In the Orthodox Jewish communities, in order for a woman to get a divorce, she needs to get permission from her husband, something that is called a ‘get’. If the husband refuses, she can go to a rabbinical court and if she gets a favorable ruling they can order him to do so. But it is not unheard of for husbands to ignore such orders, in which case the woman is stuck.
But while some may see this as typical of patriarchal and misogynistic religious systems, two rabbis in New Jersey looked on the bright side and saw this as a business opportunity. For the low, low price of $50,000 they offered to hire men to torture the recalcitrant husband to issue the get, using cattle prods as tools of persuasion. An undercover sting revealed the operation.
The undercover agents videotaped their meeting.
“Basically, what we are going to be doing is kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beating him up and torturing him and then getting him to give the get,” Rabbi Epstein is quoted as saying during the conversation, according to the complaint.
He added that the “tough guys” would use electric cattle prods and handcuffs and place a plastic bag over the man’s head, according to the complaint.
The FBI said the price was more than $50,000, including $10,000 for a rabbinical court to approve the action. They had wired $20,000 to the accused before the arrests.
“They did it for money,” Assistant US Attorney Joseph Gribko said during a hearing on Thursday.
“They didn’t do it out of religious conviction.”
The rabbis saw an advantage in the Orthodox Jewish community being perceived as weird. The rabbis told the undercover agents that as long as they left no mark on the victims, the police would not bother to investigate, viewing such things as the internal affairs of a crazy religious group.
[Update: Here is more on this case. The news item says that another rabbi also did something similar back in 2011.]