Orthodox Woman's Journey From Teen Wife to Advocate

Fraidy Reiss Helps Desperate Women Exit Arranged Marriages

Unchained at Last: Fraidy Reiss at her home in New Jersey.
chloe smolkin and lindsay rothenberg
Unchained at Last: Fraidy Reiss at her home in New Jersey.

By Anne Cohen

Published February 10, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
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The study itself defined forced marriage as “one that takes place without the full and free consent of one or both parties” and distinguished this from an arranged marriage, in which, it stated, “the choice ultimately remains with the individual.”

Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, agrees with that definition. For him, there is no such thing as forced marriage in the Jewish community. Jewish law, he said, does not permit it.

“There are certainly ‘arranged marriages’ in some Orthodox circles, but that just means that parents of a young man and young woman decide that their children are a good match,” he explained. “But in such cases, the young people must approve of one another before marrying.”

Reiss argues that “choice” is a relative term. Technically, she pointed out, she could have refused to marry. There is having a choice, and then there’s “choice,” she said. That is even truer after the marriage takes place.

Shafran acknowledged that, like all communities, the Orthodox Jewish community is not immune to domestic abuse. But he was reluctant to counsel in favor of secular authorities, whom he said “are powerless to do anything about the most common form of abuse in a marriage: psychological abuse.”

Instead, he advised, a woman seeking shelter from an abusive husband should approach the abuser’s rabbi, who should be able to effectively intercede. “[If] bringing in secular authorities is the only way to protect the wife (or husband), that will likely be the counsel of an experienced rabbi,” he said in an email.

When Reiss walked into the police department of Lakewood, N.J., and asked for a temporary restraining order against her husband, she had been living with him for nearly eight years, during which, she said, she feared constantly for her life and for the safety of her two children.

“I probably was the first Orthodox Jewish woman ever in Lakewood, N.J., to walk into the police department and ask for a restraining order against her husband,” she said. “They were shocked.”

Her friends, family and community were outraged — but not at her husband. A rabbi in her community dispatched an ultra-Orthodox lawyer to her home. His job was to escort her to court to withdraw the complaint.


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