Sunday, September 10, 2017

Judging the Judges - Part 3: The One Big Happy Family Court

Author’s Note – This is the third and final portion of the current multi-part post about how to think like a defense advocate. To appreciate this post, it is essential to first read the first half of the opening post – Part 1.

I am back from an exceedingly long unplanned cyber adventure to and from the Outback of Australia. I hope it’s done.  At long last, I am ready to move on and close my 3 part series which began last May.

So now, let’s talk about:

Episode 3 – Zvia Gordetzky

Before I begin, it is really important for the reader to understand the purpose and the premise of these posts.  So I must repeat once again, exactly what it says in the Author’s note above, that if you haven’t been following these posts, you really need to read the first half of the original post up to the sub-heading “Episode 1”.

In a word, the premise is that before we can make a valid judgment, we need to look at the whole picture. If we cannot do so, the judgment isn’t really valid. In my first post, I called this "thinking like a defense attorney".

I want to expand this into the medical field (since I mentioned forensics in my previous posts). Let’s learn an acronym:

What does this acronym stand for?

Several years ago I was taking classes on Psychology and counseling under Professor Joshua Ritchie (unemployment has its perks). He taught us that this is a well-known acronym in medical jargon and it means: Within Normal Limits.

In internal medicine it applies to things like vital statistics – temperature, heart rate, blood pressure or things like white cell count, cholesterol, blood sugar or even eyesight or hearing. If any of these attributes are WNL (within normal limits), then we can rule them out as not having an influence on the patient’s condition.  

In psychology, psychiatry and mental health, it refers to behavioral attributes that cannot be empirically measured. Thus if we want to determine if a patient is OCD, bi-polar, depressed, narcissistic, prone to violence or something along those lines, there are no precise measuring techniques. All we can do is administer behavioral tests and see if we feel the patient is WNL (within normal limits), or if they exceed normal limits (also WNL – Whole Nother Level).

Thus, if somebody has "WNL" marked on their chart for a given attribute, it means we can overlook this attribute when making a diagnosis, it is Within Normal Limits so it is not abnormal and so it has no influence.

But Prof. Ritchie told us that there is another meaning to the acronym WNL that is a bit more cynical and facetious. It likewise explains why a given attribute is ignored and not factored into the diagnosis. It stands for: We Never Looked! In other words, we never bothered to check.

Cynicism is just that, but if a medical practitioner makes a misdiagnosis because he accepted the “false” WNL in place of the true WNL, he will soon be an ex medical practitioner.

We all know that there is one more factor that any skilled diagnostician must take into account to ensure an accurate diagnosis. This is the patient’s medical or psychological history. This usually includes family background, as well. In short, for any diagnosis to be well grounded, we need to know where the patient is coming from, where he’s been and what he’s gone through.

Whenever these factors get written off as “WNL”, it’s supposed to mean that it’s because it’s “Within Normal Limits”.  But too much of the time it’s because “We Never Looked”.

In what I earlier called The Court of Public Opinion (Episode 1), I have learned that WNL is the standard. The public assumes that the aggressor is just like they are and we are not dealing with extenuating circumstances. They assign an automatic “WNL” to convince themselves that the circumstances are Within Normal Limits. That is why they are quick to judge this phantom fellow exclusively by their own standards. They are saying, “My behavior is 'within normal limits' (by my own standards) and if I were there, I wouldn’t act out like he did, so he is not entitled to act out that way, either (because he is also evaluated by my 'normal' standards). Since he unjustifiably acted out, he is surely a miscreant!

In theory, they might concede that if this villain is coming from somewhere else and has a different background and history (as I suggested), he can’t be judged the same way. But this is all in theory because they never entertain such thoughts. Hence, their WNL means – "We Never Looked".

In the second episode, Kangaroo Court, I basically wrote the same thing. I entertained the idea that we do not know enough about this alleged miscreant. Perhaps she is likewise a victim of abuse and, if so, now that she is no longer an active threat, we need to look at her status from this angle. (Actually, one commenter on that post boldly confirmed this suspicion straight out. Nevertheless, I have no idea who he is and I cannot consider his statement reliable on his say so alone.)

