In a developing court case that is making headlines in the USA, a Lakewood rabbi and his wife stand accused of kidnapping, intimidating, and repeatedly assaulting an Israeli man who abandoned his wife and fled to the United States. This rabbi allegedly hired a pair of thugs to subdue the deadbeat husband-one Yisroel Meir Briskman - and intimated that Briskman's death was at hand, should he persist in his obstinacy.
Sort of like "A Christmas Carol," but with less Dickens and more of The Sopranos.
But, you may be asking, why the mafia-esque shenanigans? Sure, it may be difficult to sympathize with some scumbag who would up and leave his wife. But an actual physical beating? That hardly seems like behavior befitting a rabbi!
Well, before I offer a possible explanation, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Rabbi and Mrs. Wax turned themselves in to police, and have not actually been convicted of anything - their trial has yet to commence. In other words, the discussion here is purely hypothetical. That said, the reason for all this hoopla is that Briskman failed to issue his wife a get, a bill of divorce
that, according to Jewish law, a woman must receive from her husband before she is considered divorced in the religious sense, and without which she cannot remarry. (Note link to news article about a woman who has refused to accept a get since 1996 and was imprisoned today).
You see, as far as Biblical Law is concerned, initiating divorce is the husband's prerogative. In cases where a marriage fails, and the husband has at least a shred of human decency in him (which, we'll venture optimistically, is the majority of cases), this isn't a problem. Either the husband writes a get of his own volition, or the wife requests it and he complies in order to be free of her, or, worst case scenario, a rabbinic court compels him to do the right thing.
But sadly, sometimes a court order isn't enough. And that's when you call in the guys with the sharkskin suits and the baseball bats. Call it a loophole if you will, but the Jewish legal reasoning goes like this: A get must be given voluntarily - it cannot be coerced. But if the husband is Jewish, we must assume that deep down he has a Jewish soul that yearns to do the right thing. Obviously if his actions are causing his wife continual suffering and anguish, this can't be what the husband truly wants. And if it takes a couple of armed thugs (or, if the accusations in the Briskman Case are to be believed, a rabbi in a cowboy hat) to remind the husband of what he wants, then so be it.
And as much as I know I should be angry and indignant, because after all, this rabbi allegedly flouted State and Federal Law in his effort to procure a divorce document for an Israeli agunah, I can't for the life of me bring myself to dislike him. I'm not saying vigilante justice is okay - I'm just saying that sometimes karma comes in the form of a vicious beating.
According to a report by the UK's Daily Mail, Briskman has been withholding the get because he is seeking custody of his son. While this editor is in no position to comment the custody battle, or whether custody should go to the mother, the father, or if it should be shared, Briskman's behavior raises numerous questions, some of which may bring doubt on the validity of his claim.
Is it really helping his case that he wants to be with his son that Briskman flees thousands of miles away? Does having a claim to his son justify abandoning said son, and his mother, leaving them with no means of support, and leaving the mother without the ability to remarry? If he can't perform his duties as a father because the terms are not to his liking, doesn't the child's mother have the right to find someone who will?
Interestingly enough, the State of New York has had on its books, for nearly two decades, a "Get Law" that requires that when one spouse succeeds in suing the
other for divorce, that both parties make all reasonable efforts to ensure that neither is barred from re-marrying (in other words, if a Jewish man and woman get divorced in New York, the man has to issue a get in order to comply with New York State Law).
Of course, the situation is a complicated one. The alleged kidnapping took place in New Jersey, the wife is in Israel. But I would like to pose a far more basic question: Is refusal to issue a get a form of spousal abuse? In modern societies, the definition of abuse extends beyond acts of physical violence. Indeed, in a domestic setting, psychological (or emotional) abuse is defined as any behavior that threatens, intimidates, undermines the victim's self-worth or self-esteem, or controls the victim's freedom.
While we wouldn't claim to speak for the aggrieved Mrs. Briskman, it is hard to imagine that get refusal wouldn't undermine a wife's self-esteem, and within Jewish society, it absolutely places an unfair limitation on the wife's freedom. She is unable to pursue a relationship, and any children from such relationships would bear the stigma of mamzerut.
One would hope that the secular authorities needn't be involved in obtaining a get, but in a society where the old-school method of "persuading" husbands to issue a bill of divorce is no longer acceptable, we need to start calling get refusal what it really is: emotional, psychological, and economic abuse. Abusive husbands get taken to court for such misconduct, and rightly so. Sometimes they wind up in jail.
Am I the only one who prefers the hired goons?