The patriarchal nature of Orthodox marriages can lead to particularly contentious divorces. With custody and alimony at stake, a man may be tempted to use his biblically granted leverage in negotiations: No get until his terms are met. Though the practice is frowned upon, it is so pervasive that there's a word for a woman whose husband refuses to grant a get: an agunah, which translates from Hebrew as "chained woman."

Most stories followed a similar arc: a desperate woman turns to Epstein, decides not to follow through with his plan, faces extortion.

"The get is often the last vestige of control that an abusive man has over his wife," says Rabbi Jeremy Stern, director of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, a nonprofit advocacy group for chained women. "Agunot are among the most vulnerable members of the Jewish community."

The New York legislature tried to address the problem, passing a law in 1983 that forbids the state's courts to grant a divorce if the spouse who filed for it has not "taken all steps to remove all barriers to [the other's] remarriage." Another law, passed in 1992, allows courts to consider "barriers to marriage" when setting alimony and dividing property. "There are limitations to both get laws that make it so they do not resolve the agunot problem in New York state," says Stern, who encourages couples to sign a prenuptial agreement that legally requires a husband to pay his wife a fee for each day he holds out on a get. "The solution fundamentally lies in the hands of the rabbis and the Jewish community."

A beth din provides a forum for get mediation, but it does not guarantee that a woman will find a sympathetic ear. "In many cases the Jewish religious court is on the side of the husband," says Samuel Heilman, a professor of Jewish studies at Queens College. "Both sides don't have equal power. What can she do? She has no wiggle room. She's living in an environment and society where she has no control."

Epstein was an aggressive advocate, versed in scripture, a masterful orator before beth din judges. A fellow rabbi likens hashing out cases with Epstein to negotiating with a Wall Street lawyer. Says another, "He was the guy you went to to get the job done."

Larry Gordon, editor of the 5 Towns Jewish Times newspaper, recalls an evening outside a synagogue several months ago when he spoke with two men about Epstein. One man said he'd hired the rabbi to handle his daughter's divorce. The other man said Epstein had worked for his uncle's ex-wife and pursued a legal action that has barred the uncle from seeing his kids for the past 15 years. "The reason I hate him is the reason you use him for your daughter," Gordon remembers the second man saying.

Epstein publicly advocated for women's empowerment. In 1989 he published a book, A Woman's Guide to the Get Process, which advised wives on their religiously sanctioned options when seeking divorce. He wrote columns on the subject for the Jewish Press. Earlier this year, he codified his philosophy, unveiling "The Bill of Rights of a Jewish Wife" in the pages of the 5 Towns. One right states, "A wife must be treated with respect and not be abused. A woman in an abusive relationship has a right to seek a get." Another: "A husband is obligated to honor and respect his wife's parents." A third: "She is entitled to be supported by her husband."

He wrote it, the author explains in his introduction, "to clarify and strengthen the rights of the Jewish wife because I am disturbed by the number of women who find themselves in unbearably difficult situations."

The manifesto circulated through the Orthodox blogosphere, drawing praise and sparking long threads of debate. Epstein's position had long been accepted by those at the progressive end of the Orthodox Jewish spectrum. But Epstein himself is a Haredi Jew.

"It was a bold statement, because that's very rare to break ranks and step out of the mold that is the Orthodox Jewish community," says Gordon, who interviewed Epstein in August. "Sometimes the view of the elders is a bit archaic and needs some revision to stay in stride with the times. He presented himself as a man on the cutting edge who was willing to take that bold initiative."

More than one local rabbi says Epstein came across as a "knight in shining armor" to agunot in the most desperate situations.

"He says he is the undertaker of failed marriages," says Gordon. "The relationship dies; someone has to bury it."

Adds the newspaper editor: "It's dirty work. It's not pretty."

The women met with Amy Neustein in a synagogue after dark. Neustein's father, Rabbi Abraham Neustein, was a respected educator at the Jewish Center for Brighton Beach and he had a set of keys to the building. Neustein, then 27, had divorced her husband three years earlier, in 1983, and had moved back in with her parents so she could devote more time to the custody battle for her three-year-old daughter. A sociologist by trade, she helped out on her father's off-the-clock project.

Rabbi Neustein ran a sort of Underground Railroad for abused women in the community. It was a delicate matter. "If the women were caught challenging what their husbands had done to them," Amy Neustein says, "they would be subject to such terrible reproach in the Orthodox Jewish community that their chances of marrying again would be nil." So two or three times a week, Neustein's father drove the women to the Jewish Center's bais medrash, the prayer room where he taught, and they told her their stories: of domestic violence, of crumbling marriages, of get refusals.

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24 comments
rcaextortion
rcaextortion

The article sorely overlooks that facts of rampant filing of false abuse charges--women told by Epstein that they can and should file false abuse charges to deny their husband's custody--that this happens first before any state of limbo happens--and the rampant misuse of orders of protections to just throw husbands out of their own homes for which they are paying rent or the mortgage; that there are "recalcitrant" intransigent women making unfair unequitable divorce demands.

