An Open Letter to Batsheva Hersko

Guest post by Michael Lesher an orthodox Jew, a practicing attorney, and the author of numerous articles dealing with child sexual abuse and other topics including Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co., 2014)

Rabbi Mendel Epstein

Rabbi Mendel Epstein

Dear Ms. Hersko:

Last week, as Rabbi Mendel Epstein and several Orthodox Jewish co-defendants went on trial to face kidnapping and extortion charges, a letter percolated throughout the Orthodox community, purportedly written by you – Rabbi Epstein’s daughter – that urged all Orthodox Jews to pray fervently for the defendants. The letter did not mention the guilty pleas already entered by some of those charged, leaving the reader to assume that you seek acquittals for the accused regardless of whether they actually abducted and tortured men, as alleged by federal prosecutors, in order to force them to grant religious divorces to their wives.

I do not know you, and I do not know for certain that you actually wrote this letter. For my present purpose that is unimportant. In responding to the letter, I am not writing to you personally; instead, as an Orthodox Jew myself (and therefore one of the intended recipients of the appeal), I want to address some very troubling claims the letter makes.

I will not waste time on the charge that the federal prosecutors are crypto-Nazis, motivated by “pure evil,” whose true “end game is to arrest and imprison as many Orthodox Jews as they can.” That sort of thing is too childish to require a response; I mention it only because it was purportedly written by a practicing lawyer who boasts of being “very familiar with secular courts, witnesses, litigation, etc.” in criminal as well as civil matters. One can only marvel that you, a devoutly Orthodox Jew, have been able to work in that system for so many years without noticing (until now) that it houses a vast anti-Semitic conspiracy. For that matter, it’s pretty astonishing that someone who can write “we must not be quick to judge others” and “we must watch every word we say” can also insist, in the same letter, that Rabbi Epstein is being prosecuted by a gang of vicious bigots – without presenting the slightest evidence to support the charge.

However, this seems to me a less serious matter than the central argument implied by your letter, which is that Orthodox Jews have the right to break the law – or, at any rate, that the courts have no right to punish them for breaking it – because of “the separation of church and state.” You seem to maintain that if coercing a man to divorce his estranged wife achieves a desirable result “according to Orthodox Jewish law,” it is right and proper for rabbis to coerce him (by what means you don’t specify) because otherwise “our women” will “suffer” under the peculiar Talmudic rule that does not allow a woman to remarry until her ex-husband presents her with a written bill of divorce, or get.

Your father’s lawyer offered a similar argument in his opening statement at trial, so I do not think your version of it resulted from carelessness. I only wish it had. For in my opinion, every religious Jew should find the thesis deeply disturbing – both because of what it says and because of what it doesn’t say.

First let us confront the fact, honestly, that behind all your claims of victimization you are really demanding, for rabbis like your father, the right to make victims of other people. To protect Orthodox women from the consequences of rabbinic law, you demand that Orthodox rabbis be above the law. To aid the Jewish community, you ask us to pray for an environment in which rabbis are free to do as they like – to harm, bribe or threaten whomever they choose – so long as what they do serves the imperatives of religious law as they understand it.

Now it should be obvious that if this principle were applied consistently – and every lawyer knows that any such principle must be applied consistently or not at all – the results could only be disastrous. According to the logic of your letter, a clergyman can commit any crime with impunity if the act is sanctioned by his religion. If a statue or icon offends his notions of idolatry, he has the right to blow it up. If he sees someone violating a ritual law, he has the right to knock the offender over the head until the violation stops. In fact, it is hard to see how you could condemn even the most extreme acts of religiously-based terrorism once you have granted Rabbi Epstein carte blanche to do whatever he wants to recalcitrant husbands.

As I said, this ought to be obvious – and so the most frightening thing about your argument is the way your parochialism renders you incapable of seeing where it leads. As you put it, “This specific trial is a trial about us. Orthodox Jews” – which is to say that, in your view, to prosecute a rabbi is to prosecute all Orthodox Jews. Or, to put it a bit differently, Orthodox rabbis make up a class so special that they cannot be equated with other people, who are bound by the criminal law; to hold an Orthodox rabbi to the same standard is to attack the Jewish community. That is really the linchpin of your argument – and it is so deeply ingrained that you seem quite unable to notice how monstrous its implications are.

