home
RSS
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. rizak

    small potatoes compared to their organ smuggling ring...quickly swept under the rug by the media because heaven forbid we give the chosen people any bad press.

    October 11, 2013 at 7:04 am |
    • addison

      Seriously dude. is this not bad press? You think the press would not pass up something as juicy as stealing organs? How is a certified nut like you created?

      October 11, 2013 at 7:28 am |
  2. jacob

    feels like deja vu. Anyone remember that Sopranos episode?

    October 11, 2013 at 6:55 am |
  3. AngryJew

    So this is the religion of the "chosen people"?

    October 11, 2013 at 6:54 am |
    • Nope nope nope nope nope

      Not any more so than how Christian thugs represent their religion, or how muslim terrorists represent theirs.

      October 11, 2013 at 7:23 am |
      • CurmudgeonTx

        ...or the Atheist thugs represent their religion.

        October 11, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  4. dastreagus

    just knowing my wife is considering having me abducted would "get" what she wanted.

    October 11, 2013 at 6:08 am |
    • Shpilkus

      This is the point exactly. The husband has to agree to the divorce under Jewish custom, and he may require pressure to grant the divorce. Some men can be more stubborn than others. The level headed men just sign the papers and move on, but others just dig in and flatly refuse.
      It's important to remember that most orthodox marriages take place while in their late teens–and children are almost immediately pumped out fast and furious. Men are reluctant to give up their large families without a fight.

      October 11, 2013 at 6:43 am |
  5. Steve

    Ahhhh. The religion of peace and love gets exposed. Even the Rabbis of this religion will result to mob style tactics for some cold hard $$$$. Greed. And they say the Muslims are the dangerous ones.

    October 11, 2013 at 5:57 am |
    • willknutsen

      Was it not new jersey where some rabbis were busted for stealing human organs from live people? What is going on, jersey? Is this what happens when i leave the place for a few short decades?

      October 11, 2013 at 6:50 am |
      • AngryJew

        Yeah! I saw that episode of American Greed. One of their won orthodox members turned them in. The rabbis were connected to some government officials in NJ as well.

        October 11, 2013 at 6:57 am |
    • jacob

      the religion of peace and love? Are you serious? ever been to temple? It's more like the religion of pain and suffering...

      October 11, 2013 at 6:53 am |
    • SigmundFreud

      Right. Now remind us about those "Christians" like the Westboro Baptist Church, or the gigantic Catholic Church and its long history of hiding child abuse, or all those "white nationalists" who claim to be Christian.

      October 11, 2013 at 7:29 am |
  6. Mr Johnson

    Hmmm, and the group that screams the loudest about being persecuted, continues to do it to themselves.

    October 11, 2013 at 5:57 am |
    • AngryJew

      It just goes to show that we are all just human beings. There isn't any "master race" or "chosen people", we are all just plain old people.

      October 11, 2013 at 6:59 am |
  7. Brainwashed Tibetans

    Truly exceptional Americans

    October 11, 2013 at 5:52 am |
  8. Dr. Zoidberg

    Trying to override the church to gain something, Didn't Henry VIII tried something similar??
    We might just end with the Jewish version of protestants.

    October 11, 2013 at 5:31 am |
    • nouk

      They exist already. They're called Reformed.

      October 11, 2013 at 7:50 am |
  9. bob

    New meaning for the Blonde song "One way or another I'm gonna get you."

    October 11, 2013 at 5:21 am |
    • AngryJew

      🙂

      October 11, 2013 at 7:00 am |
  10. Chaim Yenervelt

    Example of what happens when brainwashed cults actually believe they can kidnap, kill, torture or maim any human being with the almighty's blessing.

