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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. zoglet

    religious nut jobs being.....religious nut jobs.

    October 11, 2013 at 12:08 am |
    • karen

      Right on !

      October 11, 2013 at 12:21 am |
    • Zaug, Overlord of Underwear

      Okay, this is awkward......

      October 11, 2013 at 1:08 am |
  2. Jack Tors

    Oy Vey!

    October 11, 2013 at 12:06 am |
  3. Padric2

    Finally....the origin of the expression "GET outta here"

    October 11, 2013 at 12:05 am |
  4. Yes

    sopranos

    October 11, 2013 at 12:02 am |
  5. joncraft84

    How can they plead not guilty. It sounds like they have blood all over them. Sounds like they have mental issues. I am not just saying I have a degree in Psychotherapy but again it sounds like they have mental problems.

    October 11, 2013 at 12:02 am |
  6. Padric2

    Guess they put the plastic bag on the head, smother them for a bit....and then force them to buy the bag at retail as the final act.

    October 11, 2013 at 12:01 am |
  7. Reality # 2

    Just how much longer are we going to tolerate the inanity of religion ?????

    October 11, 2013 at 12:00 am |
    • mickey1313

      I hope that the scourge of thiesm is crushed in my lifetime. I hope that within the century thiests will be treated how athiests have been treated for over 2 thousand years.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:15 am |
  8. Zwei Stein

    Ach du lieber!

    October 11, 2013 at 12:00 am |
  9. Jay

    I remember this episode of the Sopranos!

    October 10, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
  10. Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

    How anti-semite of these FBI agents to arrest them?
    What the fuook is this game , America is secular and they are playing with American values and freedom.

    October 10, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
  11. Michele Hood

    I wonder if those gets will be nullified since they were obtained by coercion.

    October 10, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
  12. ron

    I don't understand why this story is on the top news. It sounds like a bunch of low life Jews who acted really crazy and stupid (if proven guilty).

    October 10, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
  13. wilf

    jewis mafia great new tv show

    October 10, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
  14. Don't worry

    This is a religious thing in America! No matter how horrible it is, it'll get a pass in the name of religion.

    October 10, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Probibly, americas religous apology is one of americas biggest problems. We are way to tollerant of this insaine crud.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:17 am |
  15. sayWhat

    wait so your telling me that Jewish wives are forced to live with their husbands against their will IN USA? okay where are those humanitarians watch dogs now? isnt this considered female oppression? i can only imagine if these rabbis were muslim i bet they would've received medals by now for their heroic act, instead of being arrested.

    October 10, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • jesusforpenis

      They're not. They just let their religion control them to the point where everything they do makes no sense, hence this situation.

      October 10, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • No they're not

      No, they're not forced to live with their husbands, they're just barred from marrying another man since they're still considered legally married in the eyes of the religion they choose to follow.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:07 am |
      • mickey1313

        Um you used mutally exclusive terms there. Legal means binding in the nation/state you are in, and faith they choose, is um NOT BINDING IT IS A CHOICE. I have ZERO sympathy for someone so weak they will let a poorly writen book of horror dictate how they live there lives, sounds like they have gotten exactly what they deserve. If you put stock in antiquated ways from a bygone time, then you deserve to treated in that same antiquated bygone fassion. They just want there cake and eat it too.

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

        You mean women dont have a right to get out of wedlock? How ancient !!

        Women will be slaves for ever this way .

        October 11, 2013 at 12:30 am |
        • hasta

          You contradicted yourself. These women do not have to follow the religion and they chose not to by committing violence. Why on earth they care about their religion where does it say you have to use violence to force some one do things they do not want to do. You are justifying violence ?

          October 11, 2013 at 1:11 am |
  16. Kindrid soul

    Wow even the Rabbis are thugging now? "Yo you gonna get that divorce? are we gonna have to F@#$k you Up?" I wonder if their pants were sagging?

    October 10, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
  17. Adman

    Women have a right to divorce in Islam. I am surprised Jews tightened the laws for themselves and their women suffer.
    Hope the Rabbis find an easier way than kidnapping and torturing husbands to throw in their towel.

    October 10, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
  18. brown

    Don't give the biiatch a get. She is here to serve, not make demands

    October 10, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
  19. Haha

    Boy that Judaism is a rough religion!

    October 10, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
  20. children of Israel

    John 7:19 Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me? (Matthew 5:17) *Deuteronomy 21:15 If a man have two wives,.. *1st Peter 3:1 LIKEWISE, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; (1st Timothy 2:15) *Psalm 108:8 Judah is my lawgiver;

    October 10, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • Reality # 2

      John's gospel is considered to be historically insignificant by many contemporary NT scholars. Matt 5:17 as per Professor Ludemann's thorough an-alysis was invented by Matthew. Timothy's epistle was written by a pseudo Paul and therefore has no divine guidance. The remaining references are a waste of one's time
      vitiated by the New Torah for Modern Minds.

      Added details are available upon written request.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:09 am |
      • mickey1313

        um, NT scholar = mutually exclusive terms, like christian scientist. You can not be a scholar of fiction. It is like sayng you have a degree is fairytale analasys it is a joke to anyone who does not have the degree.

        October 11, 2013 at 12:24 am |
        • jungleboo

          Having read a number of your posts this morning, I think I am in love again!

          October 11, 2013 at 5:04 am |
      • Reality # 2

        NT scholars study and analyze the scriptures and archeology of the first to third century CE especially in the area but not limited to Palestine. The following references will help you on your journey:

        o 1. Historical Jesus Theories, earlychristianwritings.com/theories.htm – the names of many of the contemporary historical Jesus scholars and the ti-tles of their over 100 books on the subject.