The feedback I got was more sinister than I expected. The WNL notation in this case did not really mean “Within Normal Limits” and it didn’t even mean “We Never Looked”. It meant “We’ll Never Look”. “We don’t care. We don’t want to know. We may find out something that will force us to retreat from our vindictive position, so let’s not look!”

So now we can finally discuss Episode 3 – the case of Zvia Gordetsky. As in the previous two cases, we have a blameless victim – Little Red Riding Hood - looking for sympathy and justice who thinks it’s a good idea to bring their cause to the public domain, and we have a villain who is undoubtedly the big bad wolf.

The basic story is that Zvia Grodetsky is a 53 year old Ukranian Jewish olah whose marriage went sour after 17 years and has spent an additional 17 years trying to obtain a get. Her husband has not been overly cooperative and so, the Beis Din ordered him to be locked up until he complies. After a 16 year standoff, Mrs. Grodetsky appealed to the government to annul her marriage. Unfortunately for her, the government has no authority to do such a thing; not legally and not Halachically. After spinning her wheels for eight days and suddenly discovering that she is not feeling well and is losing pay time for work, she ultimately abandoned her hunger strike.

This episode occurred last May and made headlines for about 10 days. It doesn’t look like there was any press coverage prior to May 2017 in the English language media and there doesn’t seem to have been any since then. I did manage to find a few earlier references to this case in the Hebrew media. The story was primarily carried in two Times of Israel articles, one on May 8 and the second on May 15, both of which written by Marissa Newman. Emes V’Emunah picked up the story on May 10 and that’s where I saw it.

At first glance, this case seems to be much more cut and dried than the other two episodes. In contrast to the Miriam Shear episode, we know precisely who the villain is. In contrast to the Malka Leifer episode, this case was litigated in a bona fide Beis Din. Beis Din heard the case and ordered a get b’keffiya – the strictest kind – apparently based on the claim of violence which seems to have been substantiated.

In the wake of all of this irrefutable information provided by the immutable Times of Israel, Rabbi (Dayan) Maryles at Emes V’Emunah passes his judgement:

I know that there are always 2 sides to every story. And we haven’t heard his. But anyone who is as evil as this guy is has lost his right to have a side! 

So the ruling of Dayan Emes V’Emunah is that (1) We know he is evil even though we haven’t heard his side and (2) since we are sure that he is evil even though we haven’t heard his side, he has lost his right to have a side!

Did you get that? (Me, neither.) This is taking Within Normal Limits beyond We Never Looked to a Whole Nother Level!

But this is not anything new. This is precisely the slippery slope that I was discussing in my post about Victims Turned Predator - the moment an individual is merely accused of indecent behavior, he becomes an automatic pathological liar and anything he says must be discounted even if it makes perfect sense. Conversely, some of the most ludicrous, irrational accusations are swallowed whole because they were stated by upstanding people who, of course didn’t witness them, but will swear they heard them from anonymous “reliable sources” (who, of course, didn’t witness them…).

It is gratifying to see that I am not the only sane meshugenah left in the world. At least three commenters on the Emes V’Emunah post called out Dayan Maryles on this paradoxical psak (saved me the trouble). And several of them pointed out some of the other issues that I have with this story.

Commenter A simply wrote:!קשיא רישא אסיפא. 

Commenter B wrote:

What in the world is the basis of your assessment of evil?...Because you fathom that he must be doing this to simply cause her to suffer? You have NO idea! Perhaps he's horrendously hurt and humiliated by whatever way she may have treated him that he simply can't (from a very sad and twisted emotional place) participate in the divorce process. This would be tragic, but far from "evil."