That is bad enough, but there is something else you don’t see, or at least don’t say, that I find just as unsettling. Your letter proceeds from the premise that challenging the right of Orthodox rabbis to commit crimes denies Jewish women the only means of obtaining the religious divorces they deserve. In your own words, if rabbis can’t beat or threaten unwilling husbands, every divorcing Jewish woman will be “left to rot” in the event “her husband refuses to give her a get.”

But is that true? Must it be true? Aren’t Orthodox rabbis precisely the people best situated to modify or reinterpret religious law so that both of the wrongs at stake – a divorced woman unable to remarry, a man subjected to criminal assault – can be avoided? Wouldn’t the rabbis’ energies be better spent in that direction than in doing what Rabbi Epstein is accused of doing – namely, committing felonies for a hefty fee? If the problem really is a religious one, as you insist, why not seek a religious solution for it, instead of endorsing an illegal one?

That you hope to see your father acquitted is, of course, perfectly understandable. And up to a point I agree with you: if these defendants are innocent, or if there is insufficient evidence to convict them of the serious crimes for which they’re charged, then they should be acquitted. But your letter goes beyond that, and what it seems to advocate, far from appealing to me as a religious Jew, is shocking at every level. In the name of religion, you are prepared to condone crime. In the name of justice, you demand a place for Orthodox Jews outside the law. In the name of protecting the weak, you want virtually unlimited power for Orthodox rabbis over other Jews. And in the name of decency, you publicly slander Rabbi Epstein’s alleged victims, to say nothing of federal prosecutors (and much of the government and court system, to boot).

All of this is presented, in your letter, as if it represented an uncontroversial statement of religious truth. And to me, frankly, that is the most disturbing thing of all. Has our community really sunk so low that this brutish logic, this Mafia-mongering with a Yiddish accent, is the best way we know to appeal to the Almighty?

See also:

Talk About Sheldon Silver Should Be about Hafner by Michael Lesher

I Am Shocked, Shocked!


27 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Batsheva Hersko

  1. “…Has our community really sunk so low that this brutish logic, this Mafia-mongering with a Yiddish accent, is the best way we know to appeal to the Almighty?…”

    So it does seem. The more extreme elements among Orthodox, Haredi and Hasidic Jews share a certain mind-set with extreme Muslims – namely that they are better than, apart from and not answerable to laws of the society in which they are embedded. This isn’t Judaism; it’s something else altogether, something relatively new and very disturbing.

  2. Michael: Amen!

    She is right that the US Attorney’s Offices often don’t play fair, but she by the middle of the letter she is completely unhinged. A victim took drugs, or a victim is Israeli? That is her proof that it is all a plot to get the Jews? And a judge yelled at the Lakewood leadership during sentencing for backing one of their own after a conviction for fraud – therefore the entire system is out to reenact the Shoah?

    • Indeed. Most people would have taken the judge’s words as the cautionary statement he intended: it’s dangerous to support a leadership no matter what it does, to follow rabbis no matter how corrupt they have proven to be. The same message might have been delivered (in fact, probably has been delivered) in any number of sermons in any number of Orthodox synagogues. But all this woman can hear in it is a boast that the federal government intends to destroy Orthodox Jews!

      Believe me, I know all too well that prosecutors can play dirty. And I have no doubt that any truly unfair tricks employed in this case will be challenged by the defendants’ quite competent counsel. But this letter goes far beyond accusing the prosecution of procedural violations (rightly or wrongly I am not now in a position to say). What’s more, the author herself — a lawyer, no less — can’t seem to recognize the difference between saying the government has used questionable evidence or a wrongly reinstated count, on the one hand, and insisting that the defendants should not be prosecuted at all because they followed religious law — which is ultimately where she takes her argument. Her conflation of the one with the other renders her procedural complaints more or less trivial. Even if she’s right on every one of them, her argument as a whole remains shocking; shocking, too, is her inability to see the religious and moral implications of what she demands.

