Domestic Violence: Case of David Abisror - Psychiatrist (Boca Raton, FL)
Religious Divorce Battle Goes Pubilc, Complete With Picket Signs
Daily Business Review
In an unusual twist on a growing religious issue, a Boca Raton, Fla., psychiatrist who refused to grant his ex-wife a Jewish religious divorce has filed suit to stop members of a local synagogue from holding demonstrations in front of his office demanding that he give her the divorce.
On Monday, Dr. David Abisror filed a motion in Palm Beach Circuit Court seeking a temporary injunction to prevent the group from the Boca Raton Synagogue from picketing. He claims the protesters have engaged in libelous and slanderous speech, interfered with his business relationships and created a public safety hazard.
Abisror and his ex-wife, Naomi Baruch, were married 12 years ago in Hollywood, Fla. Two years later, they obtained a civil divorce. But, according to Abisror's motion, he refused to sign a "get" -- a Jewish divorce document -- though he doesn't say why. There are no children from the marriage, and there were no outstanding financial issues, according to their divorce documents.
Baruch has since moved to Israel. Without the get, she cannot date or remarry, according to Orthodox Jewish law, which governs marriages and divorces in Israel. Baruch enlisted Israel's chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar, in her quest to obtain a get. It was through his efforts that the Boca Raton synagogue became involved.
Efrem Goldberg, rabbi of the Orthodox synagogue, said his group planned to continue to conduct small protests of 10 to 15 people this week in front of Abisror's office.
Neither Abisror nor his attorney, Michael Brand of Cole Scott & Kissane in Miami, returned calls for comment by deadline.
The synagogue's attorney, Howard Dubosar of Dubosar & Dolnick in Boca Raton, said "in essence, you have an injunction designed to constrain the First Amendment rights of the synagogue."
First Amendment attorney Thomas R. Julin, a partner at Hunton & Williams in Miami who is not involved in the case, said Abisror faces an uphill legal battle to block the group from demonstrating on public property. "Ordinarily courts will not enjoin protesters who are simply making statements on public property," he said.
NO RECOURSE IN UNITED STATES
Battles over gets increasingly are taking place in civil courts in the United States, including in South Florida. Observant Jewish women must obtain a get from their husband to remarry and have legitimate children, but sometimes their angry husbands refuse.
In Israel, the government can become involved in forcing the hand of a man to sign a get. Husbands who refuse can lose their job and various civil rights and even be sent to jail. In a famous case, a man spent the last 35 years of his life in prison for refusing to sign a get. His ex-wife remarried a month after his death, at age 65.
Most Jewish women in the United States, however, have no recourse if their husband refuses to sign a get. New York state passed a get law in the 1980s that requires all obstacles to remarriage be removed before a civil divorce is granted. A similar bill is proposed in Maryland.
In Florida, state Sen. David Aronberg, D-Greenacres, has sponsored legislation that would do the same.
In lieu of legislation, religious women are turning to the civil court system to find a remedy. Last month, a Dania Beach woman, Karen Gruber-Colp, asked a judge to force her ex-husband to sign a get. Broward Circuit Judge Jack Tuter ordered her ex to sign within days.
Various Jewish women's groups are working to convince rabbinical authorities to adopt a solution to the problem so that individual women no longer have to obtain a get from their husband.
Susan Aranoff, director of Jewish women's group Agunah International in New York City, said that various solutions have been proposed over the past decades that would either eliminate the need for women to obtain a get, or assign the ability to sign the get to someone other than the husband. An agunah is a woman whose husband refuses to grant her a Jewish religious divorce.
But Aranoff acknowledged that the chances for reform are slim because Orthodox religious leaders are patriarchal and view husbands' control as essential to the stability of marriage. "Have you heard of a snowball in hell?" she quipped.
She said change will have to occur from the grass roots rather than from Jewish religious leaders.
PRECEDENT AGAINST HUSBAND
In the Abisror-Baruch case, Chief Rabbi Amar contacted a New York-based group, Organization for the Resolution of the Agunot, to help. That organization in turn contacted Boca Raton Synagogue for help. The synagogue has been staging the protests in order to get Abisror to sign the get. Demonstrators have chanted, "Dr. Abisror, free your wife," and "Dr. Abisror, give your wife a get." Display signs carrying similar messages. The protesters have brandished chains to symbolize Baruch's status as a chained woman.
Goldberg said he tells his group not to go onto the property or into the building, or even to park in the building's parking lot. "We are simply on the sidewalk," he said.
Abisror's motion calls these actions harassment and coercion "rather than communication for any educational or altruistic or philanthropic purpose."
But Dubosar said none of the protesters' statements constitute slander or libel. He noted that nowhere in Abisror's motion does it specify what slanderous or libelous statements were said.
Julin noted that a 2004 5th District Court of Appeal ruling in Animal Rights Foundation of Florida v. David Siegel and Westgate Resorts could apply to this situation.
In that case, Julin represented animal rights activists who were protesting developer Siegel's use of a live tiger to promote his property. A trial court granted Siegel's motion for temporary injunction on the basis of tortious interference with Siegel's business.
The order restricted the number of people who could demonstrate and their location, and blocked them from using bullhorns or shouting. The lower court also prohibited what phrases could appear on signs.
The 5th DCA, however, overturned the injunction on the grounds that it was a prior restraint on free speech and that as long as the protesters did not create a safety hazard, they were free to protest on public property. The court said blocking nonviolent political protests to prevent tortious interference with business violates the First Amendment.
The 5th DCA looked for evidence that the animal rights group was a business competitor of Siegel's or was promoting an economic interest. When it found no evidence of either, the court looked disfavorably on the tortious interference claim.
Abisror's motion states that he filed for a temporary injunction rather than sue for tortious business interference because it would be difficult to measure the damage done by the protests to his business relationships.
Dubosar called the Siegel case a roadmap for this case. Boca Raton Synagogue falls into the same category as the animal rights activists in that it is not a business competitor of Dr. Abisror's, nor is it promoting an economic interest. Its members simply are trying to embarrass him into signing the get.
Julin said Abisror's only real remedy is to sue for libel if he believes the protesters are defaming him.
Dubosar said he plans to pursue a remedy under Florida statute 57.105, which awards attorney fees for baseless legal filings.
Protests in front of offices and homes of men who refuse to sign gets are a measure of last resort, said Yehoshuavev Ross, of the Organization for the Resolution of the Agunot.
But Aranoff contended that the solution to the problem isn't to hold public demonstrations like this. "By demonstrating, they are affirming the husband’s power," she said. "The solution is to disempower the husband. But the rabbis are very reluctant to do that."