The article fails to bring to light that many rabbis consider Epstein a quack--meaning his so-called knowledge and arguments were just bunk--i've been present to see him presiding as a judge (not a lawyer-toen) try & pass notes to his client on what claims to make--that is a clear violation of judicial procedure for a judge; the article overlooks the accusations of Epstein's confessions of pedophilia and that he can get away with anything with anyone's children.

The article has very little discussion of the numerous charges of corruption & bribery of the police, the D.A.'s (Gribbitz & Hynes and undoubtedly others) the FBI's lack of action and lie that they did not investigate when several citizens have stepped forward and said the FBI investigated Epstein decades ago.  The FBI's statement that they have no files on Epstein is just a lie.

IMHO, the article fails to cover many, many issues.  Some issues are illuded to.  But, not clearly stated.  

As Oswald Spengler put it, 'you can't really understand a culture you were not brought up in'.  But this much needs to be clear, that Epstein is just singing a song people want to hear, so he can make money.  He is no feminist.  He is not a fundamentalist.  He is no champion of the underdog.  He is just a criminal and an extortionist who operates outside the laws--American and Mosaic.  And, lots and lots of corrupt public officials are aiding him for their own personal corrupt reasons and they are on the take.

mooser42001
mooser42001

The Rabbi said: "They'll think it's some crazy Jewish affair"   Why, if that hadn't been said by a Rabbi, I would think it was anti-Semetic!

NJMediator
NJMediator

The article ends: "He hasn't signed the Get". The husband does not sign a Get; he authorizes that it be written. Witnesses then sign it. It is very difficult to explain a religious procedure in a popular journal that is not well-versed in all that is part of the Get process. The bottom line is that Rabbi Epstein is accused of violating the law. He may have meant well, or not, but American law governs the behavior of Orthodox Jews. For those who used this opportunity to take aim at religious behavior, the answer is simple. The behavior described here did not rise to religious behavior. The salacious details do not in any way controvert this conclusion.

dubsdingleberries
dubsdingleberries

Thank you orthodox Jews for honoring me with abuse, insults, bad behavior and treatment that ignores the fact that non-religious Jews are simply your equal.  Your lifestyle is nothing short of hysterical and insane  -- the politics of blind support for Israel is deeply disturbed -- your religious beliefs are no better than members of any other cult or religion that cause suffering to the participants.  Signed...an actual Jew.

skier456
skier456

Women without a Get cannot get married, so are relegated to a life of celibacy with no children other than the ones they already have.  If it were men in that situation, would the article be written differently?

bestsustenance
bestsustenance

7 pages? Not to say that Im impressed with the behavior of said Rabbi, but I cant wait to see how many pages  the HOLEY Village Voice will devote to all the salacious details of  each Knockout perp and Knockout crime, and cant wait to see the mocking tone employed by the writer about each perp......!

Nah, that wouldnt be PC. Fuegedabatit.

Fair treatment, my HOLEY PC friends! 

dubsdingleberries
dubsdingleberries

Science tells us that the "dimensionality of God" collectively felt by all who participate in a specific set of religious practices is by agreement amongst themselves. If there were an actual material "God" dispensing "holy authority", it would controvert all advanced laws of physics and all advanced understanding of what science actually is. This simple fact applies to secret satanic rituals or a Catholic Eucharist or people applauding one another at Scientology meetings -- take your pick.  Hard to believe, I'm sure, but Judaism is in the same category when it comes to its relation with science.

Is that an attack on Judaism?  

No...because science recognizes that religions fulfill specific human needs involving our understanding of that which is non-material. Does it pose a threat to those who would use religion to solicit either blood, or money or the capital of people's hard labor for their own power and enrichment?  Yes, I think it does, and thank God for that!  The political structures that incorporate violence most effectively do so...with invocations of "God."  God wants you to fight for us...the Jews!  Or...God is calling you to be a suicide bomber -- an "Army of One" member -- or any collectivized violent structure.  Your induction into any part or section of the U.S. military is based on an oath -- and oaths always involve "God."  That way, when you come home with your legs missing, or in a casket, those who wrote the orders aren't responsible -- only God knows why your particular tragedy had to happen -- even though a scientific analysis would point to the functioning of a hugely profit-driven industry based on these catastrophic events involving the lives of innocent young men and women.


I'll tell you what...I'll say a prayer for you and a prayer for those who believe that God is good...and the main reason billions (actually, upon second thought, "trillions") must be spent on weapons whilst people the world over suffer the consequences.  I'll say a prayer that you one day wake up and realize that there's nothing good about a God that prevails over science.

bestsustenance
bestsustenance

An actual Jew? Jew by birth perhaps, not by practice. If you dont believe and observe the Torah, thats all you are. I dont despise you, my brother. It would be nice if you didnt despise me for my choices and keeping the faith of my ancestors, all the while living successfully in the secular world, in every way.

whateveryousay
whateveryousay topcommenter

@skier456 What is to stop a woman from just walking away, file for a divorce and move on?


mooser42001
mooser42001

Bestsustenance, when did you turn white? I thought we were Jewish, not white?  Are you now rejecting your Jewishness?
 Please, sir, don't tell me Jews are white. I want at least one thing to be proud of!

omanlieder
omanlieder

@bestsustenance The knockout crime is bullshit. But hey, thanks for bringing up a completely manufactured crime.