      That all this has been argued publicly, with a view to winning support from Orthodox Jews everywhere, is to me the most shocking part of all. Personally, I think she has underestimated the Orthodox community, or much of it, and that many people outside the rabbinic elites do not see Mendel Epstein as a hero being victimized by the Big Bad Government. I’ve heard about him from quite a few Orthodox Jews over the years who didn’t dare to speak out publicly but told me in no uncertain terms what they thought of him. The shuls are full of decent people who from time to time shake their heads and say things to the effect of “Well, you can’t fight City Hall.” It’s true these people have seldom spoken out publicly. But if City Hall keeps demanding support for policies that call crime virtue, wrong right, violence heroism, fraud the service of God, etc., City Hall may well be in for a surprise one of these days.

      Part of my job, as I see it, is to help bring that day sooner. Which is why I’ve allowed myself such a lengthy response to a simple point — for which I apologize.

  3. Thank you for your bringing you brilliantly incisive, compelling and highly sophisticated and literate moral and intellectual clarity to Monster Epstein and his daughter’s horrific rationalization of the abuse of personal power and priveledge in the perverse guise of religious piety.

  4. I don;t understand Mr. Lesher’s description of this law as a “peculiar talmudic rule”–I am not defending or attacking this rule, as I wasn’t asked for my vote–hey, if i had my way, we would have a tradition of golf yomi in addition to daf yomi, but….as far as I know, the talmud “darshons” this halacha out from a pussik that says the man divorces the wife–all of our halachas are derived in the talmud from the way that psukim are phrased–for example, aydim zommim cannot have the punishment done to them that they wanted to do to another IF the punishment was carried out–and this is only because of the way it is phrased in the Torah–now, to me, that is a strange way to apply justice–BUT-if you notice, my name isn’t given in the list of authors of the Torah–and, this method, which Mr Lesher describes as “peculiar” is EXACTLY how Torah law is developed in the Talmud–again–I didnt get to vote on this law, or many others-but if one is going to consider themselves an orthodox jew, as Mr Lesher seems to, then I would have to ask him if he is willing to ignore all the other halachas that are derived in this “peculiar” matter. Am I defending Rabbi Epstein or others that were involved in this?-No!-Am I defending the halacha that only a man can file for divorce?-again, no!-Because, I dont have the right to defend it or not defend it–This religion is not a democracy that allows that–If Mr. Lesher does not accept the way the Tanayim and Amorayim of the Talmud darshon the Torah to develop the halacha, then how the heck can he function as an “orthodox jew”?-Does he only follow halacha that he considers is not “peculiar”?-If so, it is no longer Judaism, it is “Lesherism”, and is no different than conservative or reform–“I will choose to do what what I agree with” is simply not Judaism–I didn’t write it, so don’t blame me if you dont like it–but no one puts a gun to anyone’s head here to make them follow ANY halacha, but the pick and choose thing is just intellectually lame.

    • Bob,

      After you google ‘peculiar’, you might want to just delete your entire comment. You made a whole tzimmes out of that one word, the proper definition of which seems to elude you.

      • Ok, here goes–this is the definition from Merriam-Webster
        characteristic of only one person, group, or thing : distinctive

        different from the usual or normal:
        a : special, particular
        b : odd, curious
        c : eccentric, queer

        So, if you want to apply definition 1, then you would have the difficulty that ALL of halacha would fall into the category of peculiar, seeing that halacha is distinct to the jewish people. I fail to see where the other definitions would weaken my point, either. There is NOTHING “peculiar” about this particular halacha-It is darshoned out of the phrase the Torah used, just as most halachas are, such as the example of aydim zommim, that I gave–If you don’t have enough knowldedge to know this, then that is not my problem, it is yours. As I have stated, my purpose here is neither to defend Rabbi Epstein, nor to defend the way that Chazal have darshoned out this halacha from the pussek–I wasn’t asked to help author the Torah nor to assist in the way the Chazal chose to formulate halacha, so it is not up to me to defend or attack-If I choose to be an orthodox jew, then I must accept this method of halachic formulation–If not, then I don’t– It is clear to me that in using the word “peculiar” in regards to this halacha, he was trying to darken the image of it–This either demonstrates a lack of objectivity on his part, or a lack of knowledge of halachic formulation-I haven’t conversed with him in 25 years, but my memory of him is that he is exceedingly bright–That being the case, I will assume that he does not lack knowledge of the halachic process-Therefore I am left to conclude that his use of the term “peculiar” in regards to this halacha demonstrates a lack of objectivity, which should disturb any person interested in pure and objective truth, and would then throw anything he writes into question. If this response has been too complex for you, and you will do is just mindlessly throw out some more insults at me, then just keep them to yourself. If you want to think and engage, I am more than happy to engage you-If you want to just insult, then go yell at your dog.

