Federal Bureau of Investigation agents raided a home in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn early Thursday morning.  / Michael Nagle for The New York TimesThis news out of New York is horrific. Some rabbis there chose a disturbing means of getting around a peculiarity of Jewish divorce principles, as the New York Times reports (WebCite cached article):

The two rabbis offered an unusual service to Jewish women who could not get their husbands to agree to a divorce, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For a fee, they would convene a rabbinical court and authorize the use of violence to get a recalcitrant husband to agree to a divorce, the F.B.I. said.

But that was not all, according to court papers unsealed Thursday morning. They were also willing to employ hired muscle, two men known as Ariel and Yaakov, to actually kidnap the man and torture him, until he pledged to divorce his wife, according a criminal complaint in Federal District Court in Newark.

Two men whom the authorities describe as rabbis — Martin Wolmark and Mendel Epstein — as well as a third man, Ariel Potash, have been charged in a kidnapping conspiracy according to court papers. In connection to the case, F.B.I. agents carried out raids in southern Brooklyn and Monsey, N.Y., in Rockland County on Wednesday evening.

The reason for this extreme approach, is because, as the Times explains, Orthodox Jewish husbands have a “veto” on divorces, and wives can end up stuck in bad marriages with no recourse:

In some Orthodox Jewish communities, a divorce is granted only once a husband provides his wife with a document known as a get. And stories of the frustrations and obstacles that women face in their quest to obtain a get are commonplace. While a woman can sue in rabbinical court to try to secure a get, some husbands do not comply with the court’s edict.

That, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is where the rabbis came in. “You need special rabbis who are going to take this thing and see it through to the end,” Rabbi Wolmark said in a recorded telephone conversation with an undercover F.B.I. agent posing as a woman whose husband would not grant her a get.

Whether or not a divorce is granted, is solely up to the husband. If he doesn’t want it, then it can’t happen. While I can understand the desire to help wives who want divorces whose husbands won’t grant them, kidnapping and torture is — quite obviously! — excessive. A much better and more effective approach would be to allow wives an equal say in whether or not they get a divorce. I don’t know, maybe that seems too simple a notion? Or maybe, being a cynical godless agnostic heathen, I just don’t understand the spiritual importance of giving husbands total and absolute control over their marriages and allowing wives no say?

Once again, we have ancient ritual purity codes getting in the way of contemporary practical considerations. It’s time we finally fucking got over the idea that women are property already and started treating them like real human beings. No?

Photo credit: Michael Nagle / New York Times.

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