DoctorBucephalus
DoctorBucephalus

@dubsdingleberries Thanks for launching on that long-winded philosophical treatise of yours without warning, said no one, ever. Way to blanket over all the distinctions underlying NJMediator's points. I mean, if the man never says anything is being attacked, even if some of the tone (*salacious") is indicative, aren't you out of line responding to him as if he did say it? I don't think anything you've written contradicts anything the above commenter initially posted. For a rationalist, you should really watch the non-sequiturs, as the irony there gets pretty thick.

dubsdingleberries
dubsdingleberries

@bestsustenance   The Torah is your religious document.  Not mine.  I didn't choose it...and there is actually nothing to indicate that not choosing the Torah makes my "Jewishness" less than yours -- even though you insist that to be the case.  Likewise, the fact that you can find other religious Jews who agree with you and support your thinking...does not make it valid -- just as the leader of any church or cult is not validated by the fact that he (or she) has followers.  If you choose to believe that your way is "the" way, because of texts written in the dark past -- before science prevailed -- you're welcome to do so; however, the relationship of your thinking to reality is tenuous at best.  I can find videos of orthodox Jews wherein they declare that "Arabs" or Palestinians are animals.  The fact that you may agree or disagree with those sentiments does not make them valid, not does it invalidate them -- although it stands to reason that thinking of Palestinians in this manner is not rational or productive in any way, shape or form.  By the way...you're not my brother.

womanphoenix
womanphoenix

What's to stop her?  Oh, being disowned by her family, possibly stripped of all she owns, not being able to marry within the Orthodox community, things like that.

Think you could easily make that choice, if you were a woman reared in that culture?

bestsustenance
bestsustenance

And the Rabbi's crime is more real?

Hey, any crime the O in the big white house in DC doesnt speak of, doesnt exist, remember?

mooser42001
mooser42001

<i>"What makes you Jewish?"</i>

Hey, best sustenance, you make me, a Jew, sick!  You want to know what a Jew is? I'll tell you what my Father told me a Jew is: "Son, at one time, saying 'I am a Jew'  could lose a man his life, or subject him to discrimination.  As far as I'm concerned, any man brave enough to say he is a Jew, is one"

I have always found his advice sound.

And BTW, best sustenance, there aren't that many of us left, why do you want to kick anybody else out? So there will be more Jewish for you?
 When there aren't enough Jews left for Yom Kippur, will you get to fast for a whole week?

bestsustenance
bestsustenance

Hopefully you and I agree that we all have the right to choose what we believe. Hopefully you and I agree that there are good people and bad people  within every group in the human race, whether believers of any kind, or non-believers. Good luck to you as well.

dubsdingleberries
dubsdingleberries

@bestsustenance I'll tell you what...you win the argument.  Your a "real" Jew and I'm not a real Jew.  How's that?  Is that what you need?  I grew up in a Jewish family -- I'm not defending the degree or level of my Jewishness.  My grandfather was an editor for "The Jewish Daily Forward" for 60 years.  I could provide other details of being raised as a Jew, but I'm not going to.  We're commenting on an article that delineates the most primal dysfunction anyone could imagine -- within the Jewish faith.  Is the "bad Rabbi" also more Jewish than me?  There's no argument here -- no debate.  The abuse of the Palestinian people speaks for itself when looking at Orthodox Jewry -- there's nothing to add.  Good luck.

bestsustenance
bestsustenance

No human is an animal. Some humans, among them Jews and non-Jews, behave  animal-like though.

If observing the Torah in some form doesnt make someone Jewish, what does?

What makes you Jewish?

bestsustenance
bestsustenance

Ok, so to be healed from my malady,  if theres any hope at all for me, that is, must  I also  judge ALL lovers of Israel badly and judge  ALL Arabs well?

Thinkin' about it.

mooser42001
mooser42001

What we are seeing here with ol' bestsustenance, is another unfortunate sufferer of the "Ziocaine Syndrome".  This unfortunate collection of behaviors causes some people to act as if they are intoxicated by cocaine and alchohol whenever certain subjects are discussed.

It's a shocking display, but I believe its sufferers demand our empathy.

womanphoenix
womanphoenix

"Crimes", you mean.  And they are quite real and of long standing.

But hey, you'll say anything you can to help keep people hating and fearing black folk, as your goal is to cut Corporate America's taxes and thus social programs.  (See also: Southern Strategy, Lee Atwater.)

 
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