A recent story about the arrest of a group of men, two of whom are Orthodox rabbis, got us to thinking about organized crime. The FBI rounded up the unusual suspects on the East Coast, but what they are accused of doing would fit neatly in with Prohibition-era Chicago. We were a tough town then, but we wonder if even Al Capone would have gone as far as this gang allegedly has.
Most of us are familiar with how divorce works for devout Catholics. There is a civil divorce, but the couple must also obtain an annulment from the church. Not having the marriage annulled means not being able to remarry in the church, among other things. A similar tradition exists in Orthodox Judaism: Marriages must end with both a civil and a religious divorce. The religious divorce is called a "get."
We wrote about gets and the problems faced by women whose husbands were unwilling to give them a get a couple of years ago (read the post here). A woman had put together a documentary about the issue. Without the consent of both spouses, the rabbinical court will not grant the get. While most divorces go smoothly, there are a few that do not; according to the documentary, it is most often the case that the husband refuses to consent.
In extreme cases, husbands have demanded thousands of dollars in exchange for their consent. Critics call it "get extortion." The thinking was, at the time of the documentary, that the rabbis tended to side with the husbands, that the withholding of consent was just an extension of the religious patriarchy.
The FBI claims its investigation uncovered a different, violent twist on that assumption. And the agents have the tapes of meetings to back up their allegations.
What happened? We'll explain in our next post.
NJ.com, "2 rabbis, 2 others charged in Jewish divorce shakedown," Ted Sherman, Oct. 10, 2013
USA Today, "Orthodox leaders struggle with divorce gang history," Mareesa Nicosia, Oct. 13, 2013