These were my thoughts exactly. I once heard Rabbi Berel Wein say in a tape: We all have our demons. It is how we deal with them that determines who we are. We are very quick to draw our own red lines in accordance to our personal standards and set our parameters for WNL – Within Normal Limits – and this is how we rationalize labeling anybody who crosses those lines as “evil" or “delinquent” without any regard for where they are coming from, what dilemmas they are facing, and what their true intentions are.

With regard to this particular case, here is another commenter – Commenter C - that reflects my thoughts (edited for typos – emphasis is mine): 

This [good] for nothing husband may deserve his jail sentence and other husbands probably cough up gittin quicker [once] they know the [chance] of incarceration exists. But this jail sentence obviously isn't working. Perhaps different approach should be attempted. … there are psychological methods of changing a person's mind. No torture necessary…

To be sure, nobody is exonerating this husband and nobody is, chas v’shalom, criticizing the Beis Din. The Beis Din is acting by the book and using its full arsenal which, unfortunately, is quite limited in this age of galus. But there is a reality here that we must acknowledge: “this jail sentence obviously isn't working…” and if you read my earlier post about the futility of prison, you may wonder over the fact that Beis Din is keeping this guy in jail...and who is paying for it?

I am! And you are (if you live here). And the dayanim of the BD are. (Though, Dayan Maryles is not.) And Zvia Gordetsky is - in more ways than one. One article says she may lose her house due to mounting debts.

So, I don’t see how it is in anybody’s interest to label this guy as “evil”, even if he is, and be eager to throw this guy in jail and throw away the key. Of course we don’t really want to let this guy play his game and manipulate his opponents, but, if we are all losing out, it may just be the sensible thing to do! And, in order to do so, we may need to change our WNL from "Within Normal Limits" to "We Never Looked" and look at the things we have not bothered to look at until now.

Without "looking" we won't really know all that much. As to be expected, the TOI article leaves out a lot of very fundamental details. Its goal is to shine the spotlight on the plight of the chained wife but not to waste much ink on how she got there. It tells us that her husband has been violent toward her but nothing else. It doesn’t even tell us her husband’s name, nor his age, nor where he’s from.

For the most part we can live without these details. But there is one additional missing detail that needs to be included in order to make any “judgements” about this story: 

WHY? Why doesn’t he want to give her a get?

The TOI articles don’t even tell us that. And, of course, it certainly is not getting involved in what kind of role the wife played in this drama. To Emes V’Emunah and, I surmise, to most of the world, even this doesn’t matter. Who cares? Beis Din heard the case and ordered a get b’keffiya. And our villain hasn’t delivered it. He is “evil”. So now we must sympathize with her cause to get the government to override the “system” or find some other way to change it.

What details can we uncover if we really "look"? (Note- these details all assume that the stated facts in TOI and other media are accurate.)

What is the husband’s name?

From the research I did, it seems that his first name is Meir.

Where is he from?

Let’s see. His wife was married (to him) 34 years ago when she was 19 – works out to 1983 – and she only made Aliya from the Ukraine in 1990. So the wedding in 1983 was in the Ukraine. Ergo, he is from the Ukraine, as well.

How old is he?

It doesn’t say, but let’s guess. The TOI article says that Zvia Grodetsky, now 53 was 19 when she got married. It is hard to imagine that Meir was younger than that. I don’t know what the typical age for marriage would be but a fair guess is the mid 20s. Let’s be conservative and say that he was about 24 (I suspect even older). This would make him 5 years older than her or 58 now and having been born about 1959 or earlier.

So we have learned that Meir Gordetsky was born in Ukraine most likely before 1960. This means he was born during Nikita Khrushchev’s watch and, as of 1964, grew up under the thumbnail of Leonid Brezhnev (who was in business until 1982). These guys were no Jimmy Carter. The Ukraine is not Toledo!

We also know that currently, he is observant. He wears tefillin and prefers mehadrin kashrus. One Hebrew article seems to say Zvia wanted to send their boys to a more Dati Leumi yeshiva where they could do bagrut and he insisted on a no-bagrut chareidi yeshiva. Although it looks like all the boys are doing army service.

