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. Keith

    another wonderful religion, ain't god grand?

    August 15, 2014 at 9:53 pm |
  2. m.s.mohamed ansari

    Please bring original HISTORY .Six thousand journalist are suppressing the truth of history but in one day it will come out
    Now we are in 21st century there were times former journalist exposed truth and sacrificed their precious life for the sake of truth, they unveiled the real history. Perhaps contradicting to their present power and money clouded their mind and our upcoming generation becomes a victim.
    We do not believe politicians as we used to, we do not believe the media, and whereas we believe each other”
    Thanking you
    Your’s sincerely
    Pragmatism has now fallen foul of the continuing power of the press.

    February 7, 2014 at 7:59 am |
  3. Keith

    Load them all up and send them to Israel, they do not belong in America

    January 14, 2014 at 5:19 pm |
  4. Kritical

    The only problem I see with this is the fact that so many contact the FBI with problems larger than this and they are totally ignored. It's what the public will never know, but it is the reality. The FBI picks and chooses what they decide is worthy of their time and this stuff? Sorry, it's pathetic you wasted any time on it at all. Doing a piece on what the FBI fails to investigate would be a hell of a lot more interesting.

    November 15, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  5. lol??

    The thin blue blurry line separating marriage and prosti*tution is GETting wider. Russian brides, american brides, lead to many suicides.

    November 15, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  6. lol??

    Applies to any culture:

    Isa 3:12 As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.

    GET that into yo hade.

    November 15, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  7. fooloof

    This is straight out of the Sopranos, yo. season 1, I think, some Hasidic Jews hired Tony to do this for an unhappy wife, whose husband refused to give her the get. They kidnapped the guy, put him in a trunk, tortured and threatened him with death. Nothing worked. Finally, on the advice of Tony's Jewish (non-obvervant) friend Hesh, they threatened to castrate him. He signed the get.

    In return, they got a piece of the motel he was running and then used to run illegal card games out of it. Good stuff!!

    November 13, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
  8. Joe


    November 8, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  9. maggie

    the only religion one should practice is one that doesn't cause harm and practices compassion. Let these women get on with their lives there is plenty of secular jewish community in america. absurd to kidnap husbands.

    November 7, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
  10. Yuck

    "whatever faith you have,keep it within yourself and do good."

    November 3, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  11. Julie Cochrane

    Okay, this is dumb. If you're going to commit a federal crime to falsify an agreement to divorce, skip the kidnapping and go straight to forgery. "Give us a sample of your husband's handwriting and we will get you the get, allong with a complimentary rabbinical certificate of authenticity. If he says he didn't sign, we'll maintain to our dying day that he's lying."

    So what's going to happen, some ex-husband sues because his ex-wife got a forged get? Forget that.

    October 31, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  12. mike

    So it seems there are or were women who wanted a divorce but the husband wouldn't agree. So either the husband was a deadbeat or the wife had eyes on someone else. HMMM.

    I didn't know the jewish laws allowed for remarriage without shame.

    so the Rabbis were attempting to assist women who wanted a "get" for divorce.

    So for the husband, the kidnap and torture is the screwing you 'get' for the screwing you got, because you didn't offer a 'get', you got it?

    October 30, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  13. Sean Lynch

    I'm an atheist, but I love Jewish Princesses and was married to one.
    I truly appreciate American Jewish culture. I believe Jewish culture will survive long after religion fades away.
    I don't believe the same can be said for christian cultures because christian's are so fragmented and divided amongst themselves.

    October 29, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
    • Will

      Wow thats a powerful claim, so wait your an aeithist that ... "believes" (hmm...) that the Jewish culture will outlive all over religions? What makes you say that because I am sure you dont "believe" they are God's choosen right? So tell me do you know what the difference is between jewish culture and Christain culture outside of the belief in Jesus as the son of God?

      October 31, 2013 at 7:29 am |
      • Sean Lynch

        Will, yes there are things I believe based in evidence. Belief is a strongly held opinion and atheists have opinions.
        Quoting wikipedia; "Jewish culture is the international culture of the Jews. Since the early 19th century the international community of Jewish people has been considered an ethnoreligious rather than solely a religious grouping."
        As I stated above the fragmented populations adhering to vastly different and conflicting doctrines of Christianity can't undergo a similar evolution in modern western secular society that gave rise to Jewish culture. Creating a core set of principles to bind a common culture would require; a)core language, b)core values, and c) a common sense of purpose.
        While a is given for North America, neither b nor c above corresponds between those believers who adhere to different Christian doctrines.
        In Christianity, how does one reconcile:
        Doctrine A; that believes in a literal interpretation of (KJV Genisis) and the use of birth control with
        Doctrine B: that believes in an allegorical interpretation of scripture (NABRE)?
        Would you agree the majority of believers lie somewhere in the middle of Doctrine A and B above?
        Based on my observation the issue of birth control divides the various populations of doctrines as does the issue of evolution. The impact of of the conflict between beliefs regarding climate change is likely to become as divisive.
        In reality we are an animal species on a small planet with a fragile biosphere and changing climate.
        In reality we are pair bonding primate that enjoys frequent whoopie that would like not to have to pay a lifetimes ransom just for having some fun with our mate.
        There is no common sense of purpose and issues presented by reality and science (evolution and birth control) divide the populations of deeply held opinions and one side certainly won't let go of science...but which will win?
        The Jewish Culture has trusted scholars within the culture to whom they can and do turn to for advice and information that they can trust. Knowledge and information are highly valued in the Jewish culture. That is because the common sense of purpose for the Jewish culture was to survive and they learned to do this by settling disputes within their own community and hoping to keep outsiders from getting involved.
        -what's 'cha got, hmmm Will?

        October 31, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • John Doe

      loll you're kind only seek for attention….grow up

      November 7, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
      • zampaz

        I'm a goy, what do I know other than I am probably too old and set in my ways to grow up.
        Now that you've gotten some attention from me do you feel better?

        November 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  14. Kate

    Prophecies come true. Watch this video, it's a chance for you to learn what the media will not write about – the Truth.


    October 28, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
    • peacefulpothead

      no one cares, stop wasting your time on a myth.

      October 28, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • mike

      The music was weird and too loud, and I could have predicted 60% of that stuff just by looking back at history. MEH!

      October 30, 2013 at 10:59 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.