Queens rabbis lead protest in contentious divorce case

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A group of Orthodox Jewish rabbis has organized a series of protests at the home of a Kew Gardens Hills man asking him to attend proceedings in a divorce court.

Since the middle of June, dozens of protesters from the metropolitan area have gathered on several occasions at the home of Irving Orner, 53, on 136th Street.

More than 80 people assembled outside the Orner home Sunday, holding signs which read “Stop holding your wife in chains” and “Your wife is not a piece of property, let her go.”

The conflict centers on a prolonged divorce battle between Irving Orner and his wife Maggie that has lasted for about eight years.

An Orthodox couple who were united in an arranged marriage, Irving and Maggie raised their three children in Toronto.

Several years ago Irving Orner moved from Toronto to Queens, leaving his wife and children behind. There had already been talk of divorce at that time, according to people on both sides of the dispute.

A Toronto civil court made a decision in favor of Maggie Orner during a divorce proceeding, representatives of both Irving and Maggie Orner said, although terms of that ruling are still being contested.

But the two remained legally married. An Orthodox Jewish couple can divorce only by means of a Get, a Hebrew document issued by a Beth Din, a rabbinical court. So far the two parties have not met in a Jewish court, and the court cannot issue a Get unless both husband and wife agree to a meeting.

When a couple goes to the Beth Din, they agree beforehand to abide by whatever judgment the three rabbis on the court reach.

Over the last two years, many rabbis in the Queens Orthodox Jewish community have mobilized against Irving Orner on the grounds that it is his moral responsibility to show up in a Jewish court.

Each side of the Orner case blamed the other for not appearing in court.

Hersch Orner, speaking for his brother Irving, contended Maggie Orner went to the civil court before she approached a Jewish court in Toronto in violation of Jewish law.

Hersch Orner said his brother would only agree to meet in the Jewish court if the Jewish court agreed to act without taking into account the civil court’s ruling.

“She has to resign whatever she did in the goyish court, but it has to be solved with that condition.” said Hersch Orner, refxerring to the civil court.

Hersch Orner pointed out Jewish law mandates that a Jewish court supersede a civil court in matters of divorce.

“This is not a condition of my brother, this is a condition of the Torah,” he said.

But Rabbi Yitzchak Sladowsky of Glendale, speaking for Maggie Orner, said she was willing to go to court under any condition.

“She is willing to put everything on the table, including the house,” he said. “We simply want the gentleman to appear in court as Jewish law requires.”

While Maggie Orner is considered an Agunah, or chained wife, the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, which represents the borough’s Orthodox rabbis, have issued a siruv against Irving Orner. A siruv is a Jewish decree putting the recipient in bad standing the community.

Since the issuing of the siruv, Irving Orner has not attended a synagogue.

The protests are the latest step in a campaign to pressure Irving Orner to appear in court.

“We are out here because we want to help get the case adjudicated by a Beth Din,” Sladowsky said Sunday. “We are not taking sides.”

“Imposing sanctions and ostracism are the only things we can do,” he added.

--Adam Kramer contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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