These few facts open a plethora of other questions (that I don’t have the answers for).

Is he a full-fledged two sided Jew or is at least one of his parents not Jewish?
What kind of life did he have in the Ukraine during the Khrushchev/Brezhnev years?
Did he have any kind of Jewish education when he grew up?
What kind of person was his father? Easygoing? Tough? Religoius? Communist?
Is he still alive? If not, how old was Meir when he died?
What about his mother?
What kind of household did he grow up in? How well did his parents get along?
Did Meir serve in the army in the Ukraine?
Did he have a kosher wedding? Who was misader kiddushin? Who were the eidim?
Were they shomer Torah and mitzvos and Mikveh at that point?
Did they redo their wedding after they made Aliya?

Unless we know the answers to all of these questions, I don’t think we have an inkling of who we are dealing with. One thing is certain – he doesn’t come from the same place as does anyone who is reading this blog or Dayan Emes V’Emunah and even Times of Israel.

Let’s get up to date and ask the two big questions:

1)   What went wrong with their marriage?

2)   Why doesn’t he want to give a get?

For question #1, the TOI tells us that he has a tendency to be violent. The fact that Beis Din seems to have ordered a get b’keffiya indicates that their assessment confirms this assertion. Of course, we still know that it takes two to tango. Even somebody with a very short fuse can be a very pleasant person if others are not careless about setting him off. So the TOI tells us of a vague episode with a tragic aftermath. But we don’t know what triggered this episode to begin with.

For question #2, TOI doesn’t give us a clue. But a KanV’Achshav video interview on May 11 does. In the video, she says that he is withholding the get “l’tzorach nekama” which literally means “for the purpose of taking revenge”. Indeed, it may be just a way of saying “just for spite”. But if she really means for the purpose of taking revenge, what does he seek revenge for?

She continues in her statement that he contends “if I cannot be his, I cannot be anyone else’s”.

So, according to Zvia at least, he is violent, vengeful, and possessive. Not a positive resume. For those who have read up a lot about spousal abuse and narcissistic disorders, this looks like a textbook case. And it may be.

Of course, firstly, we have only heard her viewpoint. But, more importantly,  we are used to making these diagnoses based on Western cultural norms. When somebody is brought up in a healthy family setting in Queens or Toronto or Golder’s Green and their background statistics are really WNL – Within Normal Limits, then it is easy to determine that their current behavior is outside of the normal limits and this person is an outcast.

But when somebody comes from a place where the “Normal Limits” are different, where the threshold for what is considered “violent” or “possessive” may be on a higher scale, we need to know what the rules in his rulebook are before we can be sure that he is breaking them. At the same time, he may not be aware that in his current environment, which is not his native one, the tolerance level for acting out is much lower.

Is Meir Grodetsky evil and is he irrational?

Meir Gordetsky is a Jew who was born and raised on the dark side of the iron curtain in the days of Khrushchev and Berzhnev and is fundamentally shomer Mitzvos today – even if he doesn’t know how to treat his wife. He’s been through a ringer that most of us cannot imagine. He has never had it easy. There is a lot to be said for that. He is not a nobody.

I can't see how we are qualified to judge him.

What seems certain is that we are dealing with a typical domestic spat that escalated beyond the point of no return. Not necessarily the "cycle of abuse" but the "cycle of vengeance". We all know it. Wife messes up, like, let's say,  she doesn’t have supper ready on time. Could be her fault could be not. Doesn’t really matter. Husband overreacts. She responds to his reaction. He responds to hers…etc., etc.

Nobody addresses the initial grievances but rather how wrong the other was to react that way. And the couple winds up in court or BD claiming irreconcilable differences.

Once, I was shocked to hear that a close family member of mine was going to give his wife a get. When I saw this fellow’s mother, she simply told me, “It was a small fire that grew into a big fire.”

