Bad Rabbi: Some See Prenups as Solution to Agunot Problem

Categories: Judaism, Religion

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Brian Stauffer
Mendel Epstein, subject of last week's feature story, was allegedly able to operate his illicit kidnapping-and-divorce-coercion business for three decades because there was a demand for it. He'd stepped into a vacuum that had existed since ancient times: a desperate wife has few, if any, options if her husband refuses to grant them a get, the document required for a divorce to proceed under Jewish law.

She can get help from an advocacy group like the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (Hebrew for "chained women"), who will try to persuade the husband with a variety of social and economic pressures. She can try to get the marriage annulled, a process that applies in very few cases. If neither of those efforts work, there is no other legal recourse.

Because the agonot problem is so challenging on the back-end, many rabbis have recently begun lobbying for a fix on the front end: prenuptial agreements.

"The best solution in the long run is prenups where get is pre-agreed if marriage breaks down," says Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, director of Beth Din of America, a Manhattan-based rabbinical court that handles more cases than any beth din outside Israel.

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Bad Rabbi: The Court Documents Behind the Story

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Brooklyn Supreme Court
A photo of Abraham Rubin from his civil lawsuit case file, allegedly shot after he was kidnapped and assaulted.
This week's feature story, "Bad Rabbi: Tales of Extortion and Torture Depict a Divorce Broker's Brutal Grip on the Orthodox Community," explored the three decades' worth of allegations against Mendel Epstein, a rabbi who has been charged with kidnapping and beating husbands who refuse to grant their wives a divorce.

Interviews with community members and court documents illuminated Epstein's reported operation, which hovered just below the surface of Brooklyn's rabbinical court system.

The earliest of these court documents are from a civil lawsuit filed by Abraham Rubin, who was kidnapped and beaten in 1996. More recent documents include a civil complaint filed by Yisrael Bryskman, who was beaten in 2010, and the October 2013 federal indictment accusing Epstein and nine others of conspiring to commit a kidnapping.

Here are some of those relevant documents:

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Four More Hasids Accused Of Interfering With Orthodox Sex Abuse Trial

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For the second time this year, four Orthodox Jews have been arrested for allegedly interfering in the trial of prominent Jewish leader/"therapist" Nechemya Weberman, who allegedly sexually abused one of his patients for several years, starting when the girl was only 12 years old.

The four men arrested allegedly took photos of the victim as she testified in front of a Brooklyn jury yesterday, presumably to intimidate the girl. One of the photos ended up on Twitter.

The four men -- Lemon Juice, 30, Joseph Fried, 23, Yona Weisman, 23, and Abraham Zupnick, 23 -- are all members of the insular Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism based in Williamsburgh, of which Weberman is a leader.

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Yes, It's Still Perfectly Legal To Suck Babies' Genitals During Circumcision

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed super-sized soda ban isn't the only controversial topic that is going to be discussed by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene this week.

Today, the Department is talking about the metzitzah b'peh -- a circumcision practice during which ritual practitioners "place their mouths directly on the child's circumcision wound to draw blood away from the circumcision cut."

And what exactly are they doing? The 11-member panel is listening to public comments on a "proposal to require parental consent for circumcisions practiced by ultra-Orthodox Jews," according to the Wall Street Journal.

Why? Well, between 2000 and 2011, 11 infants got herpes from this ritual. Ten infants were hospitalized, "at least two developed brain damage, and two babies died," the DOH reports.

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Four Indicted For Attempting To Cover Up Orthodox Sex Abuse Case

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Four Orthodox Jews have been indicted on charges that they attempted to persuade/intimidate witnesses into not testifying in the upcoming trial against "therapist" Nechemya Weberman, who allegedly sexually abused one of his patients for several years, starting when the girl was only 12 years old.

Abraham Rubin, 48, was hit with several charges including four counts of bribing a witness, two counts of tampering with a witness in the fourth degree and one count of coercion in the second degree. Three brothers, Joseph, Jacob and Hertzka Berger, face additional charges for attempting to intimidate the witness -- according to authorities, they threatened to remove the rabbi-issued kosher certification from the witness' restaurant, and Jacob Berger physically went to the business and tore the kosher certificate off the wall.



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Orthodox Jews Rent Citi Field For (Women-Less) Meeting About How Scary The Internet Is

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www.spinsucks.com
Thousands of male Orthodox Jews will make Citi Field seem like a 10-year-old's tree house this weekend, when they hold a women-less meeting about the risks of the Internet.

Orthodox Jews, as you may know, have a practice of strict gender separation, so woman will be able to watch the conference, but they have to do so on televisions at schools and event centers in Borough Park and other Orthodox neighborhoods, according to Hamodia, an Orthodox newspaper.

More than 40,000 Orthodox Jewish men are expected to pack the stadium -- and nearby Arthur Ashe Stadium -- to discuss the "dangers" of the Internet, and how to use it in a religiously responsible way.



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Aryeh Ralbag, Brooklyn Rabbi, Might Get Kicked Out of Amsterdam's Orthodox Community

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Aryeh Ralbag, the Brooklyn rabbi who also leads Amsterdam's Jewish community, might soon get booted from his Netherlands position for recent comments on homosexuality.

Problems came to a crux for Ralbag, who has held the long-distance post for six years, in January, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency.

At the time, Ralbag got suspended from his role in the Orthodox community for co-signing a declaration which described "homosexuality as a curable condition."

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Beyond The Bris: Website Unites Anti-Circumcision Jews

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Rebecca Wald
When the Brooklyn District Attorney's office announced that it would investigate the death of an infant who got herpes during a controversial circumcision practice, many decided to revisit the tradition, and ask whether it still has a place in modern society.

Now, this particular case deals with a very rare technique called metzitzah b'peh -- which is when the individual performing the procedure, the mohel, uses his mouth to suck blood away from the baby's penis.

Metzitzah b'peh tends to take place only in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, but New York has nevertheless tried to educate parents about the health risks of the practice: The New York Times reports that in 2003 and 2004, three cases of circumcision-linked herpes were reported to the City, one of which resulted in death.

Runnin' Scared caught up with Rebecca Wald, founder of Beyond the Bris, a multimedia forum for anti-circumcision Jews. Wald talked to us (and our sister paper!) about the practice and how this case has affected American Jews.

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Mel Gibson's Judah Maccabee Movie: High on Action, Low on Circumcisions

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The news that Mel Gibson is planning to make a Judah Maccabee biopic has caused quite a stir. While Judah Maccabee is one of the greatest heroes in the history of Judaism for leading the revolt against the Seleucid Empire, Mel Gibson loves getting drunk and ranting about how "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Why would Mel Gibson want to make a movie about a beloved Jew? The Atlantic's Jeffery Goldberg had heard about Gibson's interest in the story of Maccabee a couple years ago and asked him. Turns out, he thinks it would make one hell of an action movie.

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David Wax and Wife Judy, NJ Orthodox Jews, Kidnapped Israeli Man Over a Divorce

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David and Judy Wax, an Orthodox New Jersey couple, turned themselves into the FBI today after allegedly beating an Israeli man and claiming they'd bury him alive unless he gave his wife a religious divorce. Yisrael Briskman, the supposed victim, fled Israel without authorizing his wife's "get," or Orthodox divorce document that would allow her to get married again, and as a result was blacklisted by the High Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem, who barred Jews from being kind or doing business with him. In New Jersey, Wax and some goons allegedly jumped Briskman and threatened him with a body bag. "For you to get used to the size," Wax reportedly told his tied-up hostage.

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