ABA Journal


Criminal Justice

2 rabbis among 10 charged in claimed kidnap-and-torture plot to force religious divorces

Oct 11, 2013, 05:20 pm CDT


It never ceases to amaze me how people, even men of the cloth, can convince themselves that doing what is clearly Evil by their own religious standards, is somehow justified by dogma.

By Tyrone on 2013 10 12, 2:24 pm CDT

This could be really handy in private family law cases. Husband is being stubborn? No problem. We send these guys over to tickle his gonads with a cattle prod and all is well.

By Fred on 2013 10 12, 10:36 pm CDT

Although, there are parts of this that read very Southpark type of comical...such as tickling someone's gonad's with a cattle prod; really that is not the civil thing to do.

What's more surprising is that men would give the women a difficult time getting the religious divorce especially if the civil divorce has already been obtained. It would seem to me that if the community knows about these attacks they might be more inclined to grant the "gets".

I can't believe the amounts of money they claim the women paid for such services, what a waste.
Couldn't they find a husband in another community? What constitutes their community? Is it Orthodox Jew within ten miles or less? What?

By concernedcitizen on 2013 10 13, 6:42 am CDT

@3. - "What’s more surprising is that men would give the women a difficult time getting the religious divorce"

You must not practice family law. When it comes to vindictiveness the Mob has nothing on the parties to a divorce or custody action whether they are men or women.

By W.R.T. on 2013 10 13, 11:16 am CDT

So God will not accept the divorce unless it is consented to by the husband. Simple enough. But it does not matter if that consent is the result of torture? How is that consent? I doubt they're fooling God with this one.

By NoleLaw on 2013 10 14, 12:35 pm CDT

I'm glad to see that this incident, and other like it, hasn't led commenters to attack the entire Jewish religion, because of the bad acts of a few (even if there seems to be some "institutional" acquiesence). Too bad the Catholic Church doesn't receive the same measured responses.

By WMantooth on 2013 10 14, 1:48 pm CDT

WMantooth, both religions need to come into the real world. They should simplify their process once a civil divorce is in place. And, for the record, refusal to provide the get or annullment simply shows immaturity and a measure of greed and control where the state grants a divorce and "each shall go his and her own way as though unmarried." For the record, for those who are more critical of the process followed under Canon Law, there are two types of annullment--malformed marriage and annullment for fully-formed marriage under Canon Law. The only problem with either is that they both require the opposing party to sign off and the tribunal does have a contact with family members of the opposing party. What was decreed in a court of law should be recognized by the churches and synagogues in this country because they're the first ones to get on the bandwagon and get their congregants out to vote on an issue that affects them.

By lab on 2013 10 14, 4:50 pm CDT

I could say something snarky here, but this is the perfect moment to ponder why attorneys should always give more than passing thought to Choice of Laws clauses in their contracts....

@ 1. What makes you think that this is "clearly Evil by their own religious standards?" In Ultra-Orthodox communities, there is a religiously symbolic ceremony that accompanies the marriage; but the procedure is purely contractual in nature. The contract, or ketubah, is agreed-upon by the parties prior to marriage, and signed by parties and their witnesses from both sides. Among non-Orthodox, these are boiler-plate affairs in Hebrew that are similar to the State's codified or common law marriage vows. In Ultra-Orthodox communities and Sephardic families, these can be quite elaborate affairs, that also include the terms of a divorce agreement--should the unthinkable occur. The choice of law and jurisdiction for most of these ketubot (pl.) in Ultra-Orthodox communities is Talmudic Law as interpreted by their local Bet Din--a Rabbinic Court comprised of three judges. (NOTE: Bet Dins also do Mediation and Arbitration, and it is not unusual to see business contracts with these clauses.) Specific performance of the remedies for breach by either party are available under these contracts. The Bet Din decisions on these contracts are usually upheld in State Family Courts. When a Bet Din permits enforcement by such means as are necessary to secure the performance, the nature of the "means ...necessary" is one that courts in this country commonly refer to as " unsettled area of law." Usually it involves shunning the offending husband and his business. In an insular community, this can have a devastating economic effect, and is often enough to secure compliance. But when the errant ex-husband makes his living outside of the community, this may have little effect. Which raises the question: Is the sanctity of a man's gonads more important than the forced waiver of contractual rights?

