Check Out My Op-Ed in Haaretz

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Two well known Orthodox Jewish rabbis were arrested for allegedly conspiring to beat a recalcitrant husband to coerce him to give a get (writ of divorce). This is a serious crime. It also demonstrates the huge Agunah problem in Orthodox Judaism.

I did a little write up on the issues this case raises for Haaretz. You can read it here: Haaretz.com

(If you get paywalled you can read a PDF here: Haaretz Article)

  • IH

    It took 40 years for Modern Orthodoxy to adopt “the Lieberman clause” and create the BDA Pre-Nup. We still have 2 years before we hit the 40th anniversary of R. Rackman’s proposal at the 1975 RCA Convention.

    For a start, see from earlier this year: http://www.thejewishweek.com/print/32798

  • Bray

    A. Mazal Tov on getting published in ha’Aretz pretty prestigious publication.
    B. I read the PDF. I think our piece brings balance and nuance to the issue. Many outlets are painting those arrested in the FBI sting as mercenaries in it for big bucks but I think that you “knights in shining armor” probably comes closer to the truth in most cases. There are easier, more pleasant ways to make “big bucks”. I got paywalled. How is the comment stream over at HaAretz going? Are they calling you a medieval fanatic?

    • A. Thanks. Good to hear from you!

      B. There are no comments at all at Haaretz, yet. The fun was on Facebook. (https://www.facebook.com/eliyahu.fink/posts/10101860906729825)

    • MarkSoFla

      Bray, if you think they are closer to “knights”, can you explain why they took the case without:
      a. speaking to the “husband”
      b. verifying that the marriage took place in the first place
      c. verifying that a divorce was in progress (civil or bet din)

      So far, I haven’t seen any satisfactory answers to these questions.

      • The complaint doesn’t include all the facts.

        • MarkSoFla

          But it includes some of the facts. And what it does include doesn’t look very good. Also see the latest added by Israel Schachter.

        • NYer

          The Rabbis arrested are no “knights in shining armor”.
          They repeatedly harassed someone I know- without ever asking him his side of the story, without asking the Beis Din the case was in front of (she didnt like how it was going and just called up this Rabbi), without finding out anything except HER story. He was scared he was going to be stalked and beat up in an alley somewhere- he was afraid to go out alone at points! He went out with a friend just to hopefully deter any assaults!

  • zach

    Knights in shining armor — give me a break. Hello? Lots and lots and LOTS of money? They are hired thugs for women who are completely
    trapped, and desperate enough to hire thugs. The whole system stinks to the high heaven they all profess to do it in the name of. And that’s MY editorial opinion. (zach’s wife)

  • IH

    Sooner or later, we will be back to R. Rackman’s proposal as there has been no better answer within the halachic process. By way of tutorial:

    “The solution Rackman proposed was a form of retroactive marital annulment, based on the model of the ‘mistaken sale’ – monetary transactions annulled for lack of full disclosure by one of the parties. Since in marriage, as in sales, full consent is required by both parties, the withholding of information by one is considered to compromise the other’s consent. ‘Concealing an important fact in selling a piece of property can justify the annulment of the sale. The same argument can be applied with regard to a marriage.’” The Talmud recognized the logic of this argument and would have allowed it to be the basis of annulments and saving an aguna, but disallowed it on another ground: “the general presumption that women prefer any marriage at all to being alone,” even to a leper or an abusive husband.

    “Rackman proposed an appropriation of this logic of annulment, with a critical amendment in its application based on an updated presumption about women’s preferences.” Rackman “acknowledged that the mind-set of preferring a bad marriage to no marriage may have been common among Talmudic women” for the woman who was left alone was lost in the society of the times and perhaps even in danger. But, Rackman “concluded simply, ‘In our day it is no longer true.’” A presumption, called hazaka in Hebrew, is in the Jewish legal system a prediction about nature, in this case, human nature. However, this presumption is outdated and should be ignored and the “mistaken purchase” annulment should stand as the solution to the terrible problem of the “chained wife”.

