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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

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I asked him what he had learned about this target, in particular, from observing him.

“His uncertainty,” he said. “He has nothing left. And his hatred. It’s his reason to live. If I get this get from him, he will lose that one reason. He could have a heart attack. Or a breakdown.” Gaiman thought for a minute. “A nervous breakdown, I mean,” he said. “All these men, they withhold for the same reason: Revenge.”

***

Until 2003, Gaiman’s salary was paid by the Israeli government: $75,000 a year, not including expenses, to track down men who were refusing to divorce their wives and who had fled the country. But in 2003, Gaiman said, Tommy Lapid, father of current MK Yair Lapid and then-minister of justice, a man committed to ending what the New York Times referred to as “state subsidized Judaism,” axed his job. “He didn’t think this is the role of government anymore,” Gaiman said.

It then fell to the agunot themselves to pick up the bill. “An agunah is the most prone individual out there,” Gaiman said. “All the vultures are trying to take from her.” He puts in hundreds of hours on each case, he claims, but comes away making less than $20 an hour.

Gaiman doesn’t think the problems facing agunot stem from halakhah—the Jewish legal system. About the dayanim—the judges in the rabbinical courtshe said some care about the plight of these women, and some don’t. For instance, he said, Rav Ovadiya Yosef, former Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the Shas Party, won’t do a thing to forward the public-policy debate, but on a case-by-case basis, “he will tear up every small possibility to find a way to help.”

“An agunah is the most prone individual out there. All the vultures are trying to take from her.”

We were now in the car driving down the highway in search of a thrift store he wanted to check out. In order to get the get, Gaiman needed to assemble the seven necessary individuals. Because we were deep in the South, Gaiman’s plan was to fly these people down from New York, where the closest beit din was located. He was hoping the shock of encountering such a group would induce the husband to give the get. The idea of flying seven people south seemed so ridiculous to me as to be implausible, but what did I know? He’s the detective.

“The halakhah has all the answers,” he insisted. “It says specifically in the Talmud, if a man should refuse a get, you beat him until he says, I want! The question is why the Israeli government doesn’t treat this like a crime?” I objected, wading in like the sucker that I am. “But halakhah is the reason you need these extra-judicial measures to make it work,” I said. “Isn’t the need for vigilantism the sign of a broken legal system?”

“But this is part of the legal system,” Gaiman said. “What is the halakhah missing?”

“Equality,” I grumbled.

“It has better than equality,” he said. “It’s halakhah that says, ‘Honor your wife more than yourself.’ Judaism today is not the Judaism that Hashem wanted. If things were done according to halakhah, we wouldn’t be sitting here.”

“We also wouldn’t be sitting here if women could divorce men,” I said, driving into the thrift-store parking lot.

“That part Hashem wanted,” he said, holding up his hands. “It’s like your phone number. How many phone numbers do you have?”

We walked through the store. It was enormous, one of those huge warehouses where a person could get murdered in some corner and no one would know unless they were checking out the “Games and Other” section. We started in Household Items. Gaiman pretended to be picking things up, putting them down, but he seemed to be casing the joint, and he was real smooth at it.

We wandered into the parking lot, and he inspected the far reaches, the dark corners. There were a few trucks of various sizes. An untoward individual was sorting other people’s unwanted items into piles—shoes were the biggest, next clothes, and finally, the bigger items, like fans and pots and a Fisher Price child’s car; remnants of happier times when the only things people refused each other were second helpings.

“I’m imagining to give her the get in time for Shabbos,” he said. Then, abruptly: “This place isn’t going to work. Now to Plan B. Did you bring a hat like I asked you?”

***

We spent the rest of the afternoon sustaining his cover story. The town had one big manufacturer, and he was pretending to be a potential customer; he told the men at the local Orthodox synagogue that he had an appointment, which he didn’t have. I was still a little on edge from an earlier exchange about the Satmars. Gaiman had asked if I knew how members of the sect preferred to get their gets, and when I said I didn’t he said, “Three guys take him down to the mikveh. They say to him, this water, it’s all yours to drink, if you don’t want to give the get.”

I laughed, until I realized that this was not an academic anecdote. He had wanted me to check out the mikveh, hence the need for the hat: I should call and ask to use the mikveh, pretending to be a married woman in need of post-menstruation purification services.

It finally occurred to me to ask: “Have you ever used violence before?”

“No,” he had said. “But a mikveh is a good place for a conversation.”

We went back to my motel, and in my room we feasted on crackers and sardines and mustard (aside from this strictly kosher fare, Gaiman subsisted on fruits and vegetables when on a case). I asked him why he had devoted his life to rescuing women.

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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