        • In defense of Michael Lesher:

          The rabbis repeatedly revised the terms of the ketubah and the conditions for granting a get or certifying its delivery. Nor is there any dispute that halacha allows the nullification of marriages, or the Beit din acting on behalf of husbands (zikkui) or setting orders compelling delivery of a get and sanctions against those who disobey those orders. In addition halacha accords wives the right to get under certain cases where the wife declares she finds her husband repulsive. Most halachic authorities recognize the desirability and validity of various pre-nuptial agreements. The ketubah is a contract and halacha recognizes the possibility of altering the standard ketubah or augmenting it at the time of marriage or afterword. There are also conditional ketubahs or conditional divorce documents. That all these rabbinical powers exist is undisputed among all orthodox experts on halacha. The only question is how and whether to deploy one or another. Some people claim that the agunah problem is insoluable within the parameters of halacha. Most knowledgable folks know that it is impossible to solve the political problem of getting rabbis to agree to solutions.

          It is peculiar that most of the orthodox rabbinate has accepted the status quo instead of advancing further with various solutions. Shamefully, the Haredi establishment rose to defend Mrs. Dodelson with proclamations signed by its leading lights because she was a relative of the rosh yeshiva of Lakewood’s Beth Midrash Gevohah, Malkiel Kotler, but they don’t exert themselves that way for most other agunot. She got her get delivered because of the extraordinary pressure they delivered including getting the father of the groom suspended from his job at ArtScroll.

          • In defense of Michael Lesher:

            Google “Michael Lesher Elctronic Intafada”, thats all you need to know, folks

            • I did. Thanks. (It’s a problematic subject, but to do that in such a context…)

          • Then the problem here is not, as Mr. Lesher stated, a “peculiar talmudic rule”-this rule is no more or less “peculiar” than any other rule in the talmud-they darshoned the pussik to mean that men can divorce women, and women cannot divorce men, as they have darshoned so many other psukim to develop the halacha–they didnt get to vote on what was written any more than you or I did-if the Torah is indeed divine, then they had to work with the material they were given and the principles passed down on how to apply that material- the problem may be, however, as you suggest the “peculiar” reality that most orthodox rabbis have not, in some way, modified or adjusted the halacha through the millenia as they have other aspects of marriage laws to better serve the population of the times. On that, I may agree with you, but, my agreement means nothing, as I am not a Talmudic scholar, nor have those in charge asked me to cast my vote. My point here was to question Mr. Lesher’s usage of the term “peculiar talmudic rule” in relation to this topic. It is not accurate, at the least, and either deceitful or ignorant at the most.

            • You have a peculiar fixation on Lesher’s awkward usage of the word peculiar. However, please stop treating “the torah.” Per the mishnah, torah lo min hashomayim. the marriage is kedaas moshe veyisroel, where the the latter is understood to mean according to the rabbonim. Marriage and divorce has gone through many halachic changes over time and there are ways to effect additional changes all within halacha as understood by orthodox poskim.

          • Unfortunately, near as I can tell and not being an expert, it does not seem to me to be true that the fact that all these rabbinical powers exist is undisputed among all orthodox experts on halacha. Based upon my reading of the subject and consulting my husband, who also admits to not being an expert, it seems that the charedi rabbinical opinion is that there’s really not much to be done to help agunas, short of shaming the husband or his family. Just one of the various and sundry reasons why I no longer want to be a charedi. That is, if I ever really was one.
            And really! It’s shocking! Simply shocking! You mean to say Haredi leading lights wouldn’t exert themselves to help out the likes of say, Sheri, as much as they would a relative of Kotler? I really think people become BTs because of some psychological masochism, and this here daughter of BTs is at least partially healed. Hallelukah!

            • That’s the point- chareidi rabbonim, as far as I know, don’t recognize then prenup as a valid way to procure the get later on if necessary. They consider it “forcing” and thus invalid.

