In a New Jersey sting operation to expose a group ready to torture a man to convince him to divorce his wife, F.B.I. agents recovered masks, ropes and scalpels. During the sting operation, a group of 10 men were arrested and later denied bail. The men, who pled not guilty, could face a sentence of life in prison if found guilty.
Apparently kidnapping husbands and coercing them into releasing their wives from marriage is not unheard of within the Orthodox Jewish community. But, it carries a hefty price tag. Wives would be required to pay as much as $10,000 to obtain a rabbinical decree to allow violence in pursuit of a divorce. Then an additional $50,000 would be required to hire a group of men to torture a husband until he provided the wife with a “get.” The above sting operation also recovered feather quills and ink bottles that would have been used to record the get once the husband was “willing” to give it.
What is a “get” and why is it required to get a divorce?
According to Scripture, in Deuteronomy 24:1-2, "When a man marries a woman or possesses her, if she is displeasing to him..., he shall write her a bill of divorce and place it in her hand, thus releasing her from his household. When she thus leaves his household, she may go and marry another man."
This “bill of divorce” is the “get.” In Jewish law, modeled after Old Testament law, a woman cannot divorce her husband without it; and her husband is the only one who can give it to her.
As part of the sting operation, a F.B.I. agent posing as a woman desiring a divorce and a second agent posing as her brother approached a rabbi known to be involved in this organization. After arrangements had been made, the agent stated that the rabbi shared, “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.”
He even shared with the agents that the hired “tough guys” would use karate and electric cattle prods to coerce the man to provide the get. Past victims have stated that electric shock and abuse to the genitals is used extensively as part of the coercion process.
Why does a Jewish woman go to such extremes to obtain this get? Without it, she is bound to her husband. She cannot move on with her life and develop other intimate relationships without running the risk of being labeled as an adulteress and then being shunned from her Jewish community and family. Any future children she bore would be considered illegitimate.
This particular issue has been a problem for centuries within the Orthodox Jewish population. Reluctant husbands have been forbidden from attending synagogue; and, their names are broadcast in Orthodox Jewish publications to shame and provoke them into providing their wives with a get. In the 12th century, Moses Maimonides, a popular Jewish philosopher, decreed that the husband could be flogged until he died or was willing to provide the get - whichever it took to release the woman.
In Israel, reluctant husbands can be imprisoned because Jewish laws and state laws merge together. In the US, where the separation of church and state exists, wives often resort to more extreme measures because state laws do not provide the help they need to obtain the get. In a country where women are free, it is difficult to believe that they must resort to such measures in order to retain familial and religious ties.