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Newsflash: October 2002
Tehilla and Evyatar S., both Israeli citizens, married in New York in 1994. Evyatar's physical abuse of his new wife and her son from a previous marriage quickly proved to be insufferable; after eight tortuous months, a pregnant Tehilla escaped the marital home.
Following the birth of their son, Tehilla moved back in, determined to make the marriage work. But Evyatar -- a man later described by a New York judge as one of the most cruel and sick abusers that he had seen in his career -- punched, pummeled, slapped, smacked and beat Tehilla and her son repeatedly. After one incident, in which Evyatar tried to strangle them with ropes and left piercing bite-marks all over the infant's body, Tehilla took pictures to document the bruises and left the home for good.
Tehilla began divorce proceedings in the New York civil court system and found herself faced with the task of trying to prove that her husband was violent. The charming and charismatic Evyatar proved to be as adept a liar as he was an abuser; he claimed that his wife had used makeup for the photographs, or that she had herself inflicted the wounds. He persuaded the court of - at the very least - reasonable doubt, and was awarded visitation rights. Evyatar also lied about his income, signed up for welfare payments, and refused to accept responsibility for child support, despite the fact that he lived in a large home (registered in someone else's name) and on a high standard.
At the same time, Tehilla went to the rabbinical courts so that she could receive a halachic [in accordance with Jewish law] divorce. Evyatar refused to grant her a get; he wouldn't even set foot in the bet din. Rabbinical court judges visited him at home to try and convince him, but to no avail. The bet din issued a chiyyuv get [an order to deliver the get] but he ignored it, and the rabbinical court has no legal coercive powers in the United States. At one stage, the rabbinical court even put Evyatar in cherem [excommunication from the Jewish community]. Tehilla was left without a rabbinical divorce, chained to her deranged, maniacal husband, unable to forge ahead and carve out a happy life for herself and her two children.
Meanwhile, as the years went by and the couple's son grew older, Evyatar abused the child physically and emotionally during his visits. For example, at the age of five, long after the boy was toilet-trained, Evyatar insisted upon diapering him, changing his diapers frequently and photographing him during all stages of the process. He further humiliated his son by dropping him off at school in diapers. But somehow, Evyatar convinced a court appointed social worker that he was the "good" parent, and that Tehilla did not have the child's best interests at heart. Instead of removing the child, the social worker believed Evyatar's claim that he was a devoutly religious man who only wanted his child to be brought up in a religious environment; and that Tehilla was sacrilegious and irreverent (this despite the fact that Tehilla was employed by the largest synagogue in Queens).
Eventually, however, the case came to the New York Supreme Court, which was sufficiently impressed by evidence of Evyatar's violent and demented nature to rule for supervised visitation rights only. The court also issued a restraining order against Evyatar, keeping him away from Tehilla. Because of the heinous nature of his abuse coupled with his pathologically suave lying, the restraining order was issued through the year 2004. Furthermore, Evyatar was ordered to pay back-child support in the amount of $20,000. Evyatar fled the United States for Israel.
The secretary general of the rabbinical court, Eli Ben Dahan, was informed of the case while visiting New York. He referred the case to the Legal Aid Center and Hotline, where it was assigned to Reut Giat.
Reut's first order of business was to petition the Israeli rabbinical court to hire a private investigator to track Evyatar down in Israel and issue a restraining order to prevent him from leaving the country. The investigator located Evyatar and brought him to the rabbinical court, where he announced that he would think about giving the get if he was awarded custody of their child. He demanded that Tehilla bring their son to Israel immediately, and a hearing was set for a month later.
It had taken seven years for the American courts to see Evyatar for what he really was; Reut could not risk letting the case drag on for another seven years until the Israeli rabbinical courts also caught on. She was not going to let Tehilla and her son come to Israel to be subject to Evyatar's abusive charade all over again. And at the same time, she was fearful that, now that Evyatar knew he had been found, he would not show up for the hearing, just as he had done in New York. Reut understood that she had to somehow ensure that Evyatar did not run away, while at the same time preparing for the rabbinical courts an accelerated introduction to Evyatar S.'s personality.
With the help of an interpreter, Reut translated and notarized the important and incriminating segments of the United States court transcripts. She also translated two booklets that Evyatar had written and professionally printed, in which Evyatar points an accusatory finger at the entire United States Judicial system, individual justices, social workers and community members … the obvious rantings of a madman. (Among the other far-fetched, paranoid theories presented in his publications was Evyatar's claim that Reut Giat was getting paid tens of thousands of dollars for her work and that the entire system was conspiring against him.) Armed with this evidence, Reut was able to convince the rabbinical court of the need to force Evyatar's mother to sign a promissory note in the amount of 30,000 NIS obligating him to attend the hearing. (And the rabbinical courts needed convincing: after all, here was a man they had never seen before, innocent until proven guilty, who seemed willing to discuss the get process. At Reut's urging, they had already allowed for the private investigator and the restraining order preventing him from leaving the country - what else did she want? It is a testament to Reut's thorough research, well-presented and compassionate arguments and the reputation of the Legal Aid Center's advocates that the court agreed.)
When the date of the hearing arrived, Reut was prepared for a totally unprecedented move: either the get would be granted or she would move to immediately jail Evyatar. And so, the inconceivable happened: Evyatar was finally trapped with no recourse but to give the get. Even at this stage, he bargained with the court, agreeing to present the get in exchange for a renewed custody hearing afterward. Furthermore, he insisted that Tehilla was mentally unfit to receive a get and made the divorce contingent upon a mental health exam proving that she was not insane. Reut reasoned that in the twenty-odd cases she is currently arguing, all of the husbands believe their wives to be insane; nonetheless, both she and the court recognized that this would be the only way in which to procure Tehilla's freedom.
Therefore, the court agreed to Evyatar's demands, and appointed an American rabbi, who was visiting Israel at the time and intimately familiar with the case, to be the emissary responsible for delivering the get to Tehilla. Because a husband may rescind the divorce decree until the actual divorce tribunal is convened and the get hand-delivered, all parties held their breath and waited until the emissary's flight left for New York.
Twelve hours later - at 9 PM New York time and 4 AM Israel time -- JFK airport in New York was the scene of triumphant rejoicing. While the emissary had been in transit, the bet din in New York had declared Tehilla mentally fit to receive the get. In order to prevent any further delay, the requisite divorce tribunal proceeded to the airport, where they performed the get ritual immediately upon the emissary's disembarking from the plane. Mattie Klein, president of the L'maan Bnos Yisrael lobbying group which had supported Tehilla throughout the years, joined Tehilla's relatives and friends in the airport and together they celebrated her freedom. After seven long years of abuse, Tehilla was finally released from the heavy chains of an abusive marriage and granted the freedom to resume her life.