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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. kissmyas

    Religion, the root of all evil.

    October 12, 2013 at 4:09 am |
    • Observer

      It could be your mind that is the root of all evil.

      October 12, 2013 at 5:44 am |
      • erosco

        true, it is our mind that created religion

        October 12, 2013 at 8:09 am |
    • centeredpiece

      Hardly. In the name of what "religion" did Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot slaughter millions? What is it that produced the mindset that killing is wrong? That war is to be avoided? It didn't spring full formed from the forehead of 1960's radicals, that's for sure. it is Judeo-Christian morality and ethics that has made our world a more civilized place.

      October 12, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  2. Hopesurvives

    This article incorrectly quotes Deuteronomy 24; the following is what it actually says in the Bible:
    Deuteronomy 24
    1. If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

    October 12, 2013 at 3:36 am |
    • AWoman

      All the religious texts (from all faiths) are so anti-women. The woman is deemed ' defied' and unfit if she marries someone else, or is called an adultress or stoned to death...why are we women putting up with these texts that put so many conditions on women only. Actually women should stop following religions, we are creators aren't we?

      October 12, 2013 at 5:37 am |
      • Observer

        Before women had the vote we had great Presidents like Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln... look what we have now.

        October 12, 2013 at 5:42 am |
      • berryrat

        Your point is well taken; however, not all faiths hold women to be less than man. Wicca is one such example. Christian Science is another one off the top of my head.

        October 12, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • ronjayaz

      And U thought Sharia law was complicated!

      October 12, 2013 at 6:40 am |
  3. NOTA

    But at least they believe in god. I mean, that makes them good and moral, right? You know like pedophile catholic priests. And my buddies wife who goes to church and always tells me (smugly) that Jesus loves me. Never mind that she's running around with a married man.

    October 12, 2013 at 3:23 am |
    • Thinker23

      "But at least they believe in god. I mean, that makes them good and moral, right?"

      Not necessarily. Just like eating yogurt will not necessarily make you healthy.

      October 12, 2013 at 6:30 am |
      • jungleboo

        Thinker 23, wipe the sleep out of your eyes, would you? Your responses are missing marks left, right, high and low. The rest of us got what NOTA meant. Or you are just a troll...

        October 12, 2013 at 8:05 am |
        • Thinker23

          Did you disagree with something I've said, Einstein? If so WHAT WAS IT?

          Please realize that as long as there is nothing you DISAGREE with it means that you AGREE WITH EVERYTHING...

          October 12, 2013 at 9:37 am |
  4. NOTA

    What do you expect from people who still revere a 2000 year old book that regulates the beating of slaves and advocates the stoning of children?

    October 12, 2013 at 3:10 am |
    • Hopesurvives

      You don't know the Bible if that is what you think it says.

      October 12, 2013 at 3:39 am |
      • joey

        the christian user manual absolutely dictates violence of all types, against all humans, including children.

        October 12, 2013 at 4:14 am |
        • Observer

          Too bad you were missed

          October 12, 2013 at 5:46 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Funny coming from a christian who wouldn't be a christian if h/she actually read the book, it is after all the greatest path to disbelief.

        October 12, 2013 at 6:29 am |
  5. joey

    what do rabbis do with the leftover foreskins ? sell them to richard simmons as chewing gum

    October 12, 2013 at 2:51 am |
  6. Imminent

    Don't these women know they can file for divorce whether the husband wants it or not? All that extortion and trouble for nothing.

    October 12, 2013 at 2:31 am |
    • counselor39@hotmail.com

      Dont YOU know..that these ladies CANT ? That you dont know what you're talking about " That if you can say that, you've not read the article ?

      October 12, 2013 at 2:49 am |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        They would have to leave their unsavory society behind. So what? People have to move on all the time.

        October 12, 2013 at 2:53 am |
        • counselor39@hotmail.com

          Say goodnight, Tom.
          You're clueless.

          October 12, 2013 at 2:55 am |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        Sorry, man. You're the one who is glued to a pointless little cult.

        October 12, 2013 at 3:03 am |
  7. NOTA

    Wher in the quote from Leviticus does it say that the women's feelings are to be considered? Why is it shameful for a woman to simply move on, but okay to torture a man into letting her go?

    October 12, 2013 at 2:17 am |
  8. Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

    They are suppressing free speech in name of anti-antisemitism. SO now the FBI are anti-Semites ?
    CNN could not get the pictures of those rabbis and those victim women ?

    October 12, 2013 at 12:35 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      You have bad craziness.

      October 12, 2013 at 12:39 am |
  9. Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

    Jews are suppressing free speech in USA in name of anti-semitism. People cant even criticize these criminals

    October 12, 2013 at 12:27 am |
  10. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    There are alternatives to Orthodox Judaism. I would think young people would be voting with their feet, leaving it to the old men.

    October 12, 2013 at 12:20 am |
  11. Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

    Rabbis are learning karate !!

    October 12, 2013 at 12:09 am |
  12. Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

    Greedy filthy jews

    October 11, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
    • counselor39@hotmail.com

      And people wonder why there needs to be a State of Israel....

