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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. ~**?-Little Jupiter Mc Lovin~""?!!!#**

    ~YES ~YES ~I GUESS~

    October 11, 2013 at 3:13 am |
  2. Vikachi

    Not if we all have 2 join om by da new anti phob.laws or life in da slammer. wounder if plants n anim. are da next to b told there just phobs.

    October 11, 2013 at 3:10 am |
  3. jerry5555

    Wow, CNN running an article that places Jews in a negative spotlight... are pigs flying yet???

    October 11, 2013 at 3:08 am |
  4. Vikachi

    What till da LGBT people stat devorsin eachother u ant seen nothen yet

    October 11, 2013 at 3:00 am |
  5. Vikachi

    Now lets b nice n polit.corect n twist da truth n hate eachother like good little monkies.u dont want 2 pis of da 400 who run da show in USA moffia.wrong is right right is wrong.take ur pills eat ur posin food n ur nuke water have a strcnine siggy n hate hate hate or thay wont give u some shinny CHANGE

    October 11, 2013 at 2:41 am |
  6. Total2199

    This story will be out of the radar by tomorrow morning. AIPAC will take care of it...

    October 11, 2013 at 2:39 am |
  7. joseph

    He was trying to do the guys and the women a favor. Why would you spend time with someone if they hate you? Unless the guy's were Sadistic pigs who use women.

    October 11, 2013 at 2:35 am |
  8. Vikachi

    LGBT = EXTINCTION just ask a scientist appiest or da pres barry O da pothead tha ll tell ya..NOT

    October 11, 2013 at 2:24 am |
    • Liberty Anne

      I hate to break it to you Vik but it's us heteros who keep giving birth to gays.

      October 11, 2013 at 2:59 am |
  9. Vikachi

    Thay must b appiest LGBTs is da true cnn

    October 11, 2013 at 2:18 am |
  10. Vikachi

    Cnn blocking my coments ?...??.

    October 11, 2013 at 2:07 am |
  11. get out!

    Lends new meaning to "chosen one."

    October 11, 2013 at 2:05 am |
  12. sparky

    I could not stop laughing through this entire article.

    October 11, 2013 at 2:00 am |
  13. Daniel

    I guess Rabbis played too much Grand Theft Auto video games.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:52 am |
  14. Big Man

    Such a horrible group of people. And to think they live right here in our country.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:42 am |
  15. ron

    i don't get it, you get a get if u give a get

    October 11, 2013 at 1:31 am |
    • Sawa Seesaw

      Give a get and get a give
      do it or you get a shiv
      Burma Shave

      October 11, 2013 at 1:35 am |
  16. Carl

    I'm pretty sure this happened in The Sopranos

    October 11, 2013 at 1:31 am |
    • Yavol

      You like pasta? For you, ten cents off!

      October 11, 2013 at 1:37 am |
  17. concerned citizen

    As a Jew, I look to my rabbis to provide the highest standard of moral and ethical behavior. After all, rabbis are the religious leaders of the Jewish community. When I read a story like this one, I am absolutely appalled. This story shows our leaders acting no better than common thugs. I expect our rabbis to act with the greatest integrity, to demonstrate the principles and ethics by which I should abide, and acquit themselves with dignity. Quite frankly, I cannot say that the rabbis named in this article have done so in this case. I am a Jew and I expect better.

    How dare anyone, let alone a Jewish elder, use the tools of force and coercion to obtain the desired outcome. That is thoroughly disgusting. These men, rabbis or not should be completely ashamed of themselves. I may be naïve, but I have never heard of such a thing happening within the Jewish community. Not only do I wish that these men be punished appropriately for their obviously criminal behavior, but also to be stripped of their religious authority, at least for now. They should only be allowed to practice again as rabbis when they truly understand and respect the venerable codes they have so grievously violated. Shame on them!

    October 11, 2013 at 1:25 am |
    • Kenneth Newman

      There are plenty of dishonest, crooked, and pervert rabbis, especially in the Orthodox community, or even in the Hasidic community. While the number of rabbis who have molested kids is far smaller and NOT even close to those molested by priests, it does happen. But at least a rabbi can get married, and the Catholic church continues to live in the 15 century.

