Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

You can’t always ‘get’ what you want

Which gender do you suspect is more likely to hire a hit man: male or female? Most would guess that men would be more likely to do so. However, in the Orthodox Jewish communities of New York City, this is not the case. In Judaism, divorce can only be initiated by the husband, and a document called a “get” must be issued to allow the wife to remarry if she so chooses. Sometimes, a wife may want to leave the marriage, but her husband is unwilling to grant her a “get.” As an additional roadblock, New York is one of the few states with a “get” law, which means that before any civil court can legally grant a divorce, all barriers to remarriage must be removed. If a Jewish wife doesn’t have a “get,” she can’t go to a court in New York asking for divorce. These wives have become so desperate that they have taken to hiring rabbis as thugs in order to coerce their husbands into signing the “get.” Of course, this small concentration of individuals in no way represents the entire Jewish community, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some serious issues involved with the situation.

Unfortunately, as shocking as this news might seem, this is not the first incident of violent coercion in this community. The New York Times reports that individuals have been hired to beat up unwilling husbands as far back as 1996. But why does it take investigators such a long time to discover these crimes? They are too afraid to meddle in the affairs of the ultra-Orthodox community. What I don’t understand is why they are so afraid. Members of the ultra-Orthodox community are still citizens of the United States and are therefore subject to its criminal laws. Assault is assault regardless of the religion of the individuals involved.

It also doesn’t help that the women in this community are also afraid. They don’t want to tell the authorities about the way their husbands are treating them because they fear that it might exacerbate the situation and make their husbands even more unwilling to give them a “get.” Their position is a lose-lose situation—they can remain stuck with their unwilling husbands or they are forced to resort to drastic measures such as hiring thug rabbis. It is an unfortunate consequence of their cultural situation, where they are—for the most part—not permitted to speak out against their husbands and must remain the proverbial domestic housewives.

However, what truly makes the situation shameful is that the rabbis who are perpetrating these crimes are only doing it for the money, not for any legitimate religious reasons. It is individuals such as these who promote the negative stereotypes that circle around Judaism. As a fairly observant Jew, I can say that I am not obsessed with money, I don’t use the blood of Christian children to make matzah for Passover and I most certainly am not planning to take over the world through Hollywood. Rabbis are supposed to be peaceful spiritual leaders, just like those of any other religion, and any rabbi who resorts to violence of this manner to solve spiritual dilemmas should not be considered a true member of the Jewish community.

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  • anon says:

    Interesting article, but your only suggestion seems to be that police need to go after the husband intimidators. Will that really help anything?

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Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878