It’s not often that the “Bloods, the Crips, or the Mafia” are invoked in a story about the ultra Orthodox. In the new issue of GQ, Tablet contributor Matthew Shaer does his part to correct that oversight in a profile of a gang of Hasids hired for thousands of dollars to persuade Orthodox men who have refused to grant their wives a “get”—a Jewish divorce document—to reconsider that decision. In Orthodox Judaism, a get is required by the husband in order for a couple to get divorced. Without a get, a woman is not permitted to remarry and is therefore considered to be an agunah: a chained woman.
The gang Shaer depicts used strong powers of persuasion to get their job done: physical assault with ropes, acid and cattle prods. That last implement earned the head of the gang, Rabbi Mendel Epstein, the Prodfather nickname. He and his henchmen were arrested in an FBI sting last year.
The scenes throughout the profile skim the border of Onion parody. In the sting, some of the thugs “wear black ski masks. Some have bandannas pulled over their faces in the manner of Wild West outlaws. One man is wearing a zombie mask, another a black Metallica T.”
Playing up the incongruousness of the ‘Orthodox bad guy’ identity, the profile features staged photographs with hipster-looking models dressed as the Hasidic gang, recreating the scenes. One image bears the odd caption, “The assailants were always beautifully lit.” It’s GQ, after all, what is not beautifully lit in its pages?
It could all be played for laughs but for the serious story that underlies it—of a religious and judicial system in which women sometimes find themselves desperate and disenfranchised, and forced to appeal to whomever can help them by whatever means to escape abusive and harmful marriages.
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