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October 11, 2013 11:54 am

Rabbinic Violence

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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An abuse victim. Photo: Mike Knapek.

I can’t even begin to express how embarrassed I am by the case currently getting massive exposure in the press and T.V. about a collection of outwardly religious Jews, charged with trying to arrange for a man who refused to give his wife a Get to be kidnapped, beaten and tortured until he capitulated.

A sting operation took place in which FBI undercover agents managed to get recordings of rabbis and fixers saying how and what they would do, including graphic descriptions of electronic cattle prods being applied to the victims private parts, was simply the icing on the cake of self-incrimination. But I must not prejudge the issue, innocent until proven guilty and all that. And neither will I entertain the argument that there are worse dangers to be pursued and this was just a politically correct counter balance to all those stings that have trapped Muslim terrorists. A crime is a crime is a crime.

There are several huge issues here that concern me and should concern anyone who takes the idea of Chillul HaShem, desecrating the Lords name, seriously. Maimonides in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah makes it the first principle of Jewish behavior. This whole sorry story makes for a massive humiliation of Jewish Law.  For make no mistake about this, any normal average non- Jew hearing all this could not but conclude that  Torah Judaism has a problem with violence, corruption and that Jewish Law on divorce makes the Taliban look positively progressive.

Why is it that so many men of limited intellect and capacity around the world carry out continuous and gratuitous rapine and violence against womenfolk? The answer is that they have a profound realization of their own inferiority that they have to take it out on someone even more vulnerable. So they take it out on their womenfolk and the womenfolk in turn often take it out on disadvantaged weaker women and then on their own children. Violence begets violence. Wherever it is, whoever suffers, takes it out on someone else.

I can only explain the amount of petty violence apparent in sections of the supposedly Torah world as the product of violence done to them. This year alone the non-Jewish public has learnt of apparently religious Jews setting other Jews on fire because they disagree religiously; Jews killing and sexually abusing other Jews and I won’t even begin to enumerate the number of charges against orthodox Jews for corruption, deception and financial irregularities. What is wrong with these people? Indeed what is wrong with their rabbis who seem so in love with money that it blinds them to their moral responsibility to be seen to be upholding the law of the land? Kohelet was right three thousand years ago when he said “And money covers up everything.”

Torah is supposed to be pure, enlightening and reviving, says the Book of Psalms. But this makes Torah out to be unfair and discriminatory. This whole episode revolves around the offensive fact that if a husband refuses to give his wife a religious bill of divorce she can never ever, ever remarry. How on earth can God’s law discriminate so against women leaving them trapped and hopeless?

A thousand years ago Rabbeynu Tam, the greatest rabbi of his day forbade beating men up as a way of compelling a recalcitrant husbands to grant a Get. Why? Many argue because it created a very negative impression in a Christian world which anyway at the time did not recognize or approve of divorce. Rabbeynu Tam was indeed worried about how we would appear to our non- Jewish neighbors. But at least the Christians found a way round it by annulling marriages, usually on spurious grounds. We too have this possibility. “Whoever marries does so according to rabbinic law and therefore the rabbis have the right to annul a marriage.” But rabbis have consistently refused to make use of this. Sometimes I wonder if its either pig-headed stubbornness or just male chauvinism. But if we were really worried about making fools of ourselves and demeaning Torah in non-Jewish eyes, why are we not concerned about doing something about it?

According to Jewish law, if I discover, after I have made a commitment, something about the other party, that had I known about beforehand I would never have bound myself in the first place, that agreement is null and void. Wouldn’t any woman say that if she had known what evil her husband really capable of before she married him she would never have married him in the first place, isn’t that equally grounds for invalidating the marriage agreement? And if understandably one doesn’t want to use this power cavalierly, why not occasionally as a recent Beth Din in Israel did?

This whole public relations fiasco would never have arisen if there had been a fair way of releasing a women legally through the Torah.

Frankly I’d love to beat up any bastard who so cruelly ruined a woman’s life and made her suffer till her dying day. But I cannot because I fear the consequences, I hate violence and because it would be a terrible Chillul HaShem.

So I blame the rabbis who refuse to find ways of releasing women whose husbands refuse them a get for this public humiliation of Judaism. It isn’t enough that we have bred a generation of religious toughs who use violence as a way of resolving differences but that we actually encourage them to do so because the law as currently applied is giving no alternative.

If the Talmud is so authoritative and important and if Orthodox rabbis simply ignore it when it suits them, how in heavens name can I call them anything else but those who assist in desecrating the good name of Heaven and Torah? The Talmud says in Yoma only death atones for anyone guilty of Desecrating the Name of God.

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  • lawrence kulak

    Mr. Rosen should not seek redress of G-d’s Holy Law but from the Rabbis who refuse to enforce it because of their own reasons. Any Rabbi who does not enforce a Rabbinical contempt order should be stripped of his Rabbanus by the body who gave it to him. This is the problem in a nutshell. If recalcitrant husbands could not escape to some niche to practice their revenge and spite then well meaning but foolish Rabbis like Mendel Epstein would not have to resort to brutality in order to compel a get.