This condition comes from a combination of anger, pride, misunderstanding and unresolved grievances. But definitely not evil. He may be a tough "nut" to crack, but I am not convinced that he is a nut!

Like everyone else outside of the arena, I don’t know what really happened between Meir and Zvia. Same goes for the other two episodes I wrote about. But, as in the other two cases, I can make an educated guess based on the scanty information that was presented on the Net. But let me first clarify something that most people don’t realize about divorce.

Too many people think that divorce is a method of ending a bad marriage. Like euthanizing someone who is terminally ill. And that’s how they implement it; to put the marriage to death.

This is not what it is meant to be.

Divorce is a funeral for a marriage that has already died.

You don’t bury someone who’s not dead, no matter how poor are his chances. So, if the marriage isn’t dead, don’t bury it!

So, when is it dead?

For the death of a person, we have clinical definitions. We can all agree that if someone has no pulse, no brain activity and doesn’t breathe, he’s dead. From the Jewish standpoint, if he has one of the three, he’s not dead. It’s too early to bury him.

A marriage involves two people and doesn’t have such clear indicators. So it becomes very subjective. I think a marriage is only dead when both sides think it is. As long as one side doesn't think so, it's not 100% dead and not  time to bury it.

It often happens that it may be dead to one party before its dead to the other; so one party goes on his or her own to prepare for the funeral while the other still wants to resuscitate it. In the eyes of Party B, Party A is burying a marriage that is not yet dead; essentially euthanizing it.  

Beis Din is meant to be the chevra kadisha for a dead marriage - not the ones to put it to death. If one feels that there is absolutely no hope for their marriage (i. e., that the marriage is dead), it is a good idea to make sure that the other side agrees to the status before transferring the “niftar” to the "morgue". Divorces are always much smoother when both sides acknowledge that the marriage is dead. In this case, the BD “chevra kadisha” is doing both sides a service.

But if Party A takes the “body” to the morgue before Party B acknowledges that it is dead, then Party B will forever think that Party A killed a marriage that could have been saved and that Beis Din is their accessory to the killing. It doesn’t matter what the truth is because once the body is buried, nobody can prove that it wasn’t still alive when it was brought to the morgue.

I have a feeling that Zvia Gordetsky brought the case to Beis Din a bit too soon. She may have convinced herself that there was no hope for her marriage, but he wasn’t convinced. And, who knows? Maybe he was right. He wasn’t born in Toledo or Queens or Golders Green or Eretz Yisroel. He is from Communist USSR. It could be that however he dealt with his wife over here does not typically spell the end of marriages where he comes from. In his eyes, she ran to Beis Din when there was still hope for their marriage. And Beis Din did her bidding and declared the marriage dead without his agreement. So he is angry at her and even more angry at Beis Din. As far as he is concerned, these two entities conspired to kill the marriage before it was really dead.

He is angry at them. Very angry. He won’t let them “break him” and he is even willing to forgo tefillin and mehadrin kashrus and minyanim and everything else to defy the people who buried his marriage before [he could acknowledge that] it was dead.

We will never know if his grievance is justified or not but it could be. In any case, I think this is what Commenter B in Emes V’Emunah was saying: “Perhaps he's horrendously hurt and humiliated by whatever way she may have treated him that he simply can't (from a very sad and twisted emotional place) participate in the divorce process.”

And Commenter C joins in: But this jail sentence obviously isn't working. Perhaps different approach should be attempted. …

It looks to me that both Zvia Gordetsky and the Beis Din are treating Meir like a “nobody”. And, if this is so, I can assure you that “nobody” is going to give her a get. I think all sides need to acknowledge that he has a grievance, whether it is justified or not. And perhaps they need to address his grievance on his terms.

Maybe if she stops using Beis Din as an accessory and lets him out of jail (at least for now) and stops running to the media and the Knesset so he can be painted as “evil” and does some honest professional gishur (mediation) like the new law dictates, just maybe her dead marriage can be brought to a proper burial.

Or, even better, maybe we can even see a techiyas hameisim.

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