            • It has the approval of R. Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, a highly respected Haredi posek. More exactly, haredim are divided about the prenup. But most of the division is political. Notthing innnovated by those to the left of them is ever OK and they are never willing to take the first step. The issue is political. Everyone is afraid of being a responsible posek who undertakes unpopular decisions. There are no Moshe Feinsteins willing to the take the heat for unpopular rulings about things ranging from milk without a hechsher to artificial donor insemination. A posek needs a spine and most haredi poskim seem to be missing it.

            • Further on that point, listen to any talk by Rav Mordechai Willig on the topic. When he created the RCA prenup he had multiple conversations with Rav ZN Goldberg and with Rav Elyashiv, all working towards the point of grudging acceptance, or at least lack of condemnation, from the Israeli Charedi world. (And these days the yeshivish all look to those in Israel as the final arbiter.) As is often the case, this is more about politics than halacha.

    • Robert Millman’s comment raises several distinct issues; to do justice to all of them would require an entirely new post and would, I think, lead the discussion away from the main topic of this one. What’s more, Yerachmiel Lopin has already responded (below) with an analysis of the rabbinate’s failure to address the agunah problem, and has done it so handily that I doubt I could add anything of value to what he wrote.

      Consequently, I’ll confine myself to a couple of points that I think are germane both to Mr. Millman’s comments and to the original topic, which – in case anyone has forgotten – had to do with defending crime in the name of Torah.

      First, just to be clear, I note that my original post did not recommend ignoring any particular element of Jewish law. I did suggest, in the context of the “chained wife” dilemma – a situation acknowledged on all hands to represent a serious problem – that rabbis would do better to devote their energies to solving the problem in halakhah than to invoke their inability or unwillingness to agree on a solution as an excuse for committing serious crimes. I did not suggest a solution myself, partly because I am not a rabbi (and therefore my opinions on such matters carry little weight), and partly because, as Yerachmiel has ably pointed out, reasonable solutions have already been proposed by people whose rabbinic qualifications are beyond question. The only point I want to stress here is that urging the reform of a particular detail of Jewish law – a reform to be accomplished by means internal to the law as a whole – is a very different thing from rejecting Jewish law, or even a part of it.

      The second thing I want to address is what seems to me a philosophical premise underlying Mr. Millman’s argument – a premise that I believe obscures the real nature of the issue. Mr. Millman is at pains to distinguish his posture with respect to Jewish law from one in which an individual “picks and chooses” between those laws he approves and those he rejects. To apply value judgments to elements of the law, he argues, is to place oneself above it. If I can reject, or even disapprove, one particular portion of the law, it follows that my ultimate principle with respect to the law is something external to it.

      The argument is familiar to me, as are its flaws – its failure to recognize that Jewish law has a history, the short shrift it gives to differences of opinion within the rabbinate even within a given period (differences that can multiply over time), and its blindness to the fact that the integrity of the law derives no less from principles that guide it as a whole than from the infrangibility of specific details.

      But I want to stress in particular what Mr. Millman himself emphasizes: namely, that the authority of the Torah relieves him, personally, of all responsibility for its contents. Let me note at once that this part of his argument is not eccentric. Quite the contrary – it is crucial to the point he wants to make, for what prompted Mr. Millman’s ire was my suggestion that Orthodox rabbis ought to be embarrassed over the current state of the agunah law, and my correlative implication that other Orthodox Jews ought to be encouraging them to feel such embarrassment, perhaps even urging them to do something about it. (I termed the specific law in question “peculiar,” meaning both that it is unique to Talmudic doctrine and that its effects are odd, to say the least, and it was clearly my implied disapproval of this state of affairs that triggered Mr. Millman’s indignation.) In this sense Mr. Millman’s position is consistent, indeed irresistibly so. The only way to counter the sort of appeal I made to other Orthodox Jews is to deny that Orthodox Jews have any moral responsibility for Jewish law. If we are in any way answerable for our law, then logically we have to do our best to ensure it is as good as the God we believe in. But if our sole obligation as religious Jews is to accept the law as it is, without question or comment, then we are guiltless for following it, guiltless for leaving it alone – the law is no more our responsibility than the weather or the boiling point of water.