  • Orthodox Judaism is attacked from within the Jewish community by feminist groups because of recalcitrant husbands not giving a get even though the court has decided they should. Rabbi Rosen is probably aware of this more than most others. In some cases there is no other solution other than violence. Rabbi Rosen also knows this despite his claims that such is not the case.
    Why did he write the article?
    Why did this forum publish it?
    Why was an alternative viewpoint not requested from a more conventional Orthodox Jewish source? Yair Davidiy, Jerusalem, Israel

    • Yair

      The Torah tells in Devarim 4 that “Hee Chochmatchen uVinatchen LeEyney Hagoyim” that the Torah is intended to assert our wisdom and high ethical standards to the non-Jewish world.

      We have a situation where we are subject to ridicule and our ethical standards are being challenged by the outside world. Our laws are being made fun of and our rabbis are being held up to public shame. Why should we not try to rectify the situation through our halachic system? If we shouldnt care, why does the Torah tell us to?

      Why should a male have the right to ruin a woman’s life until she dies out of spite? It is true a woman also has to give consent. But the rabbis have found ways around this such as the Heter Meah Rabbanim. This is nothing to do with Womens Rights or Feminism, just plain equity and justice. Tseddek Tseddek tirdof. Pursue justice.

      Are you seriously telling me that violence is the answer? Perhaps that explains why there is so much aggression in parts of the Orthodox world nowadays. On this site for example we see ( thank goodness only occasionally) apparently religious Jews not tackling the issues or discussing them reasonably and openly, but instead resorting to rude, crude and frankly silly and babyish personal attacks that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. It doesn’t bother me. It’s water off my back. But it does put seemingly Torah Jews in a very negative light and that’s a shame.

      • Concerning the problems of Jewish women whose husbands will not give them divorce, I do not know much concerning this subject.
        Nobody else however is replying to you, so here goes.

        # Where there are no men, strive to be one# (Pirkei Avot).

        Since when did violence against miscreants become a dirty word?
        If someone disobeys the secular courts an officer of the law is liable to pay them a visit. If after that they do not cooperate then physical coercion may well be applied.
        Is this not violence?
        Why should Jewish Religious Courts be any different?
        [In point of fact they are different. They do not apply direct violence but rather first try legal economic sanctions and if that does not work physical incarceration. Direct physical violence is only used by mavericks taking the law into their own hands. This may NOT necessarily be without moral justification, in some cases. ]
        Orthodox Jews are human beings and have the same needs and reactions as anyone else.
        They are however more law-abiding and LESS VIOLENT than any other sector of the community.
        There are exceptions but so what?
        Why misrepresent them?
        They also treat their women better than any other sector.
        In Israel a sociological study, published some time ago by Yediot Acharonot, found that Ultra-Orthodox women had the highest self-esteem level than any other socio-economic grouping.
        The women in left-wing kibbutzim ranked the lowest.
        Apparently the benefits of sexual equality based on ideology did not reach all the way down as they were supposed to!
        A women who is the subject of physical or social disrespect also suffers.
        She suffers more.
        This happens amongst the secular much more than amongst the Orthodox Jews.
        It also happens in the IDF.
        Where is your righteous indignation on these points?
        Why take very exceptional circumstance and try and make a general case out of them?
        In front of an audience such as this without another opinion to balance the case?
        Judging by the reactions to your article posted here most of the readership is not Orthodox. They may be mostly Jewish, intellectual, and positively inclined but they do not necessarily know the situation from the inside.
        With all due respect you too do not sound like an Orthodox Rabbi, despite the impression given by your title.
        I therefore think it was irresponsible of Algemeiner to publish your article without allowing for another opinion.

        • Yair

          Thank you for explaining your position and I assure you the Algemeiner is always happy to present a different point view so long as it is argued calmly and without insult.

          Physical violence by individuals is forbidden both in the USA and Israel. It is a felony and in purely halachic terms it comes under the principle of Dina De Malchuta Dina.

          The Beth Din in the past had the authority to give lashes and of course the Gemara in Taanit gives an example in Bavel of that, but when the Emperor Shapur objected there was no argument. Since Shmuel we accept “The Law of the Land.” And as I quoted in my original piece Rabbeynu Tam forbade violence and that was a thousand years ago. You need to differentiate between judicial violence and extra judicial.

          Then there is the issue of Chillul HaShem. Since all Western societies do not allow individuals to use extra judicial violence, if we do, then we are seen to be primitive and barbaric. That is not a Kiddush HaShem.

          You accuse me of misrepresentation. Did I say all Jews, all Orthodox Jews, all rabbis are violent? Not at all! I only said those particular Jews who were caught and are charged are the ones that have given us a bad name.

          Where do you get the idea I said anything about how Orthodox Jews treat their wives in general? You must have read that somewhere else and got confused. I certainly did not say so. I do think we aspire to a higher standard.

          I don’t think we should compare ourselves to worst examples of behavior. But sadly amongst us and regrettably amongst the Haredi population we do still have individuals who behave criminally and we should not stop criticizing them just because others are worse.

