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October 16, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Anyone can ask the question “Are they villains or heroes?” Sometimes it’s even a good one. But leave it to Slate’s XX blog to ask the question when the subjects of the question were “just arrested and arraigned in federal court for allegedly orchestrating the kidnapping and torture of men who refused to grant their wives divorces.” That’s right. Slate’s XX blog that never hesitates to excoriate men alone for domestic violence actually manages to be unable to answer whether kidnapping and torturing men is a good thing or a bad thing. Read the whole sorry piece here (Slate, 10/11/13).

Hey, it’s the 21st century in the good old U.S. of A., so are we really surprised? Indeed, when it comes to domestic violence, the accepted response seems to be condemnation if a man does it and explanation if a woman does it.

Under orthodox Jewish law, if a wife wants a divorce, her husband has to agree. If he doesn’t, there’s no divorce and nothing anyone can do about it. Well, almost nothing. If reports are correct, a couple of rabbis in New York have been arrested for hiring the kidnapping and torture of orthodox husbands who refuse their wives a divorce. Apparently the wives paid them $50,000 per husband kidnapped and tortured.

Neither the XX blogger, Dvora Meyers, nor the wives in question seem to be able to figure out if kidnapping and torture are wrong. They all appear to be perfectly fine with brutality towards a man as long as it’s in the service of his wife’s getting her way. If that takes a little bloodshed, a few broken bones, what matter? Hey, the mafia figured that one out a long time ago.

“Disgusted might not adequately describe our feeling over the allegations of violence and mafia-like tactics toward recalcitrant husbands,” writes Rabbi Eliyahu Fink in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “but these rabbis were heroes to women left with no options.”

No options? Well, not exactly. They didn’t have to get married in the first place, and, if they did, they didn’t have to subject themselves to the strict tenets of the orthodox faith. Millions of Jews around the world marry outside the orthodox faith, and these women doubtless knew that. They also doubtless knew that, divorce was not up to them, but to their husbands. So, on one hand, these women are just refusing to live with the consequences of their own actions.

On the other, the only penalty they suffer is that they can’t remarry, which I don’t view as the worst fate ever to befall womankind.

Still, it’s true that the law gives husbands more power over their wives than vice versa and I would argue that needs to be changed. Just how, I’m not sure, given the fact that the fine points of orthodox Jewish law are unknown to me. But as a general principle, I don’t agree with allowing one party to a marriage that much say about whether the two split up or not.

As it turns out, that’s pretty much the point Meyers makes in the end. The difference between us? I mean it and she doesn’t.

There is a tendency to point to the recalcitrant husbands as the cause of the “agunah crisis.” But they're just a symptom. Whenever you give leverage and power to one group over another, abuses arise.

Very true. But let’s not pretend that the writer who can’t decide whether kidnapping and torture are good or bad is at all evenhanded. She’s not. Most telling is her list of supposed reasons why husbands might refuse a divorce to their wives.

“Recalcitrant husbands,” as they are often called, deny their wives divorces for a variety of reasons, but often to extract a better custody, child support, or alimony arrangement. Or sometimes the refusal is the result of pure animus.

Hmm. Doubtless some husbands are motivated that way, but isn’t Meyers overlooking a little something? Ah, yes she is.

Let’s take a look at what happens to Dad if he does grant Mom her divorce. In Israel, he’s the one in chains, and the penalties aren’t that he can’t remarry. He can do that, but, if he wants to travel outside the country for even a day, he has to post a bond in the amount of 20 years of alimony. Twenty years!

Custody? Not a chance. If fathers in this country think they have it bad, they should check out custody law in Israel. For one thing, Israel still uses the Tender Years Doctrine, abandoned long ago in this country, that invariably gives children under the age of six or seven to the mother in the event of divorce. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has ruled that to be discrimination against fathers, but the practice is still the rule in Israel.

It should come as no surprise that, having marginalized the father for the first six years of its life, once the child turns seven, not much changes custody-wise. Dads still can’t see much of their children and often discover that Moms have alienated their children from them. The cherry on top is the fact that divorced fathers make up half of all suicides in Israel. Here’s a post I did on the subject (NPO, 12/9/11).

In short, divorce is an unremittingly bad deal for fathers in Israel.

Of course the rabbis who banked huge fees for their kidnapping and torturing service for unhappy wives ran their operation in New York, not Israel. But, even though divorce laws in this country aren’t as insanely anti-father as they are there, the story is much the same. Fathers still rarely get primary custody in this country, are routinely marginalized in the lives of their children by ex-wives and the courts that support them, are denied even the meager visitation ordered by the court, are often the victims of Parental Alienation, a situation courts regularly ignore, etc. Oh, and the suicide rate for divorced men is higher in this country than for any other demographic category.

So Dvora Meyers might have asked herself, “When it comes to divorce, why would a husband agree?” But of course she didn’t.

That’s all the more surprising given the fact that she was the one to write, “Whenever you give leverage and power to one group over another, abuses arise.” To say that divorcing/divorced mothers hold power over their ex-husbands, both in Israel and the U.S., is to put it mildly. Once the divorce train starts moving, Dad knows to a virtual certainty where it will end up, and it’s not a place he wants to be. Is he a fit, loving father? Of course, but that’s too bad, because when the judge signs the order, he’ll find himself living in a one-bedroom apartment hoping Mom will allow him to see his kids and praying he doesn’t lose his job.

So, in the case of these orthodox Jewish men, they use the only power they have – the power to say ‘no.’ Believe me, if Dads generally had the same power, we’d see it used a lot more often.

Dvora Meyers is blissfully unaware of any of this. For her, there is no inequality that’s not anti-woman. She wouldn’t dream of turning that coin over and looking at the other side. She wouldn’t be caught dead asking the simple question “why might a man refuse a divorce if he has the power to do so?” Her only problem with “leverage and power” is that it’s men who have it in this one, remarkably rare instance. Put the same power in women’s hands and you wouldn’t hear ‘peep’ out of her. How do I know? The massive power family courts and laws hand to mothers has gone entirely unmentioned by Meyers. The outrage that is family law in Israel has gotten not so much as a nod from her.

That’s the sort of radically anti-father bias that just might lead a person to ask “are they villains or heroes” about thugs who kidnap and torture men. It’s the same sort of bias that gets your article published in Slate’s XX blog.

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