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.More »