November 4, 1995 in Nation/World

Rabbi Nearly Always Gets His Man Man Hunter Scours Globe For Husbands Who Have Deserted Wives

John Donnelly Miami Herald
 

He is an unlikely looking Sherlock Holmes, a short, potbellied man with a long wispy beard and a wardrobe of black from his shoes to his hat.

But conventions have little relevance to Rabbi Shlomo Klein, the top man hunter in Israel.

Carrying orders from the Jewish state in his briefcase, the orthodox rabbi travels the globe to corner husbands who abandon their wives, then vanish.

Under Jewish law, these men leave their wives “anchored” - a condition called agronaut - unable to marry again or to bear children within the faith. The women are freed only when the husbands sign a divorce petition.

Klein pursues them relentlessly. Sometimes, he nails them from a start of no name and no address. And sometimes, when he finally locates them, he resorts to the most unorthodox ways to get their signature.

In Miami two years ago, he enlisted a young Israeli woman to seduce a man who had left his wife behind in Israel. The man fell in love with the woman, proposed marriage, wanted a divorce in the worst way - and signed for the rabbi on the spot. The woman then turned the tables. SHE vanished.

In France, the rabbi masqueraded as a newspaper carrier to slip into the house of an Israeli who had refused to open the door to him.

And in spots ranging from Australia to India to New York City to even the West Bank town of Hebron, the rabbi has donned the garb of a Roman Catholic priest, a Muslim sheik, a member of an obscure Indian sect - all to sneak up on unsuspecting runaways and shock them into granting a divorce.

“If I manage to save a woman from being anchored, it’s wonderful,” Klein said in his sparse Beersheba office, the headquarters of the Rabbinical Court. “As it has been said, if every human being is a world and all its contents, if you save a person, you save a world.”

The director general of Israel’s Rabbinical Court said he turns to Klein for the most complicated cases.

“He is the best,” said Rabbi Eliayu Ben Cahan. “Most of the cases I give to him, he solves. If you ask me, maybe it’s more important to solve one case than to learn the Torah. Because in Jewish law, we must do all in our power to solve one case of agronaut.”

Most cases take months to resolve as the rabbi interviews family members and friends, collects documents and, at times, enlists the Israeli secret police or private detectives.

But the rabbi often goes it alone.

Traveling two months a year, he has obtained hundreds of signatures - on deathbeds, in the rain forests of South America, in dank jails in the Far East.

His office, on the second floor above a fast-food deli, has one long room filled with his files Each file, he says, is a story. The rabbi loves telling stories.

“I went to Australia once to look for a man with no name and no address. … He had a Hebrew name, but he changed it. All I had was a picture of him at his wedding. I went to Melbourne and Sydney. Nobody knew him. Finally, in Melbourne, I found one rabbi who saw him on Passover night. I still had no name, but the rabbi remembered whom he sat next to,” the rabbi recalled.

After more digging, he learned the man worked at a grocery store.

“The other rabbi left a message there asking him to come to dinner at his house that night. He came, and I was waiting for him. I told him why I was there. He leaped from his chair as if a snake had bitten him, ran out the door.”

Undeterred, the rabbi tracked him to his home.

“He said that he was with the Mafia and he would have me killed. I said fine and gave him my room number at the hotel. At 2 a.m. the next morning, there’s a knock on my door. It’s the man with a gun in his hand. ‘If you don’t leave, I’ll kill you,’ he said. I said: ‘You’ll die someday, too, and one day you’ll face God.”’

“That got to him.”

The man signed - after arguing every clause in the divorce deal.

This has gone on for 29 years. The rabbi won’t stop - not soon, anyway. He thrives on the chase, the ambush, the confrontation. Then comes the real satisfaction.

“The moment of signing,” he said, “is the best.”


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