      October 11, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
      • Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

        Occupied land!

        October 12, 2013 at 12:24 am |
      • barcacentraldiatus

        I couldn't agree more counselor. I am Muslim but it tears me up inside every time I read insults hurled at the Jewish People for no reason other than hate. Some of the greatest people I have had the honor of calling friends are Jewish and the kind of love they have given to me and the kind of love I have witnessed them give to humanity has sincerely been the purest kind. I yearn and pray for the day we can all be as ONE. I will continue to pray, and teach my two sons to do the same, so that their children too can follow along, for all men and women to find the simple truth of life: love conquers all.
        I sense the persistent and increasing tapping of "annoyance" on your dots but be still, be gentle to yourself and unfurl the honors you have bestowed upon yourself: counsel and love.

        October 12, 2013 at 12:38 am |
        • counselor39@hotmail.com

          Peace to you and yours, baraca.

          October 12, 2013 at 1:51 am |
    • Jeb

      Stupid racist hillbilly.

      October 12, 2013 at 12:00 am |
    • sigmundfreud

      Hey, anti ... sounds like you need a good Jewish psychiatrist to straighten out your scrambled brains.

      October 12, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  13. Daniel

    Persecution of Jewish people has started using "false clause and accusations" similar to Nazi Germany. There is only one way out – massive exodus from USA to Israel!!! That is why Aliyah and Nefesh B'Nefesh are for!

    October 11, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • counselor39@hotmail.com

      Right there with ya, Daniel.
      (I'm sure we'll BOTH get some polite responses here)

      October 11, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
  14. Beth

    CNN–the fact that this comment has stood here for 2 1/2 hours is why I do not post here much or read much of the comment section and why I look elsewhere. I can't believe you haven't gotten enough flags on this post above to remove it by now. Your moderators are not doing their jobs well enough. This is nothing compared to a lot of the hateful posts I have seen here. Why don't you do more? Other websites do not have as much of this as you do it seems. Why not?

    October 11, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
  15. Beth

    It is too bad that they chose to follow an interpretation of Jewish law over common sense and current laws. How would anyone think it better to kidnap someone and torture them than to break this interpretation of Jewish law. Orthodox do not follow everything that Jews have always followed. Even they have picked and chosen. This idea of a get is unfair to woman (and any men who end up kidnapped.) I'm sorry to read about religion being interpreted in this way.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
  16. Daniel

    Wow... for Catholics the Godfather isn't actually affiliated with the Church but for Orthodox Jews it is an actual Rabbi... who knew?

    October 11, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
  17. Crama

    Right...nothing fails like prayer!

    October 11, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
  18. LM

    Jesus was a Jew

    October 11, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  19. Joe

    Glad that the FBI is looking at these guys. The hassidics are a big problem in New York, they are slowly corrupting the system and taking over neighborhoods and towns, imposing their backwards anti-democratic rules.
    In East Ramapo, the place these rabbis were operating, the hassidics took control of the public school district and are now totally taking it apart, selling the school buildings and eliminating all the programs. "If the people don't like it, they can move away" is what they say. It is unbelievable it's happening in our country and CNN should report on it.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
    • JOSH P.

      I grew up near Monsey,I know all about these crooks,it,s not only the Hasidics all those people are Corrupt to say the least.

      October 11, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

      Too late for any thing , USA is jewSA they are in white house they are every where!

      October 12, 2013 at 12:21 am |
      • counselor39@hotmail.com

        lol..yeah, lot's of Kenyan Jews.
        You'd better be GRATEFUL that WE are everywhere with what WE have given the world in terms of arts, science, medicine, etc.

        October 12, 2013 at 12:24 am |
        • Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

          You stupid fuks give those few who done some thing . Either way most of them are atheist and jews just by name .
          Jews like you give them a bad name ! World will still be there even if they were not . stop playing holocaust victim card and this stupidity card! NOT every thing is by jews , stop being self centered its just in white house and the media there are filthy jews

          October 12, 2013 at 12:32 am |
        • counselor39@hotmail.com

          Rant on, madman...but..know this-
          We've been around a long, LONG time – and we're not going anywhere.
          I hope this burns your butt every day for the rest of your miserable life.
          On second thought, why dont you give me your email address so I can remind you personally – every day.

          October 12, 2013 at 1:06 am |
      • Tal

        You are a complete idiot. You know nothing of history, if you had 1/6 of your population wiped out you would think differently. How dare you say that jews are playing a "victim card". Imagine having everyone you know killed, then rebuilding from scratch after having everything stolen from you, then being told you are complaning to much about it. You are a loser. If 1/6 of any population were to be killed off what would you say to that? Try not to be racist in your answer by pretending it was your family/people.

        October 12, 2013 at 11:07 am |
  20. sigmundfreud

    Jeez ... you still haven't come up with an original line. So tell you what... if you get bitten by a rabid squirrel, go pray. Don't have a rabies shot.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
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About this blog

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.