@ 3: In many Ultra-Orthodox marriages, the woman not only brings to the marriage a sizable dowry, which is often turned over to the husband to invest in business opportunities for the family. In addition, the man pledges up front a (usually) much greater sum to be settled on the woman in the event of divorce, plus a certain amount per child as minimum maintenance. These are significant sums; and the repayment of the dowry AND the marriage settlement are due when the man gives the wife a "get." So there is often a significant economic incentive for the husband to avoid giving the "get."

@ 5: The "consent" to these agreements is usually made far in advance, when both parties are presumably not under any financial pressure due to issues that surround an impending divorce. This is an enforcement action. As distasteful as it may seem, it is often fairer and more judicially expedient than having matched sets of lawyers egg opposing parties on in dissolution actions, while draining resources that could be used to provide for the parties' children.

By BMF on 2013 10 14, 6:15 pm CDT

Unlike many that have chosen to ignore parts of the"Torah" but accept others, Orthodox Jews (not only "Ultra-Orthodox") take "Gets" very seriously. It's not just a piece of paper to ignore when the court gives a divorce. This religion is the oldest mainstream religion with all of its roots and laws still intact. People spend their entire lives learning the never ending depth of it. If a husband were to never give his husband a Get then she would be forced to live her life alone. It is truly a terrible thing to do to a women. So, while most cases aren't as extreme as using cattle prods and thousands of dollars of payment, sometimes threats convince the husband to rethink his decision.

A forced Get is a legal one. The Oral Torah (Mishna and Gumara, the names for what is known as Jewish Law) are the most thought out documents second only to the Torah itself. These documents go so indepth that students will spend their whole life learning them. Please don't presume to know the "logic" about a complex religion.

By The other guy on 2013 10 14, 7:38 pm CDT

@8 - I was referring to the consent to dissolve the marriage, which was my understanding of what a Get was from this article. As far as cattle prodding being a fairer approach to a dissolution proceeding than dissolution litigation, I won't comment, as I'm unfamiliar with either. From what I hear, what you say sounds plausible.

@9 - I don't consider a set of beliefs followed by a couple million people worldwide (less in the case of "ultra-Orthodox") as "mainstream." The rabbis in this case perhaps should Get a grip.

By NoleLaw on 2013 10 14, 7:48 pm CDT


Those that are religous appreciated what they believe. Just because a majority of Jewish groups a while back found it convenient to pick and choose doesn't make the religous laws an less binding. For all orthodox, a Get is a more binding contract than any contract given by any modern day government.

So, for Rabbi's to "Get a grip" is telling a group to ignore a very important legal issue. For those that choose to follow the entire religion (and not what is just convenient) this is a very big issue. The lack of seeming understanding leads me to believe that religion, as you understand it, is just that, a religion, and has no place in the lifestyle. For Orthodox Jews, religion "is" their lifestyle.

I'm not saying you should have the same religous ideology as others, just to understand the situation that others are in due to their understand. This binding contract, in a women's eyes as well as her family, is a problem that literally has the ability to haunt the girl her entire life, so to some a little physical motivation is the right move. I will admit though, cattle prods, that's intense!

By The other guy on 2013 10 14, 9:57 pm CDT

Is a husband who obtains a civil divorce but refuses to grant a Get permitted to remarry in the community?

By Just curious on 2013 10 14, 10:00 pm CDT

@11 - I'm not questioning whether the beliefs are genuine, just the wisdom of the doctrine. This is an anachronistic practice that apparently serves no purpose other than to increase civil strife.

By NoleLaw on 2013 10 15, 2:49 pm CDT

#12 -- No. That would be bigamy.

