Rabbi Ephraim Bryks, who is a member of the Vaad Harabanim of
>Queens and is said to frequently officiate gittin, has been
>active on Rosenfeld’s behalf, and has been in contact with
>the Hacohens, attempting to negotiate an agreement with them.
WATCH FILM: The Investigative documentary: "Unorthodox Conduct"contains graphic information regarding the case against Rabbi Ephriam Bryks. It was produced in 1994 by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Agunah in Oceanside struggles for a get
A local woman’s battle for freedom
BY YAFFIS PODEK
The Jewish Star
Vol. 7, No. 6, Page 1 and 6
February 8, 2008
Susie Rosenfeld has been married to Ariel Hacohen since 2001, but for the last two and half years, she has been fighting to get both a civil divorce and a halachic one from him. After refusing to grant her a get, Hacohen was issued a seiruv in July 2006 by Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag of the Vaad Harabanim of Flatbush. Though a six-person jury recently voted unanimously granted Rosenfeld a civil divorce on grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment, she remains powerless in her struggle to obtain a get, whose absence forbids her to remarry under Jewish law.
“It’s sociopathic and it’s a control issue,” Rosenfeld said of her estranged husband’s behavior. “He wants to be in control of everything on his terms and in his own way.”
Rosenfeld, who is in her late 30s, lives in Oceanside and works as an ultrasound technician in Nassau County. Hacohen, in his late 40s, is currently unemployed, living with his parents, and collecting worker’s compensation for an injury he sustained several years ago.
“All I want is a get –– we have no children, no assets, and we’re not fighting over anything,” Rosenfeld told The Jewish Star. “He has nothing better to do than sit every night and think of ways to make me miserable. He’s a malingerer and a liar.
“He’s very vindictive and he’s pathetic...hiding in his parents’ house,” she added. “He doesn’t even show up in court because he wants to prolong this so I can no longer have children, which shows how vengeful this is.” Together with hundreds of volunteers, Rosenfeld has been mounting a public effort to exert communal pressure on Hacohen and his family to give her a get, through a letter writing campaign, petitions, e-mails and phone calls, notifying people of his refusal. With the assistance of ORA, the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, rallies have been coordinated to champion this cause.
“The rallies are helpful to a extent, but not enough in this case,” explained Josh Ross, ORA’s executive director. “Sometimes it takes many tries.”
A protest staged by ORA in Sept. 2006 at the Hacohen house was notable for the appearance of counter-home protesters advocating the withholding of the get, men who were shouting obscenities and acting on behalf of Rabbi Shlomo Blumenkrantz, Hacohen’s rabbi.
This year, several rallies have also been held outside Rabbi Blumenkrantz’s Brooklyn home. Rabbi Blumenkrantz, who has been advising Hacohen, endorses the heter meah rabbanim, a rabbinical decree that allows a man to remarry without a get. He maintains that Hacohen has done everything right and Rosenfeld has done everything wrong in this case.
Rabbi Hershel Schachter, rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University, appeared at one of these rallies, on Nov. 4. He is vehemently against Rabbi Blumenkrantz’s actions and fundamentally disagrees with his policies. “To my great disdain, there is a particular rabbi in Brooklyn who regularly issues heter meah rabbanim that do not conform to accepted halachic guidelines,” Rabbi Schachter wrote in a letter to the Rabbinical Council of America, urging members of that organization to attend the rally. “In so doing, he is greatly increasing the incidence of agunah cases...The more people at the protest, the greater the likelihood that this rabbi will realize the harmfulness of his actions.”
Rosenfeld has also appealed to several other rabbis to enlist their help with her situation. One is Rabbi Shlomo Herbst, Hacohen’s former rabbi who officiated at their wedding and handled his divorce from his previous marriage.
“Rabbi Herbst gave Ariel his first get, and I specifically asked him if Ariel was a mentch and could be married again, and he said yes and agreed to marry us,” explained Rosenfeld. “I speak to him all the time, and he feels bad, but he hasn’t been able to do anything to help.”
“He’s not connected to me anymore,” explained Rabbi Herbst, describing his relationship with Hacohen. “He broke off with me over a year ago, and now he’s not returning my phone calls.”
“He used to come to me and listen to whatever I told him,” Rabbi Herbst continued but, unfortunately, that influence has lapsed. “I wasn’t involved, and then he found Rabbi Blumenkrantz. I wish I could be of more help but I cannot.”