        2. Early Christian Writings, earlychristianwritings.com/
        – a list of early Christian doc-uments to include the year of publication–

        30-60 CE Passion Narrative
        40-80 Lost Sayings Gospel Q
        50-60 1 Thessalonians
        50-60 Philippians
        50-60 Galatians
        50-60 1 Corinthians
        50-60 2 Corinthians
        50-60 Romans
        50-60 Philemon
        50-80 Colossians
        50-90 Signs Gospel
        50-95 Book of Hebrews
        50-120 Didache
        50-140 Gospel of Thomas
        50-140 Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel
        50-200 Sophia of Jesus Christ
        65-80 Gospel of Mark
        70-100 Epistle of James
        70-120 Egerton Gospel
        70-160 Gospel of Peter
        70-160 Secret Mark
        70-200 Fayyum Fragment
        70-200 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
        73-200 Mara Bar Serapion
        80-100 2 Thessalonians
        80-100 Ephesians
        80-100 Gospel of Matthew
        80-110 1 Peter
        80-120 Epistle of Barnabas
        80-130 Gospel of Luke
        80-130 Acts of the Apostles
        80-140 1 Clement
        80-150 Gospel of the Egyptians
        80-150 Gospel of the Hebrews
        80-250 Christian Sibyllines
        90-95 Apocalypse of John
        90-120 Gospel of John
        90-120 1 John
        90-120 2 John
        90-120 3 John
        90-120 Epistle of Jude
        93 Flavius Josephus
        100-150 1 Timothy
        100-150 2 Timothy
        100-150 T-itus
        100-150 Apocalypse of Peter
        100-150 Secret Book of James
        100-150 Preaching of Peter
        100-160 Gospel of the Ebionites
        100-160 Gospel of the Nazoreans
        100-160 Shepherd of Hermas
        100-160 2 Peter

         4. Jesus Database, http://www.faithfutures.o-rg/JDB/intro.html –"The JESUS DATABASE is an online a-nnotated inventory of the traditions concerning the life and teachings of Jesus that have survived from the first three centuries of the Common Era. It includes both canonical and extra-canonical materials, and is not limited to the traditions found within the Christian New Testament."
        5. Josephus on Jesus mtio.com/articles/bis-sar24.htm
        6. The Jesus Seminar, http://en.wikipedia.o-rg/wiki/Jesus_Seminar
        7. http://www.biblicalartifacts.com/items/785509/item785509biblicalartifacts.html – books on the health and illness during the time of the NT
        8. Economics in First Century Palestine, K.C. Hanson and D. E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, Fortress Press, 1998.
        9.The Gn-ostic Jesus
        (Part One in a Two-Part Series on A-ncient and Modern G-nosticism)
        by Douglas Gro-othuis: http://www.equip.o-rg/articles/g-nosticism-and-the-g-nostic-jesus/
        10. The interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifical Biblical Commission
        Presented on March 18, 1994
        ewtn.com/library/CURIA/PBCINTER.HTM#2
        11. The Jesus Database- newer site:
        wiki.faithfutures.o-rg/index.php?t-itle=Jesus_Database
        12. Jesus Database with the example of S-u-pper and Eucharist:
        faithfutures.o-rg/JDB/jdb016.html
        13. Josephus on Jesus by Paul Maier:
        mtio.com/articles/bis-sar24.htm
        13. http://www.textweek.com/mtlk/jesus.htmm- Historical Jesus Studies
        14. The Greek New Testament: laparola.net/greco/
        15. D-iseases in the Bible:
        http://books.google.com/books/about/The_d-iseases_of_the_Bible.html?id=C1YZAAAAYAAJ

        16. Religion on Line (6000 articles on the history of religion, churches, theologies,
        theologians, ethics, etc.
        religion-online.o-rg/

         17. The New Testament Gateway – Internet NT ntgateway.com/
        18. Writing the New Testament- e-xisting copies, o-ral tradition etc.
        ntgateway.com/
        19. JD Crossan's c-onclusions about the a-uthencity of most of the NT based on the above plus the c-onclusions of other NT e-xege-tes in the last 200 years:
        http://wiki.faithfutures.o-rg/index.p-hp?t-itle=Crossan_Inventory
        20. Early Jewish Writings- Josephus and his books by t-itle with the complete translated work in English :earlyjewishwritings.com/josephus.html
        21. Luke and Josephus- was there a c-onnection?
        in-fidels.o-rg/library/modern/richard_carrier/lukeandjosephus.html
        22. NT and beyond time line:
        pbs.o-rg/empires/pe-terandpaul/history/timeline/
        23. St. Paul's Time line with discussion of important events:
        harvardhouse.com/prophetictech/new/pauls_life.htm
        24. See http://www.amazon.com for a list of JD Crossan's books and those of the other Jesus Seminarians: Reviews of said books are included and selected pages can now be viewed on Amazon. Some books can be found on-line at Google Books.
        25. Father Edward Schillebeeckx's words of wisdom as found in his books.
        27. The books of the following : Professors Gerd Ludemann, Marcus Borg, Paula Fredriksen, Elaine Pagels, Karen Armstrong and Bishop NT Wright.
        28. Father Raymond Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, NY, 1977, 878 pages, with Nihil obstat and Imprimatur.
        29. Luke Timothy Johnson's book The Real Jesus

        October 12, 2013 at 11:30 am |
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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.