Undercover in the Orthodox Underworld
Whenever the black dress came out, Jessica Weisman’s mother knew she was “going after the Jewish people again”
In the summer of 2013, a woman who called herself Rachel Marconi wept. She was an agunah, a chained wife, one of the many Orthodox Jewish women in the world whose husband withheld from her a get, the biblically mandated bill of divorce.
With Rabbi Martin Wolmark on speakerphone from New York, Rachel recounted how she lived piously but remained childless because her husband squandered their money, abandoned her, and refused to grant her a divorce. The inability to obtain a get is no mere inconvenience: A get-less woman cannot remarry within the faith, and any children she might have will not be considered Jewish.
“What is his name?” Wolmark asked.
“Alejandro Marconi,” said Rachel’s brother, Jonathan Miller, who sat with her in the New Jersey office as they spoke to Wolmark.
“Who?” Wolmark said. Marconi is not your typical Jewish name.
“Um, Alex Marconi,” Jonathan repeated.
Rachel jumped in. “Yes, rabbi. He’s from Argentina, although he travels to the U.S. and does business with my brother. That’s how I met him. We were married in 2010. The marriage did not work, for many reasons, which I can get into, but now we’re at wit’s end here, and we’re looking for options.”
“How do you avoid having children?” Wolmark asked.
“He just stopped coming home. He just refused to have sex with me, just abandoned me.” Rachel explained the anguish of her poor mother, who desperately wanted grandchildren. “She wasn’t happy that I married a Sephardic in the first place.”
Wolmark seemed dismissive. “Let’s go back,” he said. “Why doesn’t he want to give you a get?”
“To be honest, he’s not a nice person,” Rachel said. “I’m 43. He knows time is not on my side. He wants to continue taking money from my brother, my sweet dear brother.”