Rabbi Ephraim Bryks, who is a member of the Vaad Harabanim of Queens and is said to frequently officiate gittin, has been active on Rosenfeld’s behalf, and has been in contact with the Hacohens, attempting to negotiate an agreement with them. It is not possible for Rosenfeld to talk to Hacohen herself, since he received an order of protection against her.
They have not spoken in a year and a half. “The Hacohens believe that there is a process that has to be followed, and that Susie has not followed that process,” said Rabbi Bryks. Though members of the Hacohen family refused to comment for this article, they support
Ariel in his belief that the only recourse is to attend a beit din presided over by Rabbi Blumenkrantz. Rosenfeld rejected this Beit Din because she felt that it was biased and unscrupulous. At one point, she told The Jewish Star, Rabbi Blumenkrantz suggested a payment of $100,000 to convince Hacohen to talk to her, but wouldn’t guarantee that she would receive a get. Blumenkrantz denied that claim.
Rosenfeld presented to Hacohen a list of several acceptable batei din from which he can choose. However, since they couldn’t agree on one, she instead suggested zabla, an arbitration procedure in which each party chooses one dayan, or judge, and those two dayanim then choose a third.
“Zabla works because even if there is one unethical rabbi, he would only be one out of three, and you need a majority,” Rabbi Bryks explained. “Even if his [Hacohen’s] dayan is Rabbi Blumenkrantz, she [Rosenfeld] will accept it. She would also be willing to go back to Rabbi Herbst. But the batei din he wants are unacceptable, and he feels that zabla is not the right process.”
The Hacohen family also feels that the public pressure being exerted is counter-productive, and that it is a form of harassment that needs to stop. “As long as the harassment continues, we will not continue to negotiate,” Rabbi Bryks said he was told by the Hacohen family. “We will not negotiate with a gun held to our heads.”
“Rabbi Blumenkrantz echoes the position of the family,” reported Rabbi Bryks, who has met with him in the past. “He says that the harassment must stop and that the names must be removed from the papers.”
However, earlier in the year, Hacohen said that if his name was taken out of the newspaper, and Rosenfeld did not speak publicly, as planned, at an Agunah awareness event at YU, he would agree to meet and discuss a settlement. Rosenfeld complied with these requests, but Hacohen never met with her.
“After that, his name went right back into the paper,” said Rosenfeld. “He is not to be trusted or believed.”
Hacohen has been offered a great deal in exchange for Rosenfeld’s get, but nothing seems to appease him. “He doesn’t want money; all he wants is to torture me,” Rosenfeld maintained. “I don’t think he should get a cent, but someone was willing to give him a blank check and he refused.”
At one point, about a year after she left him, Hacohen had said he wanted four things: Rosenfeld’s pension, her engagement ring, health insurance, and their dog. Rosenfeld was willing to comply with these demands, but Hacohen rejected it, she recalled, saying it was ‘too soon.’
In addition to the problem of communal pressure, the Hacohens feel that since Ariel is being wrongly portrayed, his reputation has been damaged, and they would like his good name to be restored.
It’s a Catch-22 situation,” Rabbi Bryks observed. “If he says he is being wronged, then he should go to a beit din. You can’t stand in the street and say that you have been wronged but then refuse to go to Beit Din.”
“Let all the claims be raised in front of the judge,” he advised. “Susie is not asking for anything. If their marriage is over, and everybody agrees it is, then you give the wife a get. If you don’t, that is considered abuse of the highest level.”
Hacohen’s family, which includes his parents and three married siblings, continue to stand behind him and support him, both financially and emotionally. “They defend him, and if you speak to his sister, she will say that he is a tzaddik,” Rosenfeld reported. “He doesn’t care that he is killing his parents and crucifying his siblings. Our family is hurting, and we want to know when their family is hurting enough to do the right thing.”
Since her grounds for getting a civil divorce have been approved, Rosenfeld is now asking a judge to put New York State’s Get Law Two into effect, under which the judge can issue punitive monetary rulings until she receives a get.
“But, until the rabbis come up with a solution, there is nothing that can protect a Jewish woman from this,” she concluded “There is nothing in halacha that accounts for crazy people like Ariel. He is spending his life in revenge, and as long as I can’t move on, he is happy. All I ever asked for is for him to give me a get.”