By AndytheLawyer on 2013 10 15, 2:57 pm CDT

@ 12: Actually, that might depend on the community--which sounds like a typical law prof answer....

Originally, Judaism embraced the concept of plural marriage. However, the last big concession the Jews made to the secular world as a religion was probably the 1000 year ban on plural marriage. This was instituted about the year 1000, by rabbis who no doubt deemed it safer for the members of the Tribes in light of the rise of Christianity throughout Europe. Assuming the dates are correct, the 1000 year ban has expired. So as long as the ex-husband has obtained a civil divorce/dissolution, he would have a legal second marriage. Whether the marriage would be accepted by an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi would depend most likely on the local Bet Din's interpretation of this issue. As for the new wife, she would probably be considered a "slut" if the former wife was held in high regard in the community. Some things are universal....

By BMF on 2013 10 15, 4:42 pm CDT

Nolelaw @ 10: A "get" does not really symbolize consent of the husband to end the marriage. I'm trying to think of a way to explain this that doesn't sound terribly archaic or insulting, so apologies in advance to anyone offended.

Under Jewish law married women were considered the property of their husbands--just like under old English Common Law, thankyewfornotgasping. When a Jewish man gives his ex-wife a get, it is a formal notice that the woman is no longer his property, and that she is available to all without penalty under the laws for adultery. Adultery was originally a capital offense under Talmudic law. So depriving a woman of a "get" not only deprived her of money to which she was entitled under the contract, but her conjugal rights. I suppose the best modern parallel for comparison would be more a "decree/notice of abandonment of rights," often filed in a county recorder's office to provide notice of giving up an interest in certain real property or abandoning of certain assets under the UCC.

If the clause providing for the "get" is included in the marriage contract, consent is not really an issue. When the husband breaches the contract, he is liable for the damages or specific performance imposed under the terms of the contract. Consent is obtained at the time of formation of contract--when the parties sign.

By BMF on 2013 10 15, 5:06 pm CDT

@16 - I know nothing on the topic, so feel free to resist my invitation to get into the weeds on this one. In Deuteronomy 24, which is where I assume this get originates, it seems like it was initially the divorce instrument. With time, as civil institutions developed, we have created a civil approach to divorce, but I still don't see why the get is not the religious analogue. You mentioned that a woman without a get would be considered to be engaging in adultery if she had sex after a separation; that implies that there is an existing marriage from which the woman would be straying. If a get is required to dissolve the marriage, it is effectively the divorce, at least in that community. Seeing as how it is granted to the woman, it is a sort of manifestation of consent that the man no longer maintains any claim over the woman.

Maybe including a get in the marriage contract, effective upon the granting of a civil divorce or something like that, might be an end run around this whole business, just like some of these rabbis think that extracting a get by torture satisfies God's commands on the matter (because God is, after all, mainly concerned with technicalities such as whether there is a written instrument).

I wonder if your worry about explaining a get without sounding archaic or insulting may be due to the institution being archaic and insulting, as opposed to anything you might say to describe it. With perhaps only the exception of Pastafarianism, every religion becomes more absurd, and often more oppressive, the more literally it interprets and applies its holy writings.

By NoleLaw on 2013 10 15, 5:41 pm CDT

The hidden Exodus:
"Yea when Moses came down from the mountain with those two tablets, the people still didn't buy in to those commandments. Instead they continued to look to the golden calves and other such unworthy idols. And Moses went back up the mountain and received a Binford 360 Turbo Cattle Prod from the burning bush. And Moses thereupon smited the people roundly with ye Cattle Prod about their nether regions. Yea and verily did the people heed the commandments thereafter."

By psable on 2013 10 15, 7:23 pm CDT

I have no sympathy for these women. It's the 21st Century. Go to the courthouse and get a divorce. There are other Jewish churches that don't act like the Taliban (how ironic).

By Ann Clark on 2013 10 16, 4:30 pm CDT

@16: So wouldn't that make using torture on the husband until he grants the get considered robbery?