      Now it seems to me that this argument founders on one simple fact. Even granting that I can, legitimately, disclaim all responsibility for the CONTENTS of the law, I must certainly be responsible for my decision to ADOPT the law in the first place. My innocence with respect to every jot and tittle of the law derives from my refusal to question the law’s authority; but my decision to accept that authority cannot be shrugged off in the same way. I may believe I am right in making such a decision. But I cannot claim the decision was made by someone or something else. The decision is necessarily my own, and it follows that I am responsible for its consequences.

      I will not consider here the various reasons one might adduce for accepting the validity of Jewish law. Let us assume, for argument’s sake, that I am satisfied I ought to accept it. May I conclude, then, that my decision to bow to the authority of this body of law involves me in no position about what the law compels, or allows? Certainly not. In the first place, one generally makes such a decision with a pretty good idea of what it will entail; few of us adopt a whole way of life sight unseen. And even if someone were to decide to accept the authority of Jewish law without the slightest idea about what it would require of him, that man would simply be like a motorist who closes his eyes and lets the car he is driving take a random course. Suppose he runs down a pedestrian. True, he didn’t mean to do it; he didn’t even know that particular person was in his path. But no one is likely to agree that he has no responsibility for having driven with his eyes shut.

      Someone may retort that the decision to accept or reject a body of purportedly divine law cannot be made discretely with respect to each particular statute. Either I adopt the entire package or none of it, meaning that my acceptance of the whole will likely turn on reasons that have little or nothing to do with, say, the rule requiring that only a willingly-delivered get can free a woman to remarry. I may admit to puzzlement, or to uneasiness, over this or that specific rule. I may feel that my reservations on that point are outweighed by other considerations. I may even insist that I accept the authority of the law as a whole IN SPITE OF my intense unhappiness with some particular aspect of it. All that is quite possible. But none of it absolves me of responsibility. Quite the contrary. My decision to tolerate a law I cannot morally approve, even in part, logically makes me answerable for exactly those things I find wanting in it. Let anyone who doubts this imagine himself or herself on the receiving end of that sort of justice. The victim of the annual stoning that climaxes Shirley Jackson’s famous short story, “The Lottery,” would not be comforted by her killers’ pious insistence that, if it were up them, the town would have an altogether different custom. They may not be eager murderers, but they are murderers nonetheless.

      Another, simpler person might ask me how I can expect any law to be perfect. But I am not demanding perfection of anything we (or our rabbis) can fashion in the here and now. Everyone knows that perfect justice is never more than approximated in the real world. Nor am I demanding that Orthodox Jews either declare their personal conviction in every single detail of traditional Jewish law or abandon Orthodoxy altogether. The question, as I see it, is what we take our task as religious Jews to be, at least with respect to the body of halakhah. Is our job merely to protect the law – meaning the law as it is now, as it happens to have taken shape in the hands of a particular group of rabbis who wield influence at this particular moment – from all challenges, questions and reforms? Or is it to try to bring that law as close to its own stated goal of moral truth as we possibly can? Against those who take the second course, some people are sure to claim that the law can’t possibly be better than it is, that a divinely sanctioned law is right by definition in all particulars, and that any apparent shortcomings result entirely from our own distorted vision. I do not believe Mr. Millman is one of those people, and indeed one would have to be blind to much of contemporary Jewish reality – not to mention much of Jewish legal history – to take such a view. But to insist that, whatever the law’s imperfections, no matter how much suffering it causes or permits in its present form, we must simply shrug our shoulders and say, “Too bad, but it’s not our problem, we can’t change it, or even express an opinion about it,” etc., is actually worse than moral blindness: it is moral cowardice.

      It is also, as I have already suggested, factually untenable in the context of contemporary halakhah. Rabbinic authorities have repeatedly reformed Talmudic marriage laws in order to avoid unjust outcomes. One famous instance is the edict of Rabbeinu Gershom that outlawed both bigamy and involuntary divorce. For about a thousand years now, Rabbeinu Gershom has been popularly described as Me’or ha-Golah, the “Light of the Diaspora.” According to Mr. Millman’s reasoning, he was nothing of the sort; he was either a heretic or else very poorly educated in the basics of Judaism.

