Photo Credit: Nathan Lewin
Nathan Lewin

In more than 50 years of practicing law as both a prosecutor and defense counsel I have witnessed no more misguided and foolishly destructive use of law-enforcement resources than the FBI’s recent triumph in a federal court in Trenton, New Jersey.

Three distinguished rabbis who had courageously championed the cause of agunot – women whose former husbands cruelly prevent their remarriage by deliberately withholding a Get – were sentenced in mid-December to terms of ten years, eight years, and more than three years in federal prison because they were induced by FBI actors to participate in what they believed was a “forced Get” but was, in reality, nothing more than a show – a “sting” – created by the federal authorities.

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The FBI set out to lure rabbis who would actively – perhaps over-zealously – try to have a recalcitrant husband (who did not exist) authorize the writing and delivery of a Get to a weeping agunah who was, in reality, an FBI agent. The agent’s acting talent persuaded the trusting rabbis that she was authentic, particularly because she brandished a forged but legitimate-looking ketubah and a seruv signed by the presiding dayan of the Beth Din of America fraudulently secured by the FBI.

The FBI’s interest was initially aroused in October 2010, when a recalcitrant husband was beaten in Lakewood, New Jersey, in order to coerce him to authorize a Get. He had fled Israel in violation of a court order after refusing to comply with a rabbinic directive to give a Get. The federal prosecution of a Lakewood rabbi for kidnapping and beating the recalcitrant husband was legitimate law enforcement. But the FBI went on to create a “Getcha Sting” aimed at finding and prosecuting others who, the government apparently believed, regularly participated in “forced gittin.”

FBI “stings” have become prominent techniques of federal law enforcement. The FBI now maintains a “specialized school in Quantico, Virginia” where selected agents are trained to become “certified undercover agents.” The purported agunah and her make-believe brother were both graduates of this FBI acting school.

The FBI embarked on the “Getcha Sting” with (1) front-office approval of a plan to conduct a “sting” directed at rabbis, (2) training of the two certified undercover agents at the FBI’s acting school in Quantico, and (3) fabrication of an authentic-looking ketubah.

The FBI first failed in initial efforts to induce criminal conduct by the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) – a highly respected law-abiding group that currently lists and provides photos of 19 “recalcitrant husbands” living in the United States – and the Beth Din of America. The FBI undercover agents then made false representations to the Beth Din of America to obtain hazmanot and a seruv. They honed their story, claiming that the (fictitious) husband was out of the country and could not be reached by rabbis in the United States. The agents declared that no amount of effort or money would get the husband to give a Get.

Wielding the fine-tuned tale, phony ketubah, and fraudulently obtained hazmanot and seruv, the “Getcha Sting” achieved “success.” It snared three rabbis, one of whom was also a sofer.

The rabbis believed the husband was a real human being who had left his wife an agunah and relocated to South America. Seven men with yeshiva backgrounds were recruited to travel to a warehouse in New Jersey in October 2013 with the sofer to surprise the recalcitrant husband and to serve as witnesses and a shliach le-kabbalah (the agunah’s agent to receive the Get). The FBI rigged the warehouse with cameras and recorders. It arrested the entire group and the two prominent rabbis who had been filmed by the FBI during the planning of the trip.

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Nathan Lewin, a former president of the Greater Washington Jewish Community Relations Council, has argued 28 cases in the Supreme Court of the United States and is an adjunct lecturer at Columbia Law School where he teaches “Religious Minorities in Supreme Court Litigation.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Really? Because it seems par for the course in modern law enforcement. It is much easier to manufature a crime than it is to find and stop actual crminals who have already commited a crime. It helps justify budgets, all up and down the line.

  2. Three distinguished rabbis who had courageously championed the cause of agunot – women whose former husbands cruelly prevent their remarriage by deliberately withholding a Get – LOL. I didn't know charging $80,000 smackaroos was so courageous.

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