    October 11, 2013 at 5:13 am |
  11. ~**?-Little Jupiter Mc Lovin~""?!!!#**

    ~I HOPE THE DAY_WILL BE_A LIGHTER HIGHWAY,__FOR FRIENDS__ARE FOUND ON EVERY ROAD.__CAN YOU EVER THINK OF ANY BETTER WAY__FOR THE LOST AND WEARY TRAVELLERS TO GO?___MAKING FRIENDS__FOR THE WORLD TO SEE,_LET THE PEOPLE KNOW_YOU GOT WHAT YOU NEED,_WITH A FRIEND AT HAND_YOU WILL SEE THE LIGHT,_IF YOUR FRIENDS ARE THERE_THAN EVERYTHING 'S ALL RIGHT.__~IT SEEMS TO ME A CRIME THAT WE SHOULD AGE,__THESE FRAGILE TIMES SHOULD NEVER SLIP US BY,__A TIME YOU NEVER CAN OR SHALL ERASE__AS FRIENDS TOGETHER WATCH THEIR CHILDHOOD FLY.__MAKING FRIENDS__FOR THE WORLD TO SEE,__LET THE PEOPLE KNOW_YOU GOT WHAT YOU NEED,__WITH A FRIEND AT HAND_YOU WILL SEE THE LIGHT,__IF YOUR FRIENDS ARE THERE_THEN EVERYTHIGS ALL RIGHT.___ "FRIENDS"-BY ELTON JOHN~

    October 11, 2013 at 4:14 am |
    • beyond the arc

      Elton John writes the music to his songs but not the lyrics.
      The lyrics to all of John's songs were written by Bernie Taupin.

      October 11, 2013 at 6:08 am |
  12. Hooligan

    So they have religious leaders break religious law so as to get past said technicality when they legally could have divorced in the first place according to American law?

    This is just silly

    October 11, 2013 at 4:13 am |
    • GnatB

      I believe the kidnappings were breaking American law, not religious law. From a brief bit of research, Rabbi's are actually *supposed* to coerce a get from the husband if the husband becomes unsuitable for various reasons (reasons are open to some interpretation, the *stated* ones in the talmud are somewhat silly... bad breath being one of them, for instance. Many modern scholasr have more modern interpretations, i.e. wife beating)

      And fwiw, I'd be tempted to say I'm ok with what they were doing... other than the $20k part. If a husband fails to do his part, his wife asks for a divorce, and he fails to grant it, I'm fairly good with a rabbi using pretty much any means to force him. However it's already the Rabbis responsibility to force the husband to do that, he shouldn't *need* the $20k to do his job.

      October 11, 2013 at 5:00 am |
  13. shawn l

    I believe I saw this in an episode of the Sopranos!

    October 11, 2013 at 4:12 am |
  14. metzitzat b'peh is gross

    Autocorrect, ugh. Jews.

    October 11, 2013 at 4:11 am |
  15. metzitzat b'pen is gross

    Jews.

    October 11, 2013 at 4:10 am |
  16. Curious

    Oy vey...

    October 11, 2013 at 3:50 am |
  17. OMG - they used the word "thug"

    Just recently, Disqus (who provides censorship "comment moderation" wouldn't let any posters use the word THUG because of the Trayvon Martin case where everyone was calling the criminal a thug. You just can't go around calling criminals thugs – so Disqus banned the word. And yet, here it is, in a CNN article.

    Will wonders never cease?

    October 11, 2013 at 3:29 am |
  18. ~**?-Little Jupiter Mc Lovin~""?!!!#**

    ~WHE__HE_HE_HE_HERE IS LOVE__DOES IT FALL FROM SKIES ABOVE__IS IT UNDERNEATH_ THE WILLOW TREE __THAT I'VE BEEN DREAMING OF__WHO CAN SAY WHERE SHE MAY HIDE__ MUST I TRAVEL FAR AND WIDE__TILL I'AM BESIDE__THE SOMEONE WHO__I CAN MEAN__ SOMETHING TO__

    October 11, 2013 at 3:28 am |
  19. Vikachi

    Thats true though.ur a smart one.i love all people but some peoples love at me ant my cup of tea.I was just born da way haha LOL n good night

    October 11, 2013 at 3:21 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22
Advertisement
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.