USA Today reported last week that Orthodox Jewish leaders have known for years about an “ultra Orthodox goon squad” who apparently tortures, kidnaps and cattle prods recalcitrant husbands into granting divorces. According to Jewish leaders, they have been aware of the problem for years and although they disagree with the methods used, they understand the motives behind such attacks.
Jewish leaders note, however, that they need to find creative ways to apply pressure to husbands without crossing into actions which could be construed as compulsion.
Why does the problem exist- because, under Jewish tradition, in order to obtain a legal divorce, a Jewish woman must obtain a get from her husband, which is a divorce document which is required under Jewish Law, which states “You are hereby permitted to all men.”
If the husband refuses to provide his wife with a get she will not be able to remarry. If she does choose to have more children, her children are considered illegitimate, which bars them from marrying another Jew in the future.
Forced Divorce in Jewish Community is nothing new
Forced divorce, however, is nothing new. According to Samuel Heilman of New Rochelle, N.Y., a professor of sociology and Jewish studies expert at Queens College, this was the way it was done centuries ago, although according to Heilman, this process doesn’t exist in many Jewish communities anymore.
Another interesting point is how the actions look to the outside world. Although the gangs are attempting to help Jewish women who are desperate, to the outside world, it looks like a gang of kidnappers. And the services they offer are not only criminal but can cost the woman thousands of dollars.
Who was arrested in Jewish Community?
According to reports from USA Today, those arrested included “Rabbi Mordechai “Martin” Wolmark, head of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey, and Brooklyn Rabbi Mendel Epstein, a prominent divorce mediator.” They were ordered held without bail until federal court hearings in New Jersey this week.
Some legal experts have argued that the arrest made by the police is unusual. In fact, according to some reports it is common for many in law enforcement to avoid getting involved. Some argued this was because of their “political ties with the ultra-Orthodox rabbis.” According to one report, it is not unusual for the district attorneys in Brooklyn and Rockland County, New York to “turn a blind eye.”
Prosecutors, however, noted that they have only had one similar case brought to their attention, the case of Abraham Rubin in the late 1990s, but because the victim failed to identify his attackers, the state did not bring charges against anyone.
No one knows for sure what the best course of action might be to improve the situation for many Jewish women. One suggestion is to allow actions such as freezing the husband’s bank accounts, or forcing the couple to attend arbitration, both with the goal of increasing the incentive for a man to grant a divorce. Other less common options is a potential annulment if allowed under the marital contract or to convene a beth din that acts aggressively with a recalcitrant husband and grants the wife a divorce, without his consent.
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