Issue of agunot comes to Dayton
Rally to free ‘chained woman’ puts small Midwest Jewish community at center of issue few beyond Orthodox understand
By Marshall Weiss
The Dayton Jewish Observer
In Dayton, Ohio’s Jewish community of approximately 4,000, few beyond the dozen or so Orthodox families here are familiar with the word agunot, let alone its ramifications.
But the issue of agunot — the plight of women in the Orthodox world whose husbands refuse to provide them with a get, a religious bill of divorce — is now squarely focused on this Midwest community. The New York-based Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) will hold a rally on Sunday, Nov. 8 near the home of Dovid Porat, known locally by the name Eli Shur.
Shur and his wife, Adina Porat, were married in Israel in 1990. According to ORA, in 2007, Shur left his wife and their five children; he moved to the United States a year later. Since then, he has refused to provide his wife with a get. According to halacha (Jewish law), a divorce isn’t final until a husband provides his wife with a get. Without one, the agunah is unable to remarry.
Despite ORA’s private attempts over several years to obtain a get from Shur, he has refused. On Oct. 21, ORA opened the website freeadina.com to announce the rally, along with a video interview of Adina Porat that has gone viral.
ORA anticipates supporters from Orthodox communities in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus will converge on Kettering, a city just south of Dayton, at 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 8 to publicly ostracize Shur, raise awareness about the case, and to pressure him to sign a get.
“In my life, I’m stuck in a prison,” Adina Porat says in ORA’s video. “I can’t move on, I can’t continue. The kids never had a chance to have a stepfather, a new family, and to continue on with their lives.”
Through ORA, Adina Porat declined to be interviewed by The Observer.
“My dad left, he abandoned us when I was 16 years old,” says 24-year-old daughter Rachel in the video. “But ever since I was 10 or 11, all he could speak about was the fact that he hated being a father, he hated being tied down by family, he hated the fact that the money he earned went to feeding his kids, and how much he would have preferred buying electronics or books or anything else.”
In Dayton, Shur is the owner of Shur Wellbeing and works as a life, leadership, health and fitness coach. Since the freeadina.com website went up, he has pulled down Shur Wellbeing’s website.
Yonatan Klayman, ORA’s assistant director of advocacy and legal strategy, says Ora’s decision to hold a rally and promote it widely is a rare tactic in its agunot cases.
“This is the last resort for us,” he says. “Adina felt it was really about time to try to up the pressure.”
ORA organizes rallies for approximately 10 percent of its cases, about 20 rallies a year, Klayman says. “A video, we’ll do about once a year as well.”
In its 13-year history, ORA has handled more than 700 agunot cases; it currently manages approximately 60 cases.
“For several years now, we have been trying to resolve this case amicably,” says ORA Executive Director Rabbi Jeremy Stern, who plans to attend the rally.
“We leave no stone unturned in trying to keep things quiet and enable everyone to move on quietly with the rest of their lives.”
In this case, Stern says, ORA felt it had no other option.
“We are using all forms of pressure that are legal according to Jewish law and civil law to convince (him) to give a get.”
Get refusal, Stern says, is a form of domestic abuse.
“It’s not just about black-and-blue marks, it’s about this repeated assertion of power and control from one over the other. Jewish law does not condone such behavior. In fact, what Eli Shur is doing is a violation of Jewish law.”
In 2010, Shur arrived in Dayton to serve as ritual director of Beth Jacob Congregation. He had presented himself as a single man with no children. Nearly six months later, volunteers with ORA showed up at one of Shur’s evening classes at the synagogue and urged him to sign a get for his wife. He refused. In short order, Shur was no longer employed by the synagogue.
Despite repeated attempts, Shur declined to be interviewed for this article.
In agunot cases, it’s not unusual for husbands to attempt to extort wives and their families for money or property in exchange for a get. In Adina’s video, she says Shur hasn’t asked for anything.
“He told the children before he left the country, and he told various people (that) among all the years he has not given a get, the only reason he is not giving the get is for revenge,” she says in the video. “Just to hurt somebody. He has never asked for anything in eight years.”
According to ORA, in 2009, the Israeli Rabbinate ruled that Shur must give his wife a get.
“In Israel, they would have put him in jail, and that’s one of the reasons he fled,” Stern says. “But America, thank God, has a separation of church and state, and that’s a very good thing, but the downside in this situation is that they’re unable to enforce Jewish law.”
A solution to the agunot dilemma that has gained traction in the modern Orthodox world is the use of halachic prenuptial agreements to provide for a get. According to JTA, these prenups are only now making their way into segments of the Haredi community.
“I’ve seen the prenup work 100 percent of the time,” Stern says. “It’s been tested in court, it’s been upheld. It’s been challenged by recalcitrant husbands, and works every single time.”
Stern says that before Shur moved to Dayton in 2010, he had first tried to move to Columbus, but ORA applied pressure. “And the rabbis in Columbus made it clear to him that he would not be welcome in Columbus if he tried to move there,” he says.
After Shur departed Beth Jacob, the Chicago Rabbinical Council confirmed the Israeli Rabbinate’s ruling that Shur must provide his wife with a get.
Klayman says Beth Jacob’s rabbis at the time — first Hillel Fox, then Martin Applebaum — then attempted to urge Shur to provide the get. About a year and a half ago, Klayman learned that Shur was driving to Louisville to attend worship services there. Two rabbis from that community also tried reaching out to Shur. “They didn’t get anywhere,” he says.
“I also made attempts to reach out to him,” Klayman says. “He did return one of my emails. He had no real context. He said they ruined his life, but he won’t tell you what they did, why they did it, or what he wanted to do to try and resolve it. Just a lot of ranting and cursing me. I made other attempts to reach out to him. He never responded again.”
ORA is coordinating plans for the rally with the city of Kettering.
“We spoke to the assistant law director, and she said we actually don’t need a permit, (they) just need to make sure the local police know that we’ll be there as a courtesy,” Klayman says. “There are some local ordinances that we can’t rally directly in front of his house or adjacent to it. So we’re still working out the exact location of the rally.”
He says that members of Dayton’s Jewish community have not been involved in organizing the rally.
Cathy Gardner, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton — who also serves as director of Dayton’s Jewish Community Relations Council — says she hopes Daytonians who attend the rally will maintain a tone of civility.
“We sympathize with the plight of all agunot and with Adina Porat in particular,” Gardner says. “It is our hope that this matter will be resolved speedily. As Americans, we cherish the freedoms of expression and assembly to express our concerns publicly. As American Jews — knowing that Daytonians overall and Jews around the world will watch what happens here — it is our hope that those who choose to attend the rally will address the issue with the greatest degree of respect, in concert with our Jewish values.”
Stern says that if Shur signs a get before the rally, ORA will cancel it and take down the website.
“It’s so critical to get his name and his picture and his story out there so that he recognizes that he doesn’t have any avenues of escape,” Stern says. “He can’t run away again in the same way that he’s done time after time. Our goal is not to embarrass him. Our goal is not to seek revenge or anything along those lines. Once the get is given, all of this will go away.”
Klayman concedes that given his track record, Shur might not budge even with the publicity and the rally. He cited other cases in which ORA held multiple rallies over a number of years.
“This rally might not work,” Klayman says. “But we’ll keep at it. We’ll see what happens.”