          The only generalization I made was that our current laws of Gittin put a section ( even if it is a small section ) of Jewish women at great disadvantage and leave then vulnerable to blackmail.

          I know personally and in my on family of many cases where good women have been blackmailed by husbands who refused to give a Get unless they were paid off. That cannot be just. Neither can it be what Torah wants. To say that Torah encourages people to be evil cannot make sense. And therefore if there is evil only those people who allow it to continue without redress, can be held to account and to blame.

          Torat HaShem Temimah. But blackmailing women or making them suffer whether they are orthodox, secular or non Jewish, cannot be called Tamim.

          I really don’t care what you think of me or call me. I do care about an honest debate.

  • Jurema Swartz

    So what if the husband does not give her the divorce, she can still separate from him and if she wants to get married again, a Rabbi knowing her story should give her his blessing and marry her. .

    • Unfortunately if the woman wants an Orthodox marriage she will not find a rabbi willing to marry her without a get.

      She could of course get married civilly but then any children would be unable to marry under Orthodox auspices.

      She could also “live in Sin” as they used to say but if she is genuinely religious she will not want to do this.

      So she is trapped.

  • Fred

    It cuts both ways.

  • Jerry Cutler

    Steven: Jeremy Rosen is right on. Our archaic laws dealing with marriage are, as written by our shortsighted sages, horribly chauvinistic. Get over it and help us bring back the thousands of young men and women we are losing every year and give a sense of enlightenment to those who have been turned away by foolhardy and discriminatory chukim.
    It is up to us to repair the world. Onward and upward, Steven,

  • Jan Lee

    An excellent piece Rabbi Rosen. Finally! Someone has expressed the most troubling aspect of recent stories.

    Respect toward the Jewish people comes with our respecting our own principles and laws. Sadly, I share your disbelief and embarrassment, because whether there was any “entrapment,” we should never have to wonder what actions might have prompted that concern in the first place.

    I am afraid that until we all, as a community, accept that level of self-critique, the Jewish people will never be able to say unequivocally that we live to the letter of the Torah. And the most learned of us all set the bar by their actions. Shabbat Shalom, and thank you for your eloquent words.

  • Otto Waldmann in Sydney

    Splendid logic, Jeremy !!
    Let’s ee the structure of your “violence begets violence”;
    we start with the premise that womenfolk – what a term, as distinct from women “non-folk”, when simply women would do – are weaker and “vulnerable” than men(folk). Yet, under certain circumstances, the same vulnerable women(folk) will turn, guess what, violent, no longer vulnerable, just like that. So”vulnerable” is not a reliable trait, it is relative, which makes it NON descriptive as such.

    We the continue that violence does not just beget violence, but also………..”corruption, deception and financial irregularities”. A splendid notional chollent one which, to be honest can only poison the necessary digestion of Judaism. Why leave out that menfolk violence also begets strict Shabbat observance, kosher households, revival of Yidish, disdain for logically abusive web-site authors bent on destroying necessary Jewish values no matter how incongruous their “arguments” are !!??

  • I find it curious that the rabbis were able to create a legal loophole (the prezbull) for example to avoid having to release a debtor in times of the jubilee -in order to maintain healthy commerce – yet they can’t seem to solve this pressing problem. That’s where we should be focusing our efforts. I cannot believe it’s from a lack of caring – so I admit I don’t understand the problem. In the meantime, we should not condone anyone using Torah as a weapon. Whether it’s the husband who imprisons the woman he is supposed to love above himself, the physically-abusive Rabbi who assaults him, or the verbally abusive reader who insults anyone who questions that behavior – it’s all behavior along the spectrum of the lack of fitting behavior.

    a disgrace with zero justification…none!

  • Steven

    As usual you do not dissapoint, whenever there is a possibility in being דן לכף גנאי on Rabbanim you are the first to jump into the fray.

    Without going into the specifics of this particular case which obviously is a result of מסירה and government entrappment , suffice it to say that you have proven again and again to be at best a ‘conservative rabbi’ probably worse than that.

    Why dont you stop flaunting your association with Mir and proclaim yourself as an ‘Orthodox Rabbi’ which you are obviously not.

    You are entitled to write your opinions in your column but do not misslead your readership about your affiliation – you are not Othodox you are a קל שבקלים!

    • Alex

      I whole heartedly support Rabbi Jeremy Rosen’s postion. It is shameful for the previous respondent to make personal accusations and make unwarranted assumptions about Rabbi Rosen’s credentials. He is definitely as Orthodox as could be, a scholar and a lecturer. The previous respondent lacks any qualifications and has no credentials to make unsubstantiated accusations against Rabbi Rosen. This shameful incident to “get” is only by one individual and is not common in the Jewish Orthodox community or elsewhere.

    • ron

      does not matter what he is …..this behaviour is worse than barbaric.SOME rabbis still live in the past , way in the past .

      There needs to be more education for these troglodites , and they should not be rabbis.

      PS I am an “observant” jew and NO woman should be held captive !! by marriage

      suck on that !!