through their Get process. We shout about the tragedy of Agunah and yet we allow the non-Orthodox to be unaware of the Get process, thus dooming future generations to our community's ultimate rejection; i.e. mamzerut. Surely there is more work that can engage us in this area.

To succed as Torah Jews, the Brisker Rav stated, we need to be business-like. We need to have a mission statement, objectives, and resources, in addition to moral commitment. This is the regimen we would undertake for our business and this must be our charge as Torah leaders. There is work to be done in the area of Ishut, and all that the term entails. We all have ideas and strategies. Perhaps the time for "Peh Sah" has arrived. We need to dialogue, talk, and listen. We need to work collaboratively. If we apply such an approach, the challenges presented in the areas of Jewish Marriage, Jewish Divorce, and Agunah, we will be worthy of Bilaam's coerced admission: "How goodly are your tents Jacob". I can think of no greater praise, or goal, than that."

When Mediation Fails to Lead to an Agreement/Rabbi Martin Rosenfeld
Author: rosenfeld, rabbi martin

Clients who are interested in Divorce Mediation (Note: This article focuses on divorce mediation but the ideas hold true for all mediation paradigms) will often ask if mediation makes sense even if there will be issues that are not able to be resolved via mediation.  Does it make sense to mediate if e.g. only 8 of 10 issues will be resolved via mediation?  I believe the answer to this question is in the affirmative.  Divorce Mediation serves many purposes and in discussing this question with a client, the true benefit of mediation will become apparent.  (For the purpose of this article, I use the term "incomplete agreements" for agreements that leaves some issues unresolved.)


Litigation is costly and traumatic.  Even if there is agreement only only some of the issues in dispute, mediation will have served the purpose of lessening dispute, lowering eventual attorney fees, and making it clear to both parties that the matters in dispute are neither unduly numerous nor legally overwhelming. The fact that many issues were indeed resolved via mediation will make agreement on the remaining issues that much greater.  Studies support such a conclusion.

"Good Will" in Mediation

Incomplete agreements show the parties that consensus on some issues was indeed attainable.  This gives the parties the confidence to continue their communication into the future.  Nothing succeeds like success.  It is indisputable that agreement was attained because of the "good will" of the parties.  The residual "good will" hopefully will continue until the final agreement will eventually be reached.  Even in the cases where the disputed issues will need to be submitted to the Court, the level of rancor and confrontation will have been dramatically reduced.

Positive Communication

Finally, mediation teaches the parties that they possess the ability to communicate positively and civilly.  This communication skill will be needed even after the divorce if they are co-parents or if unanticipated issues eventually arise.  Giving this gift of positive dialogue to a divorcing couple is perhaps one of the greatest gifts any mediator can bestow.

Incomplete agreements will sometimes be the end result of divorce mediation.  However, the legal fees saved, the "good will" created, and the positive communication experience will all serve the clients well both in the short-term and in the long-term.  Divorce mediation is a multi-faceted process and it works, even when it leads to an incomplete agreement.

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