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October 26, 2014 / 2 Heshvan, 5775
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Rabbi Soprano, the Cattle-Prod Divorce Specialist

In Israel, it’s easy to throw a recalcitrant husband in jail for refusing to grant a get. In the United States it’s much more challenging.
James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano (R), Steven Van Zandt as Silvio Dante (both seated at the table) and Tony Sirico as Paulie Gualtieri (seated by store window) forging a deal with Chasidic Jews on the third episode of the HBO series The Sopranos, aired January 24, 1999.

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano (R), Steven Van Zandt as Silvio Dante (both seated at the table) and Tony Sirico as Paulie Gualtieri (seated by store window) forging a deal with Chasidic Jews on the third episode of the HBO series The Sopranos, aired January 24, 1999.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

And who said Rabbis don’t watch TV?

In an episode right out of the Sopranos, two Rabbis have been arrested by the FBI for allegedly running a mafia-like scheme to beat up husbands who refuse to give their wives a get (Jewish divorce). The Rabbis were particularly creative in the alleged torture they used. If you thought circumcision was tough, try a cattle prod to the genitals. As Rabbi Mendel Epstein allegedly said in a wiretap, “We take an electric cattle prod … You put it in certain parts of his body and in one minute the guy will know.”

I’ll say.

It’s safe to assume that an electric shock to places where the sun don’t shine will get a man to sign just about anything, from a bill of divorce to the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa’s remains.

But far from being comedic, the story of the Rabbis-who-brutalize-husbands-who-chain-their-wives in marriage has been extremely damaging here in the United States, and not just because these Rabbis come across as criminal and crazy. Rather, the infusion of money into the story – with $10,000 allegedly being necessary to obtain a Jewish court’s approval and another $50,000 for muscle to beat up the spouse – has made the whole thing sound like a money-making racket.

Now, that may not be fair to the Rabbis involved whose intentions might be noble. But even the desire to help a chained wife does not justify violence and breaking the law. We Rabbis, at most, use our hands to gesticulate during speeches. Not to beat people up.

And yet, the chained wife remains one of the most vexing problems in organized Jewish life. So let’s examine the possible remedies.

Firstly, it is a husband who, in Jewish law, grants a divorce because, as in marriage itself, it reflects the natural gravitation of the masculine to the feminine. It is still men who ask wives to marry them and it is men who must grant the divorce. But we Jews are not Catholics. We allow not just the annulment of marriages but actual divorce. Marriage is not a prison sentence and noone should be incarcerated in a loveless or abusive relationship.

Jewish courts are meant to protect the interests of a woman by pressuring a husband to grant a divorce when a wife wants out. If counseling has failed and the marriage cannot be retrieved, we don’t force a wife into a cell called matrimony.

And here is where the system has failed. In Israel, where Jewish and secular law can intersect, it’s easy to throw a recalcitrant husband in jail for refusing to grant a get. Here in the United States it’s much more challenging.

Still, there are plenty of remedies open to our community that mystifyingly have not been fully embraced. A recalcitrant husband can be shamed by having his name published in newspapers and billboards. He can have his synagogue membership revoked and be barred from entry, even on the High Holy Days. He can be refused an aliya (call-up) to the Torah. He can be ostracized by the community, barring him from all communal events, including weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, and, as a last resort, he can be excommunicated.

What we understandably can’t do is put electrodes on his genitals.

But why haven’t our Rabbis employed the totally legal remedy of shaming him? Why isn’t there a concerted effort to punish these husbands by publicly exposing them? Where is the Rabbinical will that will bring about a Halakhic way?

Granted, the cattle-prod-to-the-nether-region gang might be taking the whole thing to an extreme. But if we’re going to condemn them – as we should – must we not propose a legal alternative? Or will we choose the safe route of condemning only the Rabbis who have at least made an effort – albeit a highly illegal and violent one – to remedy the problem rather than the mercenary husbands who are responsible in the first place.

Everyone in the orthodox community knows some woman who has suffered without a get, the victim of a husband’s shakedown or abuse. Maybe he used the get to obtain custody of the kids or to minimize his alimony payments. Perhaps his intention was making his wife’s life as miserable as he feels his is. But one way or another, he used Jewish law in a manner it was never meant to be used, namely to blackmail a woman. And the Rabbis watch and do next-to-nothing. Then we wonder why these things end in some horrible story like the cattle prod, grossly embarrassing the Jewish community and demonstrating the ossification, rather than the modern relevance, of Jewish law.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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10 Responses to “Rabbi Soprano, the Cattle-Prod Divorce Specialist”

  1. chavihornig says:

    Shaming him? Really?  The Jewish Press had a column of recalcitrant husbands and some of them were on the list for years!  Doesn’t seem that shaming them had any effect.

  2. Robin Birdfish says:

    and yet, the most obvious solution…to allow women the right to get a divorce instead of having to wait for her husband to give her one is not even considered as an option. How telling

  3. Robin Birdfish says:

    and yet, the most obvious solution…to allow women the right to get a divorce instead of having to wait for her husband to give her one is not even considered as an option. How telling

  4. Lisa Kamins says:

    this option does not exist with in halacha, and it can not be changed so easily. there is the option of beating these men, with in halacha, until he is willing to grant his wife a divorce. the Rabbi here, has it wrong. it is unfortunate, but there are some men who are willing to harm themselves in order to harm their wife, and these men the only option is beating them until they give their wife a divorce.

  5. Lisa Kamins says:

    the Rabbi here has it a bit wrong: here is the option of beating these men, with in halacha, until he is willing to grant his wife a divorce. the Rabbi here, has it wrong. it is unfortunate, but there are some men who are willing to harm themselves in order to harm their wife, and these men the only option is beating them until they give their wife a divorce.

  6. Ahron Ebert says:

    The Ramban condones beating the husband who doesn't give a get. We do not following the Ramban. The halacha we follow is Rabanu Tam who says the husband should be shunned. Shunning is not excouminicating.

  7. Dita Gould says:

    Boycoting their business is agood way to punish.

  8. Dan Silagi says:

    The easiest way is for the Beit Din to grant the get, and not force the husband to do anything. If the Beit Din refuses, the governmen

  9. Dan Silagi says:

    The easiest way is for the Beit Din to grant the get, and not force the husband to do anything. If the Beit Din refuses, the governmen

  10. Dan Silagi says:

    Screw halacha.

Comments are closed.

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