Hurrying by the parking lot at the Lakeside Event Center in Las Vegas, Israel Meir Kin and his bride-to-be, Daniela Barbosa, avoided eye contact with a group of about 30 demonstrators who had been waiting for them. Dressed for the occasion in a suit and a wedding gown, respectively, the couple could not reach their ceremony fast enough. The sight of them was enough to enrage the group, a gathering of members of the Los Angeles and Las Vegas modern Orthodox communities who stood waving signs and shouting slogan denouncing the union.
"Give her a get," one of the protesters shouted at Kin, referring to the Jewish bill of divorce. He was referring to the Jewish law that a husband must agree to officially divorce his wife, in this case Lonna Kin, otherwise under Jewish law he remains officially married. Without a get, Meir Kin’s marriage to Barbosa is not considered legitimate, and Lonna Kin remains unable to marry again, as well.
The March 20 wedding in Las Vegas, which has added fuel to the ongoing, often-heated debate in the Orthodox community over Jewish laws governing divorce, drew leaders from L.A.’s modern Orthodox community. Those present all agreed that Meir Kin is in the wrong.
"He is adding outrage to outrage by getting married, doing the very thing that he is preventing his wife from doing, and he is violating the laws of polygamy," Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky said.
The protest was organized by the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was notified in advance. ORA describes itself as "the only nonprofit ... addressing the agunah (Hebrew for "chained wife") crisis on a case-by-case basis worldwide." Lonna Kin is the agunah in this situation, ORA says, as she cannot remarry for as long as Meir Kin does not provide her with a get. If she were to remarry without it, she would be ostracized according to the laws of the Orthodox community.
Meanwhile, Meir Kin claims to have a heter meah rabbanim -- the permission of 100 rabbis, a decree that allows him to wed Barbosa even though he is still technically married to Lonna Kin under Jewish law, according to the ORA. The two filed for a civil divorce in 2007, press materials from the ORA say. Women do not have access to the meah rabbanim rule, which is an alternative that is to be employed only in extreme cases. ORA claims that the case of Meir and Lonna Kin is not such a case.
Yaakov Sobel, a ninth grade student at L.A.’s Shalhevet High School, held up a banner that read "Shame on You Israel Meir Kin." He was one of six Shalhevet students who traveled to the protest on Thursday, riding together in a van that departed from their campus at noon. They had come, with their parents' permission, for the sole purpose of speaking out against the wedding.
"I'm here to support the Jewish idea in general that a woman deserves a get," Sobel said.
Rabbi Ari Segal, Shalhevet’s head of school, was among those chanting against Meir Kin as he and Barbosa stepped into the parking lot. Segal said his students have been studying laws surrounding Jewish marriages and the protest was an experiential learning opportunity for them.
Kanefsky said he had come to teach. He told the protestors that the conflict between Meir and Lonna Kin illustrates the importance of Jewish prenuptial agreements. These agreements, he said, are paramount to any union, in that they obligate any two people entering into a marriage to agree that they would, in the event of their divorce, settle the matter in a reputable beit din, a Jewish civil court.
Meir Kin has agreed to give his wife a get on the condition that she appear in a beit din of his choosing, and the ORA said that the beit din he has chosen is known for being corrupt.
Irrespective of which beit din, Kanefsky said, a spouse should allow for a get without any strings attached.
"We're saying he must give an unconditional divorce," Kanefsky said.
‘While the high-school students enjoyed a road trip, Kanefsky traveled to the wedding by plane. The leader of Congregation B'nai-David Judea in the Pico Robertson neighborhood had planned to drive, he said, but his congregation had purchased him an airline ticket for him so that he would not have to spend time on the road.
“We don’t know what is going to happen when we get there,” Kanefsky told a reporter earlier in the day at the airport in Los Angeles. “I am the sort of person who likes to know everything before he does it, so this is unusual for me.”
Rabbi Kalman Topp, the senior rabbi at the modern Orthodox Beth Jacob congregation in Los Angeles, also came to Las Vegas to participate in the protest. Topp commended those who turned out for their commitment to an important cause.
“It’s great we all came here – some of us hundreds of miles – to come together to say we are not going to stand for this,” Topp said to the crowd.
Police officers on the scene frequently had to remind the group, which included members of Las Vegas Orthodox community, to remain out of the street. Otherwise the protest was civil throughout. It did not disrupt the wedding.
Rabbi Nachum Meth of the Las Vegas Kollel was among the locals who came to protest. Meth said a man who refuses to give a wife a get is attempting to exert psychological power over his spouse.
“It is the last form of control that a husband has over his wife or ex-wife,” he said in an interview. “He is trying to control her destiny.”
Kanefsky, who was the only person representing B’nai David, said he had informed his congregation only a day or two prior to the event. Topp, meanwhile, was joined by a few members of Beth Jacob. The participation among Shalhevet students might have been greater if not for homework and tests, Segal said.