      Mr. Millman may argue that he has no intention of defending the current state of halakhah with respect to divorcing wives. And in fact he has had little to say on that subject. Most of what he has written, in several related posts, is devoted to questioning my Orthodoxy rather than addressing the issues I raised. Of course he is free to decide what sort of questions interest him. But I do hope other readers still remember that the original topic concerned the federal trial of an Orthodox rabbi on charges of abduction and torture, and his daughter’s call for prayers on behalf of Orthodox Jews who turn criminal for the greater glory of God. I can’t help thinking that the repetition of what amounts to pious propaganda about the divine origins of the law – in that context – serves, intentionally or not, to deflect the discussion from what certainly looks like serious rabbinic wrongdoing and to focus it, instead, on the character of the Orthodox Jew who happened to call attention to the wrongdoing.

      And I’m afraid the use of such tactics is not irrelevant to the issues under discussion. They are an unfortunate part of a history of intimidation, obfuscation and blame-shifting by which religious leaders too often seek to suppress dissent from the rank and file. It’s very convenient to be able to impugn a critic’s motives instead of having to listen to the unsettling things he or she may be saying. And if raising a question about the state of Jewish law, in any of its particulars, automatically implies a heretical mindset on the part of the questioner, then the rabbinate has an all-purpose alibi for any failure to make needed improvements.

      All of which brings us back to Rabbi Epstein, and to the insistence of at least some of his champions within the Orthodox community that violent crime is acceptable in order to accomplish a goal sanctioned by Jewish law. It seems to me that you cannot be neutral in response to such a claim. You can agree with it and accept the moral consequences of violence. You can deny it and accept the moral consequences of inaction. Or you can suggest, as I did, that we ought to press for a Jewish-law solution that spares men and women the hardships of either of the two previous alternatives. But to throw up your hands in helpless indifference is not a credible option. Such an attitude only shirks the question it purports to settle.

      • Although I had to ingest a number of hits of adderall in order to follow your entire response, (not having been blessed with a 4 digit iq as you were), I don’t believe you responded to my ORIGINAL statement. You used the term “Peculiar Talmudic rule”–To which I commented that these is nothing “Peculiar” about the Talmudic rule of darshoning the words of a pussik in order to reach a halachic ruling, as pretty much every law orthodox jews follow has been developed in the gemorrah like this. “Peculiar Talmudic rule” doesnt apply. -That is really what started the ball rolling here–your use of THAT phrase in the development of your point. Perhaps you meant the “peculiar” non use of rabbinical powers to modify the marriage laws that would preclude this situation from developing–and, I wont disagree with you, that if I could wave my magic seven iron and have the rabbis do something to fix this situation, I would. If you truly didn’t mean “peculiar talmudic rule”, then just say so. There is nothing wrong for people, even with 4 digit iq’s, to say that they should have used a different phrase.

        • I thought I clarified what I meant by the phrase “peculiar Talmudic rule,” for anyone who was in doubt, in my last post. I didn’t mean that the method of exegesis applied to the verse in question was unique to this case — if that’s what you thought, I’m sorry for the confusion. You’re quite right to say that deriving a law from the phrasing of a verse is a common procedure in the Talmud.

          I took the trouble to respond at length because it seemed to me that the issue you raised deserved a serious answer. How successfully I answered it is for other people to decide, but in my opinion you shouldn’t be too self-deprecating about your intelligence: your question about applying value judgments to halakhah is an important one, and I suspect you weren’t the only person wondering about it.

  5. Excluding Civil Law, the argument makes no sense, maybe a recalcitrant husband was withholding access to children ? Even on Jewish terms The Rabbis acted unilaterally, contrary to Halacha. The money they received was for themselves and they acted out of pure greed not out of pure justice. Were these payment declared to the IRS ?

  6. I’m surprise that nobody is talking about sholomo zalmen Kaufman from the monsey Bais din he was involved with Mendel Epstein! There is now a ksav siruv against him from Bais din givas hamorah,

    • Lol Givas Hamorah? Everyone knows that is a non accepted phony. Bais Din! They only give one Hazmanah, against what every other Bais. Din does, and they have issued ridiculously “seiruvs” to many well know. Rabbonim and Dayanim who rightfully refuse to acknowledge them as legitimate, much less appear at their one Hazmanah!

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