Model Mom: Divorce

Custody Battle
Pearl married her husband and gave birth to four children, but she says the relationship was miserable. “Besides being completely incompatible on every aspect and every dimension, I didn’t have any rights in the marriage,” she shares, adding that she was a high profile woman in the community during this time. “Once I voiced my pain to the community, to the rabbis, to the therapists and to my own parents, I was told to shut up, because the appearance of the community and the families is of utmost importance.”

Pearl explains why she is being ostracized for wearing pants.

Pearl adds that her parents are not supportive of her. Though, she says, “They believe that I should have custody of the kids.”

“I understand his family went and met with your family,” Dr. Phil says.

“The first thing they did was render me a ‘zona,’ which is, in the Hebrew language, meaning a bitch, and a whore and a slut,” she says.

“And your father and mother didn’t object to that?” Dr. Phil asks.

“My mother was very objective, but my mother doesn’t have a voice,” Pearl says. “My father, himself, is a victim of religion — he was basically brainwashed. And he has a position as a rabbi in the religious community, which he was scared to lose.”

[AD]Pearl explains that after the conversation between the families, her husband went to Bet Din, the Jewish Court. “I was very innocent then and very naïve, and all I wanted to do was be a good girl, and just get me out of the marriage and help me,” she says, adding that they wanted her to sign a binding arbitration in rabbinical court. “I had the rabbi of Bet Din, with my father and other rabbis, threatening me that if I don’t sign that piece of paper, my kids will be taken away from me. This was the best technique to use against me, because they knew I was a very devoted mother. When they told me that, the first thing I did was sign that piece of paper. That was basically committing suicide.”
Dr. Phil turns to Rabbi Shmuley and asks, “Is that coercion?”

The rabbi apologizes to Pearl and Shauly for their experiences but says, “To say the things that you’re saying, which involves such extreme defamation, these are just about the most anti-Semitic things I have ever heard on a national TV show.” He points out that they may have had a bad experience, but they shouldn’t tarnish an entire group based on their experience. “Arranged marriages are absolutely prohibited in Judaism,” he explains. “Husbands are obligated to honor their wives much more than themselves. In fact, when we date, we don’t have sex with women. We don’t see them as sex objects. We are taught to respect them, to listen to them, to hear them and value their opinion. Any parent who would force his or her child to marry someone against their will, that is a form of abuse, whether they’re Jewish, atheist, or anything else. It has nothing to do with Judaism.”

Dr. Phil addresses Pearl. “It’s the personalities that have gone astray here. You don’t disparage the religion; you think that these personalities are corrupt, not the religion itself?” he asks.

“Correct,” she says.

[AD]Rabbi Shmuley interjects. “Religion is a phenomenal tool to bring out a more spiritual and wholesome life. There are people who abuse it. When they do, those individuals should be held accountable. But to malign an entire group,” he says. “The Jewish community is about charity, philanthropy, family, community. I am so sorry for your experience, and I wish I could speak to your parents, and I wish I could speak to your rabbis about why they let you down. To punish the rest of us is a bit unfair.”

“What happens in our religion — it is not a religion; it is a cult.”

Rabbi Shmuley cautions Pearl and Shauly about making blanket statements about the Jewish people.
Dr. Phil explains that Pearl originally had a joint custody agreement with her husband, but a Bet Din appointed psychologist monitored the situation and determined that Pearl was in violation of her agreement to raise the children consistent with Orthodoxy — because she was wearing pants — and therefore, recommended that Pearl lose custody of the children and could only have supervised visits. “Your point is you maintain a completely Orthodox home,” he says. “You’re a model, you’re an actress. You don’t wear any of that wardrobe, any of those fashions, in your home or around your children, correct?”

“Correct,” Pearl replies.

[AD]“You have maintained an Orthodox home,” Dr. Phil says. “You’re saying this is not a teeny, tiny aberration. That, in fact, this is epidemic among these communities.”

Pearl agrees.

Shauly explains why he thinks Pearl’s case will have a major effect on the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
Dr. Phil introduces Esther Macner, a New York divorce attorney who says Pearl may be facing an uphill battle.

“Signing an arbitration agreement is entering a contract,” Esther explains. “Whatever the arbitrator will award, that will be upheld by a court of law, unless you entered into this arbitration agreement by coercion.” She adds that it’s hard to prove coercion. “Having said all of that, as a matter of public policy, it’s the best interest of the child that governs.”

“If you enter into an arbitration agreement or any contract and there’s either fraud in the inducement or coercion, then that can be set aside, correct?” Dr. Phil asks. Esther confirms. “If the flavor of Orthodoxy that you refer to that is defined in that agreement is that the children be raised there in that community, then doesn’t that say that the only way you can be in compliance is to remain in the community?"

“If that’s what the agreement stated, then yes,” Esther says.

“But it is not public policy to sacrifice your freedom to the point that you say, ‘The only way you can comply is if you remain here, with us, under our control.’ That in and of itself is a violation of public policy; is it not?” Dr. Phil asks.

“No,” she says.

Dr. Shmuley addresses Pearl. “You are a beautiful soul, and I am truly sorry for what you have been through,” he tells her. “I think that you have a lot of anger in you, which I understand, but anger is never helpful. I don’t want to see any kind of religious coercion … It is my hope, however, that amidst your negative experiences, you might get past some of that anger and maybe embrace some of the tradition based on its ability to bring richness and beauty.”

“The fact is she has embraced that. She has continued to raise these children consistent with the Orthodoxy that she has embraced. It’s just not in the community,” Dr. Phil says. “What they’re saying is, ‘We have a court here who has said, “You lose custody of your children because you left this community and are wearing pants.”’”

[AD]“It’s absurd to say that an Orthodox Jewish woman is not religious because she’s wearing pants,” Rabbi Shmuley says. He asks Pearl, “Are there rabbis who have been supporting you through this, saying, ‘Of course, you must be in your children’s lives?”

“The rabbis who were supportive were supportive silently, and they were scared to voice themselves because they will lose their position. Not only will they lose their position, but they will be accused that they had an affair with me.”