Get Detective: Meet the Elusive, Intrepid P.I. Who Frees Chained Jewish Women
He’s the expert who specializes in finding ‘disappeared’ husbands—men who leave their wives without Jewish divorces, or hope
Gaiman’s current case, the one I’d come south to follow with him, was just such a recalcitrant husband. The day after our first meeting, in a café on the pedestrian walkway in the nicer part of town, he told me how he got into the get detective racket. (We were far from where his target lived, so I could take notes without inciting his fear of being seen.) He had been a get detective since 1993, following a stint in the IDF’s Intelligence Unit (this I inferred from the way he tapped his right temple when I asked what he did in the army). He was working in the “headquarters” of the Beit Din Rabbani in Israel when he had a fateful encounter.
“There was one rabbi who learned with me the halakhah,” Gaiman said. “He died of a stroke later. He said, ‘I don’t have to show you the book. I want to show you the life.’ He had a motto—if someone says something, you ask why. What does he want you to learn from it?” Gaiman raised his eyebrows suggestively. “He would say, ‘Read the white letters. Tikra et haotiyot belavan.’ He wanted me to change the ticking of the clock upstairs.”
In 1993—“I was as green as I could get,” he said with an indulgent smile—a case came in, and he was told to try to help solve it. A man had run off with his child, ﬁrst to Mexico, then to Guatemala, then to Puerto Rico. “Then he made a mistake,” he said. “They always make a mistake. He went to a priest to try to sell the child.”
“To sell the—” I blurted out.
“Sh!” he admonished me gently, with a smile and a two-eyed wink, gesturing to the world around us. “To sell the child for—drugs. The priest had the seichel (wisdom) to contact the Jewish community in Mexico, and they contacted us. At the end he gave the get through the Mexican rabbis in exchange for not being extradited.”
Gaiman recalled another case in which the husband had converted to Jews for Jesus. He was living in some extremely cold place, and when Gaiman knocked on his door, the get-refusing husband wouldn’t let him inside. But this recalcitrant husband was remarried (in most of Gaiman’s cases, he said, the man has remarried, or is living with another woman), and Gaiman appealed to his wife. “She was also Jews for Jesus, a pious lady. I said to her, ‘You want to live and another woman is put in jeopardy?’ ” The man eventually agreed to give a divorce.
Another wayward husband apparently got into the arms-trafficking business with “the Russians.” He had based himself in Italy. When Gaiman found him, “he told me where to go,” Gaiman said, making an obscene gesture with his arms, to ﬁll in the blanks. “I told him, I’m going to take his passport. So, I went to court and got a warrant for him not to get a passport. When he went to renew at the Israeli Embassy in Rome, they said: No passport for you! He was ranting and raving. So, he gave a get.” In another case, an Israeli went to America and got into all sorts of shady businesses: “He started to work with the Italians. When we got there, he was in shock. He was vicious, but his friends convinced him he doesn’t want the Israelis after him.” I asked Gaiman how he found him. “The Jewish people have a sickness,” he explained. “Talk-talk-talk.”
One get cost Gaiman a year’s supply of cigarettes and six boxes of matzo. When I asked if the Israeli government picked up the tab, he broke into a wry grin and made a rare joke. “I’m not allowed to do a mitzvah?” he asked.
Sholem Gaiman claims to have personally solved thousands of cases. He considers himself both a rabbi and a detective—as he put it to me, “20 percent detective, 80 percent rabbi.” A regular P.I. doesn’t know the rules of gittin; and a regular rabbi doesn’t understand detective work, or marriage. In every beit din, he explained, the Talmud stipulates that there’s supposed to be a choker vedoresh—an inquirer/questioner—who can be sent out to find out the facts or verify them. “That’s you?” I asked. He nodded.
When I asked if he had smicha, which would ordain him as a rabbi, he said, “Not one! Not two! Nineteen rabbis gave me smicha.”
On the first day we met up, he wanted to walk around a small reservoir. The water gave him something to look at for the wistful bits of the narrative.
“The main work,” he said, “it’s not finding the guy.”
I asked how he found the guy this time.
“This guy I found through a private eye. He made a mistake. They always make a mistake,” he said, shaking his head. “He was living in the homeless park. Then he starts to work for the girl’s uncle. One day, he disappears with the girl. The uncle calls the police, who find them in a motel. The police say, ‘Oh, you’re having fun? Goodbye!’ ” He laughed. Sex is funny to Gaiman. Sex in a seedy motel is as funny to me as a clogged artery, but to Gaiman, it is apparently hilarious.
How did the P.I. find him? I asked. “The P.I. got the info from the police.”
How? I began to feel like a dentist, pulling these answers from him, but he wasn’t going to give me anything I didn’t work for.
He rubbed two fingers together. “Anyone can find a guy. But what I do is soul searching. You have to figure out how to bring about the realization that to end the marriage is the best thing for his own best interest.”
“You mean, you speak to him?” I asked.
“Absolutely not. When I approach him, I already know everything about him. I can walk down the street with my brother who’s a doctor, and I point and say, that man has a liver disease. My brother is shocked. ‘How do you know?’ he asks me.” Gaiman shrugged. His eyebrows shrugged too. “How do I know? I know.”
He launched a long wistful look that landed on the still waters of the reservoir.
“You only get one shot in this business,” he continued. “I have to study him, learn him, know him, be him. First—the money sources. Is he working or not. Is he living off of someone else’s money, in someone else’s quarters. If he’s working, it means, he has legitimized his being. If he’s living off of someone else, or doing black-market stuff, off the books—it tells me there’s money issues that are very important to him. I have to know what his clothing feels like on his skin. I have to know what he eats. Food tells me about his obsessions. Does he crave meat? Then he’s conniving. Carbs? He needs rushes, it gives him drive. His adrenaline will go up and down with that drive.” His hands rose, clutching air. “I have to get into his kishkas. I have to get in there and know what it is to be him, feel his life and his feelings from”—he made his hands into bowls and held them against his stomach—“in here.”
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