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December 29, 2014 / 7 Tevet, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Jewish divorce’

FBI Arrests NY Rabbis for Beating Husbands Who Refuse Divorce

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

The FBI raided a Monsey yeshiva Wednesday night and arrested four mean, including two rabbis, who allegedly kidnapped and beat recalcitrant husbands who had refused to grant their wives religious divorces and thereby prohibit them from re-marrying under Jewish law.

The “executors” used by the divorce gang included “electric cattle prods, karate, handcuffs and placed plastic bags over the heads of husbands,” the complaint charge stated.

The status of stranded Jewish women is known as “aguna” and is a problem that has received deserved focus in Israel and the Diaspora in recent years.

The FBI investigation and arrests bring to national attention the anguished situation of “aguna” women and perhaps will help put legal pressure on husbands who have separated from their wives but refuse to allow them to re-marry.

The suspects were arrested after a month-long sting operation in which a female FBI agent posed as an Orthodox woman trying to get a religious divorce from her husband. Another undercover agent posed as her brother.

Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark, along with Ariel Potash and a fourth individual known as Yaakov, appeared Thursday in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J. Six others could be charged, according to reports.

The FBI also raided Yeshiva Sha’arei Torah in Monsey and a yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J., Brooklyn and elsewhere.

The rabbis allegedly charged $10,000 to persuade the rabbis on the rabbinical court to approve kidnapping husbands, and another up to $60,000 to pay for others to abduct and beat husbands.

The FBI agents called Rabbi Wolmark in August and said they were “desperate for a religious divorce and were willing to pay a large sum of money to obtain a divorce,” according to the charge sheet.

“There are a couple of ways to do that,” Wolmark allegedly said in a recorded phone conversation. “You have to, we have to, convene a special Bet Din and see if there are grounds to, to, to coerce him on the ‘get’ [divorce decree].”

Wolmark allegedly added, “You need to get him to New York where someone either can harass him or nail him. Plain and simple,” he said, according to the complaint. The rabbi then set up a meeting between the undercover agents and Rabbi Epstein. A recorded conversation revealed that Rabbi Epstein spoke about “kidnapping, beating and torturing husbands in order to force a divorce.’

He allegedly added, “Basically what we are going to be doing is kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beating him up and torturing him and then getting him to give the ‘get.’”

One of the “tough guys,” supposedly Rabbi Epstein’s son, “uses his karate skills” on the victims, court papers said.

The FBI said the “divorce gang” has been operating for 20 years and that Rabbi Epstein said he carries out approximately one kidnapping a year.

Forcing husbands to grant a divorce is permitted under Jewish law, a rabbi told The Jewish Press Thursday. “Jewish law does not always seem humane, but it really is humane because physical force often is the only way to force angry husbands to release their wives from virtual bondage and to allow them to-remarry,” he said.

The rabbi added that rabbis often are blamed for the situation of the agunot but also are criticized for using force, recognized under Jewish law, to solve their dilemma.

He pointed out that force can be used only if a Bet Din [religious court] authorizes it and only if there are substantial reasons to order a divorce.

What Kind of Community Needs to Hear this?

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

An interview with Rabbi Mendel Epstein has gone viral. The protagonist of the article is Rabbi Epstein, a man who has dedicated his life to helping women navigate the rough waters of Jewish divorce. He is a professional to’ein (Jewish for lawyer) and advocates for women. He has a lot of insight. He also carries a bias. We all do. There’s no crime in bias. But it’s important that we know what we are dealing with.

In terms of substance, I agree with a lot of what Rabbi Epstein says. Obviously. Who wouldn’t?

He comes off a bit paternalistic at times. He’s also working in a very male dominated social environment so some of what he says sounds uncomfortable to more modern ears. I think it’s clear that he is talking about a fairly insular Haredi community. Most of the modern orthodox or even centrist yeshiva type people I know are fully aware of these things and don’t need to be informed or even reminded to treat their wives respectfully.

Four items in his “Bill of Rights” for Orthodox Jewish wive are:

(1) A wife must be treated with respect and not be abused. A woman in an abusive relationship has a right to seek a get.

(2) She is entitled to be supported by her husband. Read the kesubah.

(3) A husband is obligated to honor and respect his wife’s parents.

(4) She is entitled to a normal conjugal relationship.

He also cites some very specious anecdotal evidence about divorce and infidelity that sound exaggerated. He basically tries to assert the “it might lead to mixed dancing” argument as fact.

But here is the real problem. What kind of society needs to be told these things? How is this all not patently obvious? What kind of world needs a rabbi to affirm these basic principles?

It’s not as if Rabbi Epstein is saying that there a few people who need to be reminded or scolded about these things. He seems to be saying that this Bill of Rights is necessary for our entire society. This makes me ill.

We tout our communities as safe havens from the dysfunction on the outside. But is it true? Is there dysfunction on the outside? Are we functioning better? These are very difficult claims to answer. Rabbi Epstein seems to be poking a hole in our armor. It seems that in some ways we need to look to the outside as our guide on how to behave. Ask any middle-class, educated, family orientated person about marriage and there is no doubt that they will echo Rabbi Epstein’s supposed bombshell.

But how does this happen? How is it that we are falling behind?

It’s possible that we have demonized the outside so much in our communities and educational systems that we passively reject whatever they espouse. We gloss over חכמה בגויים תאמין. We think that we have the answers and they don’t. Eventually this leads us to a place where we tune out the good ideas and advice from the outside and bad habits and poor social standards become set in our communities.

I don’t doubt that there are many people who need to hear this Bill of Rights. But I also don’t doubt that anyone normal would agree with them. So why does it need to be said? It has to be that we simply ignore these issues. Why are we ignoring them if the rest of modern society is addressing them? There is no satisfactory answer to this question.

One more thing. Rabbi Epstein places too much faith in the Beis Din system. I have never in my entire life heard of someone who had a positive Beis Din experience. It seems extremely unlikely that a woman’s best course of action is to go to a Beis Din that requires both parties to agree to a binding arbitration. The problems with our Beis Din system are well known and it’s a disservice to his audience that Rabbi Esptein recommends entering into this basically corrupt system. See: Restoring Credibility to the Beis Din System.

The article ends with a call for action and ideas for solutions. I think it’s pretty simple. Reinstitute חכמה בגויים תאמין. Start learning from the outside. Read secular books of marriage and intimacy. Pay attention to what psychologist, marriage therapists, and secular experts say. Rabbis have to stop dismissing everything that comes from outside the Beis Medrash. We can learn a lot from experts on these matters, especially intimacy. We have to start respecting people outside our community and not believing as a matter of faith that a yarmulka and a sheitel and a vort and a 500 guest wedding and sheva brachos and shana rishona are going to magically make for great marriages and happy couples.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/fink-or-swim/what-kind-of-community-needs-to-hear-this/2013/08/28/

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