      October 11, 2013 at 1:58 am |
      • maria

        Saw a rabbi in the show about man looking for young boys ,he got caught in the show he was going to "meet " a kid ,the police got him! I just laugh can't believe the rabbi got caught! hilarious!

        October 11, 2013 at 3:06 am |
    • Stevo

      Lighten up Francis

      October 11, 2013 at 2:04 am |
    • hello

      With the right price.. anyone will GET the job done. Its no just the Rabbis who are guilty.. so are the wives.
      A good example of why theocracy laws are not good for society. We live in a secular country. People need to
      not allow they mythic laws override the secular ones. Then this kind of crime would not occur.
      Religious law has no legal control over US citizens..This is a good example WHY.
      Those who allow mythic laws to control their lives.. are subject to inhumane treatment like this.
      That's why any introduction of any mythic laws of courts needs to be prevented of banned. Those who want to create Sharia courts will be bastions of crime not legal equality. In the UK they have created Sharia courts based on that system. It is riddled with crime and abuse of women. This Jewish laws appears to be riddled with abuse of men.

      October 11, 2013 at 2:33 am |
      • kiel

        they dont "abuse men" there are spiteful men who refuse to say 3 simple words thereby causing these women never to be able to remarry. also they just ask the guy to say 3 words and then let him go (they use mainly scare tactics and almost never have hurt anyone. they also have saved many young women from these abusive husbands

        October 11, 2013 at 2:51 am |
    • Beenthereonce

      Don't feel bad...at least they place value on their hypocrisy. In the Catholic Church, all it takes is a couple of thousand $$$. Experiencing that threw all my years of religion out the window....I guess all religions do share some common bond – They're run by crooks.

      October 11, 2013 at 2:33 am |
    • elvinmerij

      I hear ya brotha. As a kid who grew up Catholic, I had (and was taught to have) the highest opinion of priests. Many slaps on the back of my head (think: DiNozzo on NCIS) reinforced this.

      Then you grow up.

      Any religious leader anywhere in the world is just a man. And not infallible. But so many people refuse to believe that. Especially our Catholic mothers ......

      October 11, 2013 at 2:58 am |
      • andyourpointis

        We fully realize that priests are human. We also trust what Jesus told Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." that means the pope is infallible only when it comes to faith and morals. The Holy Spirit won't let him make a mistake there. But he still has free will. He can do good. He can choose to do evil and many have. The Teachings are perfect, not the people. Big difference. And I don't know why we're talking about Catholic stuff on here since the story is about rabbis. My apologies to any non-Catholics reading this. I was only directing this to the poster.

        October 12, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • Richard

      When you allow people, groups, to run these insular communities, you invite abuse and criminality. A ghetto is a ghetto.

      October 11, 2013 at 3:08 am |
    • kiel

      As a human being,i feel terrible for these poor abused women who will never be able to remarry cuz out of spite the guy refuses to say 3 simple words!!!!!!! i support those rabbis for putting themselves on the line to save these girls even if it means doing stuff whichdoesnt sound politically correct.

      October 11, 2013 at 3:22 am |
      • andyourpointis

        I'm not going to pretend to know anything about Judaism but is it all the same? Are there different 'denominations' of Judaism? Some more liberal? Couldn't those women get a civil divorce and marry again in a more liberal synagogue? It seems a tad hypocritical to have someone beaten and forced to sign a paper...because they were beaten and want one.

        October 12, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
    • kiel

      as an aside they have only done these things in very rare situations and only after they have exhausted every other way(including offering small fortunes) also they almost never resort to actual beating they only scare the guy into sayin 3 simple words to free the woman and then leave

      October 11, 2013 at 3:32 am |
  18. Daniel

    If you ask me, it's worth the once in a while nightly seminal emission. (about every 3-4 months) Hmmm...How can I tie this into the congressional debate?

    October 11, 2013 at 1:19 am |
  19. Steve, the Rabbi drove Old Dixie down

    I heard Tchatchke and Hutch broke this case wide open..

    October 11, 2013 at 1:18 am |
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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.