    Unfortunately, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik nixed Rabbi Rackman’s argument in 1975 and thereby, Rabbi Hartman writes, not only harmed the all-to-many chained wives but also placed Judaism in suspended animation. Rabbi Soloveitchik was then and is still today considered an accepted authority on Jewish law among Modern Orthodox Jews. He was, of course, entitled to his opinion, and his view should be respected, but should Judaism follow it when it does so much harm? Aren’t Jews today violating the Torah laws of love and respect of others when they fail to act? Can’t a solution be found that complies with halakha?

    Ref: http://www.jewishideas.org/articles/thoughts-agunah-problem

  • Noam Greenberg

    I understand that it’s a thorny issue, but to me, what takes away from “complicated intersection of religious and domestic law” and into RICO is the money. “Kofin oto” has halachic roots. But, like MarkSoFla says, there are steps and checks in place to make sure that it’s the last resort and it’s done properly. Extorting desperate women for tens of thousands of dollars is vile. Or, giving women a way to pay around a situation where kofin oto *isn’t* proper and would never be sanctioned by a Bet Din is even worse. I understand and agree with your sympathy for agunot, without reservation. But what if there were women who were not agunot. What if there were women who didn’t want to go through the regular process, and these guys gave them that out, for nothing more than cash? Those aren’t sympathetic agunot.

  • NYer

    And what about the numerous cases where the woman:
    1. Refuses to accept the Get. I know several cases where this happened. It was given from a real Beis Din that is well-known and prominent, no money was required as “payment”, and there were no other conditions.
    2. Refuses to let her ex-husband see the children (multiple ages) at all. She goes against any agreement made or any visitation scheduled, making up reasons why the kids cannot come over. (“She has a play date”- don’t schedule it for the father’s time then! Do it for the following day.) He never hurt the children and the children enjoy spending time with their father. They ask to come over and are upset when its “Mommy’s Shabbos again”.

    3. The woman tried sending thugs out to hurt/harass the man when he offered to give the get! The thugs never asked the Beis Din what the true story was and they still severely beat up the husband. He ended up in the ER.

    • IH

      Divorce is often an ugly mess, but withholding a Get as blackmail is evil. It’s that simple. [A man has recourse to get a Heter Meah Rabbanim, but a woman has no halachic options].

      • MarkSoFla

        What’s worse, withholding a get as blackmail or withholding the kids as blackmail?

        • They are not comparable. A woman literally has no recourse. Custody is determined in family court.

          • MarkSoFla

            Maybe not comparable, but often intimately connected (see case 1 below).

            Seems to me that there are 3 main reasons why a get is withheld:
            1. The man feels wronged (divorce agreement, custody, visitation, etc) and feels that this is his only remaining leverage.
            2. The man is attempting to extort [more] money from the family.
            3. The man is a psychopath/sociopath and enjoys harming people, specifically people who cross him, like his wife who left him.

            For guys who fall into category 2 and 3, I wouldn’t cry too hard if they were beaten until they willingly give the get. For case 1, well, it would depend on the circumstances.

            Custody is *determined* in family court, but it isn’t *enforced* by family court. It is only enforced by having sufficient money to pay a lawyer to repeatedly petition for your rights. But it isn’t just custody/visitation itself that is the issue, a closed community has a much higher success rate in reinforcing “alienation of affection” between the kids and the spouse with less power within the community.

            And in the end, I bet a large percentage of agunot are agunot because they are the ones with less power (for example ones that cannot afford to pay $60k to beat up their ex). For example, guy is a respected doctor, a donor, and has deep ties to the community, while the ex-wife was from outside the community and doesn’t have strong ties to it.

            • IH

              You’re missing a fundamental moral problem. When it comes to custody, there is a legal process that can be used to appeal. If a woman refuses a man a Get, there is a legal process that can be used to appeal. If a man refuses a woman a Get, there is no legal process for appeal. And, sometimes there is not even a ransom she can pay — it can be entirely for spite (which was the case for a friend of my mother’s, now in her 80s). It is evil.

              • MarkSoFla

                I am not missing it. The fundamental moral problem is that get, due to its inherent asymmetric nature, is an immoral law. And it needs to be changed.

                • Reb Yid

                  It’s God’s law, therefore by definition moral.

