“The Divorce Force” by J.J. Goldberg

Reference: Jewish Journal

March 19, 1998

Gangs of masked, Yiddish-speaking thugs in Brooklyn have been abducting Orthodox Jewish men and beating them savagely to force them into granting their wives a religious divorce,or get, according to several men who say they were victims of such assaults.The beatings allegedly were ordered by an Orthodox rabbinical court.

The story surfaced just before Purim, but it’s no joke. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office is investigating two cases and may submit evidence to a grand jury within weeks, the DA’s spokesman says. Newsday, a local daily, reports that it has unearthed a dozen such get-related assaults.

One of the alleged victims, Abraham Rubin, filed a $100 million civil racketeering lawsuit in state court in January against the people he claims attacked him. The suit names several prominent rabbis charged with authorizing the assault.

Also named is America’s second-largest Orthodox rabbinic association, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, which the lawsuit says acted “in conspiracy” with some of the accused rabbis. The union’s executive vice president, Rabbi Hersh Ginsberg, says that his group had “nothing to do” with any beatings, adding: “We have 500 members, so whatever a member mayor may not do has nothing to do with us.”

The union last won headlines on the eve of Purim 1997 by decreeing that Reform and Conservative Judaism were not Judaism. Founded in 1900, it is the oldest Orthodox rabbinic group in America. Often derided by critics as marginal, the union’s membership includes some of the leading Talmudic authorities in traditional Orthodoxy.

The allegations are the latest twist in a continuing Orthodox debate over the fate of agunot, or “chained women”—women who cannot remarry, because their husbands won’t give them a get. In rabbinic law, the divorce document can only be initiated by the husband. An ex-wife without a get is still a wife and may not remarry, though a husband without a get may sometimes take a second wife.

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