Readings — From the February 2014 issue

The Get Set

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From an October 10, 2013, complaint against ten Jewish men, including two rabbis, in New York and New Jersey, accused of running an organization that kidnaps and tortures husbands who refuse to grant their wives divorce. “UCE-2” is an undercover FBI agent.

According to Jewish law, in order to effect a divorce, a husband must provide his wife with a document known as a get. The wife has the right to sue for divorce in a rabbinical court, known as a beth din, which may order the husband to issue the get. A woman whose husband will not consent to a divorce is known as an agunah.

Essentially the Defendants’ organization operated as follows. The family of an agunah made payment to the Defendants, after which the Defendants convened a beth din, which issued a contempt order, known as a seruv, against the husband. If the husband failed to respond, the beth din issued a ruling, known as a psak din, authorizing the use of coercion and/or violence to obtain the get. The Defendants then arranged to kidnap the recalcitrant husband and assault him until he gave the get.

Defendant Mendel Epstein talked about forcing compliance through the use of “tough guys” who utilize electric cattle prods, karate, and handcuffs, and place plastic bags over the heads of the husbands, at one point telling UCE-2:

epstein: I guarantee you that if you’re in the van, you’d give a get to your wife. You probably love your wife, but you’d give a get when they finish with you. Hopefully, there won’t even be a mark on him.

uce-2: You can leave a mark. [chuckle]

epstein: We prefer not to leave a mark. Because basically the reaction of the police is, if the guy does not have a mark on him, uh, there’s some Jewish crazy affair here, they don’t get involved.

Law enforcement seized the following items that the kidnap team had brought with them to use during the kidnapping and forced get: masks, rope, surgical blades, a screwdriver, plastic bags, and items used to ceremonially record the get, e.g., a board with string attached, feather quills, and ink bottles.

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