              • NYer

                And what if the guy just does not have the money to repeatedly miss work (therefore unpaid for the day), pay court fees, pay for expensive family lawyers etc? And I know of a few cases where the husband, even though found “correct” in the eyes of the court, still had to pay the wife’s court fees!
                Because he does not have the money, his ex-wife should feel allowed to withhold the kids? The kids want to see their poor father and it is harmful to them to not have a fixed schedule and their lives in a whirlwind. Yes it is Daddy’s week. No it is not Daddy’s week.

                All I am saying is that the whole system is problematic and until the frum community as an entirety can come together to establish some rules- the blame can be placed on both sides. Stating that men are always in the wrong or that women can “do no wrong” since the guy gives the Get is just whitewashing an entire segment of the divorced population where the woman is manipulative and sadistic.

                • IH

                  NYer — perhaps I have been unclear but I strongly advocate a change to the system as per the very first comment in this thread and my later quotation from R, Drazin.

                  That said, I do not buy the moral equivalence arguments. The legal fees situation is also a major problem in criminal law, which is why poor people often plea bargain and do jail time even if they could be exonerated.

          • MarkSoFla

            I thought about it some more, and they are quite comparable if you look at the systems separately.

            In the US legal system, the woman can petition for divorce, can be granted it, and can marry again. And the man can petition for custody or visitation and perhaps have a chance of changes.

            In the Jewish system, the get can be withheld and the woman has no recourse. So too, the children can be withheld/brainwashed (especially in closed societies) and the man has no recourse.

  • brian

    you may want to point out that one of the 2 rabbis is a neighbor of your parents and may be impartial

  • NYer

    Unfortunately, the statistics of how many agunot are out there are skewed. Some organizations and Rabbanim inflate the numbers because they have a real reason to want that (ie, they represent the women and want money/donations or notoriety for helping “the thousands of agunot” out there…etc). I know of one man who received numerous phone calls from many organizations, Rabbis etc yelling/threatening him to give a get. Case was long and complicated but suffice it to say, she was offered the get multiple times and no money, not a dime, was being asked of her (and he would still pay for the things he had been paying for). He wanted joint custody so he could help decide things like schooling and know about the medical status of their 3 kids. At that point their daughter was
    medically fragile but he had no information and could not call the doctors to find out. (They are both local people so they could reasonably go to the Manhattan hospital to see the doctor). This ex-wife was labeled an “aguna” when it was totally up to her.

    Plus women are likely on “multiple lists” if they contacted a few organizations and Rabbis.
    How many are truly out there? It might be impossible to put a number on it. For all we know, the problem might be with only a dozen people nationwide. Yes, that means there are a dozen women chained and that is terrible. But it does mean due diligence in checking things out would be needed. In the case of these stun-gun Rabbis- the case they were arrested for was with an undercover non-Jewish agent who was never halachically married. And they were ready to kidnap and torture this imaginary man- they obviously did not call any of her “references” and any “seiruvs” she brought with her. Due diligence is needed.

    • IH

      We do know from this case that in the small corner of Orthodoxy in which these people operated, their “services” were used approximately every 12 to 18 months.

      In a recorded conversation on August 14, 2013, Defendant MENDEL EPSTEIN admitted to planning, approving and committing numerous kidnappings and coerced gets. Specifically, Defendant EPSTEIN claimed that his organization kidnaped one recalcitrant husband approximately every year or year and a half.

      • NYer

        And again, how many were “real agunot” and how many were women who refused to accept the get? How many of these cases were like the FBI case (where there was no husband in existence)?? Ok, the husband would exist in the other cases, but he may not be making her an agunah and things may not be as simple as she is stating…
        Just because services were rendered does not make them necessary or based on the true facts.

  • Guest

    Also Kobre does not have smicha: you’ve corrected this before when it has been pointed out.

  • Yaakov Colman

    Although I agree with your points regarding the tragedy of agunot and that these rabbis were heroes to these women, you cannot ignore that fact that they sold their psak beit din for $10k!

  • RAM

    Can’t we assume that some women pressing their husbands for a get and paying for a violent resolution are in the wrong? In cases like that, the violence becomes all the more unconscionable.

    • Why would you assume that?