By Tyrone on 2013 10 16, 4:31 pm CDT

Ann Clark @ 19: RE: "There are other Jewish churches that don’t act like the Taliban (how ironic)."
I think we finally have a nominee for the Ann Coulter Prize for the Promotion of Interfaith Tolerance.

@ 16: I don't think so.... Perhaps you should read your Crim Law book before finals.

By BMF on 2013 10 16, 8:03 pm CDT

Screamed the husband to the cattle-prod torturer : " Oh, I "get" it ! This behavior by the defendants is quite inappropriate.

By charlegman on 2013 10 16, 8:57 pm CDT


Your use of the word "Church" for a Jewish synagogue shows just how much you know about anything outside your small comfort zone.

The other "Jewish churches" you mention, simply put, ignore even the most basic Jewish law. I'm sure by your comment that you have a clear and sophisticated opinion.

I've mentioned in other comments the understanding needed to understand the seriousness of such a contract. Orthodox Jews take these matter very seriously.

But in all seriousness, I'm just glad that you don't have any actual influence in policy. Beleive it or not, but religion is a very serious topic for many. Unlike others, for Orthodox Jews religion is not just a religion but their lifestyle. It is imbedded in their everyday lives and thoughts. I'm not saying you have any reason to have to hold a similar ideology, only that you try to understand and respect others.

By The other guy on 2013 10 16, 10:00 pm CDT

Fundamentalism, whether Islamic, Christian, Hindu, other, or as in this case, Jewish, is always bad. It takes what is good about religion and perverts it to the point that people can accept horrible actions as justified. Those actions committed in the name of religious beliefs that are despicable and disruptive to an ordered society merit no understanding or respect from others.

By NoleLaw on 2013 10 16, 11:32 pm CDT

Silly rabbis!

By B. McLeod on 2013 10 17, 12:43 am CDT

If this is what your religious community requires, you might do well to find another community.

By Smith on 2013 10 18, 8:09 am CDT

The women can get a civil divorce - but you cannot force the Jewish communities to re-marry them by Jewish rites or recognise them as married if they re-marry civilly.

In England we have adopted a law which I understand to be based on that of New York: the civil court can refuse a divorce if the husband refuses a get. Of course that does not help if it is the wife who is the petitioner for a civil divorce (two-thirds of all petitioners here are the wives) or if the husband has no interest in being able to remarry. And until the divorce the courts are hobbled in what financial orders they can make.

There is no ready solution - and the electric catlte-prod does not provide one.

By Andrew on 2013 10 18, 11:30 am CDT

The religion is already flawed by giving the stubborn husband so much power over the wife, even as she exists the marriage. The fact is, the women know that the "get" block may occur, so it's a risk that they take by marrying someone who can go on such a power trip. The other Jewish-mob men, who then exploit the situation even further to "solve" the issue is even worse. How about they update their religion and allow the "get" despite the stubborn bull.

By NYerhere on 2013 10 18, 12:15 pm CDT

Amish communities in upstate New York also have been torturing their members for years in order to enforce compliance with their strict religious dogma. Those who have managed to escape tell horrifying stories of isolation, deprivation, beatings, child labor, and child physical and sexual abuse experienced or witnessed during what might fairly be described as their captivity within the community. Local police know about this and have chosen to look the other way in the name of "religious freedom." I'm glad the feds in New York City have stepped in to stop this torture-in-the-name-of-religion. Let's hope the feds soon turn their attention upstate...

By tip of the iceberg on 2013 10 18, 1:01 pm CDT

@23 The other guy - Amen!

By In-House Intermediate on 2013 10 18, 1:15 pm CDT

So, a rabbi, a federal agent and a cow walk into a bar . . . .

By MFargis on 2013 10 18, 1:22 pm CDT

@31 Love it... right on cue.

By Tallahassee Tall Man on 2013 10 18, 1:51 pm CDT

FWIW, this is totally acceptable within the framework of talmudic law. the Talmud explicitly says if a man refuses to grant a divorce willingly, he is to be physically beaten by decree of a religious court until he "comes to want [to grant a religious divorce]".

