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October 10th, 2013
09:17 PM ET

FBI: Rabbis plotted to kidnap husbands, force divorces

By Allie Malloy and Jessica Ravitz, CNN

NEW YORK (CNN) –Two rabbis face kidnapping charges after allegedly arranging assaults of Orthodox Jewish husbands to persuade them to grant divorces to their wives, authorities said Thursday.

FBI raids on Wednesday night led to the arrest of the men, who were arraigned in federal court in New Jersey on Thursday, according to court documents.

A criminal complaint alleges that the rabbis charged Jewish wives tens of thousands of dollars to orchestrate kidnappings and accepted $20,000 for such an operation from undercover FBI agents.

Their goal? To obtain "gets," a document that Jewish law requires a husband to present to his wife in order to be issued a divorce, the complaint says.

In the Orthodox Jewish world, a get is more important than any sort of document drawn up in civil courts. The derivation of this law is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-2:

"When a man marries a woman or possesses her, if she is displeasing to him..., he shall write her a bill of divorce and place it in her hand, thus releasing her from his household. When she thus leaves his household, she may go and marry another man."

Without it, a woman is considered an "agunah" - a chained woman bound to a man no matter how over their marriage might be. The implications of not having a get are serious. A woman runs the risk of being shunned in her community, labeled an adulteress if she dares move on. And any future children she has are considered bastards only permitted to marry other bastards.

In one conversation with undercover FBI agents, the complaint alleges, Rabbi Mendel Epstein talked about forcing the divorces with the help of hired "tough guys," who he said used plastic bags to cover the husbands' heads and electric cattle prods and karate to assault them.

"I guarantee you that if you're in the van, you'd give a get to your wife. You probably love your wife, but you'd give a get when they finish with you," Epstein told the undercover FBI agents, according to the complaint.

The complaint says Epstein told the undercover FBI agents that his organization had kidnapped a husband every 12 to 18 months.

Another rabbi, Martin Wolmark, told the agents, "You need special rabbis who are going to take this thing and see it through to the end," according to the complaint.

Husbands who withhold gets have been held in contempt for centuries. How to deal with them has long been a subject of debate. Names of recalcitrant husbands are often listed in Orthodox Jewish newspapers to shame them. But more extreme measures have also been supported in the past. A leading 12th century Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, actually advocated that these men be whipped until they issued gets or died, whichever came first.

In Israel, where state and Jewish laws blend, such husbands can be thrown in prison. In the United States, where church and state separation reigns, the justice system offers little help.

Epstein, Wolmark and eight others face kidnapping charges in the case, according to court documents. They are being held without bond pending a bail hearing next week, the U.S. District Court for New Jersey said.

All 10 defendants pleaded not guilty Thursday, said attorney Marc Agnifilo, who is representing Wolmark. If convicted, he said, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

"Martin is greatly loved in his community and by his family. ... Hopefully he will be released so he can defend these charges as a free man," Agnifilo said.

Avraham Moskowitz, Epstein's attorney, stressed the importance of the issue the case deals with.

"The only thing I can say is, as is true in all cases, there are two sides to every story. The case deals with a very serious problem in the Orthodox Jewish community, and we will present a defense when the time is appropriate."

He said the rabbi's family is doing well.

"They're doing as good as can be expected under the circumstances. It's obviously a difficult situation when your father or husband is incarcerated," he said.

The names of attorneys representing the others charged in the case were not listed in court documents. CNN was unable to reach them for comment.

The FBI said agents raided two locations Wednesday night, a home in Brooklyn and the Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Suffern, New York.

 CNN's Rande Iaboni contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Courts • Judaism

soundoff (1,043 Responses)
  1. sigmundfreud

    Hey Joe ... get yourself a good Jewish psychiatrist.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
  2. Copernicus911

    Beam me up scotty, there is no intelligent life down here!

    October 11, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
  3. NOTA

    Probably used that new karate style that's all the rage in the Middle East. It's called Israeli Jew-Hits-You.

    October 11, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
  4. bot

    kidnapping husbands with rabies? strange story.

    October 11, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
  5. rs1201

    I'm assuming you prefer the pedophilic priests who are busy assaulting young boys...that's more your speed!!!!

    October 11, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
  6. James Barber

    Now I'm beginning to understand why conservatives keep pounding the idea that America was built on Judaic and christian values. I gets it.

    October 11, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  7. MAX

    Could somebody help me? Why don't the demons find something/anything negative to say about Christians?

    October 11, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • Relictus

      You've got to be kidding. They are our best customers!

      October 11, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
  8. Eve

    What an archaic and backward bunch of people.

    October 11, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • rs1201

      Who exactly are you calling archaic and backward you miserable trailer trash single digit IQ imb3cil3?

      I'd rather take these rabbis than a bunch of pedophilic priests busy assaulting young boys...or perhaps that's what your preferences are....

      October 11, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
      • endeavor43

        Eve seems to have struck one of your nerves.

        October 11, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
      • Crama

        And you're exempting rabbis from pedophilia? There's plenty of that in the religious Jewish community, they're just better at keeping it quiet.

        October 11, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  9. Max

    At least we're not making generalizations

    October 11, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
  10. nestor

    these rabbis were hunted like simple rabbits, they could no remains with the money that as much adores the religious jewish, just like any denomination than use the mascara of the religious, these jewish religion that promotes the freedom of the gays and lesbians, to married , are against the divorce of the regular couple , that sect where the man is in charge totally control the woman , they eat the camel but the little rabbits has it by impure , not kosher classical religious hypocrisy

    October 11, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
    • morty

      Couldn't have said this better myself ...

      October 11, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
      • counselor39@hotmail.com

        "couldn't have said it better myself"-
        Really ? There are TWO illiterate ignoramuses here ?

        October 11, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
        • endeavor43

          Don't recognize sarcasm when you see it, do you?

          October 11, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
    • rs1201

      what exactly are you babbling about??? just shut up and go learn some english before posting...it takes a lot of nerve for an ignoramus such as yourself to have the audacity to post....wonders never cease!!!

      October 11, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
      • counselor39@hotmail.com

        Agree with rs.

        October 11, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
  11. tiki jones

    wow, don't ya just love religion?

    October 11, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
  12. counselor39@hotmail.com

    Nice, Joe scrotum..nice.

    October 11, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
  13. Pam

    Check Maury Povich show circa 80's or 90's – a show about racism and you'll see a BRAWL between Jewish thugs and skin heads. Yes, there are Jewish men in gangs that are dedicated to breaking heads. However its all hushed up and you wont find them on the street corners.

    October 11, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  14. Tyler Durden

    Are any of the women who paid to have their husbands tortured being prosecuted as well?

    October 11, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  15. Tony T

    I leave near a Hassidic community take it from me they are not nice people or good neighborhoods!

    October 11, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  16. Jo Black

    "Shalom. Good Yontif. Get in the van.".

    October 11, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
  17. mykroft

    Didn't get the get? Don't worry, Aguna Matata!

    October 11, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • glennrobert

      One side says there is a god. The other side says there is no God. Neither position is testable.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
  18. mrBORGest

    Does
    he also
    RAP ?

    MWA hahahahahahahahahahaha.

    October 11, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
  19. mrBORGest

    BWA HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. GOOD ONE

    October 11, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.