By AR on 2013 10 18, 1:53 pm CDT

The Supreme Court of Canada held a few years ago that a Jewish husband who refused to provide a get to his ex-wife, despite agreeing to do so in the separation agreement, was liable to her for substantial damages. While she could have re-married civilly, having been divorced under the law of Canada, her children from a subsequent marriage would not have been recognized as Jews by Jewish law.

The case was essentially decided as a matter of contract. The ex-husband had received consideration for his promise to provide the get, and the breach of that promise gave rise to damages.

The minority of the court thought that the decision involved improper interference with religious law. The majority (in my view rightly) did not think so.

By John G on 2013 10 18, 2:00 pm CDT

What kind of bull weighs 5 tons? That statement alone would make me question these guys' judgment.

By Areader on 2013 10 18, 2:18 pm CDT

@23 -

I think you probably do understand @19 - I do. The word "church" is perfectly appropriate, it denotes a building where people go in groups to avail themselves of what Christopher Hitchens so aptly described as "the God delusion."

I cannot for the life of me understand why a female brought up to be chattel property wouldn't run away from such a "community" as fast as possible. This is the 21st Century; wake up already.

Not a religion, but a "lifestyle"? Like being gay is a "lifestyle"? Hardly. It's a *choice* to bind yourself to the rules of some Magic Sky-Fairy.

By 21st Century Reality on 2013 10 18, 3:16 pm CDT

I want to know who would marry a woman who paid to have her previous husband kidnapped and tortured.

By LawLOL on 2013 10 18, 4:01 pm CDT

@34 John G - "While she could have re-married civilly, having been divorced under the law of Canada, her children from a subsequent marriage would not have been recognized as Jews by Jewish law." The children would be Jewish, they would just be "mamzerim" or bastards. As such they could only marry other mamzerim.

FYI to all, this is an extreme and rare situation in the Orthodox community. The vast majority of time there is no violence, though there may be a threat of violence. Instead there is heavy duty harassment of the stubborn husband. Many if not most of these cases involve men who are abusive to their wives, emotionally and/or physically. These are not good people. There is an Orthodox man in Israel who has been in prison for decades due to his refusal to give a get.

By TorahLaw on 2013 10 18, 4:34 pm CDT

Ironically, Ultra Orthodox Jews have some much in common with their other cousins: Muslims, but you
just do not want to admit it. In conservative Muslim teachings, only the man could divorce the woman.
She is under his mercy all the time. Seems uncivilized? Yes. Only when God(s) dies, humans
become free.

By CamelJockey on 2013 10 18, 4:53 pm CDT

@23 The Other Guy ... a suggestion: Get a life. Who gives a rat's axx how seriously "Orthodox" jews take their religion? Really, did you read the story? Jihadists take their religion very seriously. The Taliban does so as well. The Saudi's do that when they arrest women who are caught driving. All around the world madness, large and small, in the name of religion takes place every day.

Your snarky rebuke about a reference to a jewish church just shows the smallness of your mind. You cannot quarrel with the substance of that commenter's post. Though you tried to quarrel with the substance, you just demonstrate how much like the Taliban you are -- only you apparently know the real judiasm ...

As I said, get a life.

By Get A Life on 2013 10 18, 5:07 pm CDT

@ 36: RE: "The word “church” is perfectly appropriate, it denotes a building where people go in groups to avail themselves of what Christopher Hitchens so aptly described as “the God delusion.”

To paraphrase: "If you wish, give a verse; if you wish, give a commonsense argument." Gemarah (See Berakhot 4b.)

An Escort is a car; a 335i is a car. They may even share some parts made by Magna and various related corporate subsidiaries. But a Ford is NOT a BMW!

By BMF on 2013 10 18, 5:09 pm CDT

As a Reform Jew and lawyer, I handled our civil divorce (which was uncontested) in the state of MD, and my ex agreed to take care of a religious divorce if he wanted one. When he arranged the process, I was offended at questions from Jewish men I had never met before (we were not members of a congregation, so evidently he arranged the Get through a rabbi) about why our marriage had broken up and who was at fault. I gritted my teeth and told them we were no longer legally married, and he should be free to marry someone else if he wanted to. My ex later remarried; I have no idea what the whole thing cost him, but it was unpleasant.

By hjm on 2013 10 18, 7:23 pm CDT

What a racket. First, the rabbis preach that these archaic marriage rules are the word of God. Then, they refuse to perform a divorce without the husband's consent, but will take money to beat the permission out of them.
Next thing you know, clergy will convince people that God requires a percentage of everyone's income and then pass around a collection plate.

By Smeliot on 2013 10 18, 7:39 pm CDT

Right, No. 31. And shortly after, the rabbi turns to the priest who has been speaking from the bar stool next to the federal agent, and responds, "Well, it beats the Hell out of a ham and cheese!"

By B. McLeod on 2013 10 19, 1:17 am CDT

I'm so glad that I'm a Christian, (Epicurean, Eclectic, Islamaverse Zionist, Buddhist, atheistic born again adventist, and card carrying member of the Christian Vegetarian Association.)

By Tom Youngjohn on 2013 10 19, 4:32 am CDT

Here's the question, did the members of the "Kidnap Squad" break the laws of the State of New York and the United States of America? If the answer is yes, they should be charged. They're free to raise a first amendment defense at that time, but given that the laws against Assault are laws of general applicability, I'm not sure how successful they'll be.

And to those that compare this to old Talmudic practices, I'm reasonably confident in my history that the beatings meted out to get a reluctant man to grant a religious divorce were not arranged like mob hits.

By OKBankLaw on 2013 10 21, 9:02 pm CDT

@ 46: Yes, how we long for those thrilling days of yesteryear, when my great uncles informed me that the remedy for failing to give a "get" was pretty much the same as that meted out to dishonest businessmen in the gem trade: You invited them to join a minyan for prayer, then, after the duty was fulfilled, the entire minyan discretely beat the crap out of him in the alley behind the synagogue!

I guess the neighborhood has just gone to hell....

By BMF on 2013 10 22, 4:27 am CDT


I'm not saying the beatings were right in the thrilling days of yesteryear, just that when it looks like organized crime and is paid like organized crime, calling it religious expression is thin window dressing.

By OKBankLaw on 2013 10 22, 1:13 pm CDT

one of the most interesting books ive read int he last few years, THE TALMUD AND THE INTERNET...a very slender but intense and thoughtful little book on the complexity of the talmud and jewish teachings. if you're interested in learning more about the source of some of the most important thinking in the history of the world, this might be a good entrypoint.

By defensive lawyer on 2013 10 22, 3:59 pm CDT

@ 48: I agree. But if we're going to draw such analogies, just about every religion that hints that they could move your kid up the admissions list for placement at its prestigious high school in exchange for a generous donation to the building fund is guilty of such tactics. Granted, they may not use cattle prods, but most parents will do anything within their power to give their kids a decent future--including succumbing to extortion.

Whether we like it or not, most religions, like most educational institutions, are run like businesses, and, consequently, there is a certain degree of avarice involved.

@ 49: Thanks for the title. I will put it on my "reward list" for getting this fr@cking motion out the door by the end of the week.

By BMF on 2013 10 22, 5:03 pm CDT


I get what you're saying, however the difference in my opinion is that it isn't against the law to pay for access to a private institution. It is against the law to beat someone.

By OKBankLaw on 2013 10 22, 7:28 pm CDT

Religion is poison.

By PaperChaser on 2013 10 24, 2:57 pm CDT

Name your poison.

(Mark 16: 18)

By Tom Youngjohn on 2013 10 24, 6:19 pm CDT

It seems that Attorney Janet Pennisi's comments are a veiled approval of this method.

By SME on 2013 10 25, 12:23 pm CDT

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