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. Sitara12066

    And they are supposed to be the 'chosen people'. They sound no different than the other religious cults in the world that uses terror to get their way and force their religion and chain those to them they think differently

    October 11, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt

      These particular Rabbis do not represent the Jewish Religion or the Jewish People. BAD APPLES in this case do not SPOIL the purity and beauty of the fundamental teachings and practices of Judaism.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • rdn0819

      Jews don't go around trying to convert people. That disgusting behavior is dominated by christians.

      October 12, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  2. Facts > Fairy Tales

    Wouldn't have this problem or this crime if you were athiests, would you, get-givers. Yet another religion doing harm to its families or members by its' controlling "laws" written 2000 years ago by people in a desert who couldn't even scientifically define what they saw in the world around them.

    LOL @ Orthodox Jewish Karate. Super Jew Fight Mode Activated!

    October 11, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  3. Darwin was right

    Both FUNNY & TRAGIC how the human mind goes off on these extremist jags and creates an elaborate insular society in which you have to follow every nutty detail of their rules or else you're branded an outcast. And don't try to tell me it's all "God's rules". Where does it say in the Bible that you must wear funny fur hats, must not flip a light switch, or require your wives to shave their heads, eh?

    October 11, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  4. ummm yaright

    thx FBI for keeping these jewish women chained as objects to their master husbands.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • Pam

      Did you actually read the article??

      October 11, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Think Thunk

      Judaism keeps them chained, not the FBI.

      The more I learn about the faith, the more I realize it is no better than Islam.

      October 11, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  5. palintwit

    You'll never see a jew living in a trailer park or eating at Chick-fil-A.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • Ahab the Arab

      What's wrong with Chik Fila?

      October 11, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Think Thunk

      Ha, I guess you have never been to Boca Raton, Florida. There are poor jews in trailer parks there.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Lord Toronaga

      Oh I see. When a liberal makes fun of a person's economic status it funny. Ok then...

      October 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  6. tribecagal

    Yet another example of the leaders of an organized religion using the 'faithful' to enrich themselves. Although a believer I cannot be a supporter of any religious group. They have all proven themselves to be corrupt. God will not forgive.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt

      Your not qualified to determine what God may or may not decide.

      October 11, 2013 at 10:48 am |
      • dginki

        And you are?

        October 11, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  7. Rozzie

    this is no joking matter! a Jewish woman cant get remarried by another Rabbi
    unless she 'gets-a-get!' I had to - & I paid people to confront my ex to sign a 'release' form!
    And - I'm not even Orthodox!
    And - I got threatened by my ex, as well! He never paid child suport - or helped out
    –yet, had $$ to go on expensive trips with other women who he paid for!
    Sooooo unfair!

    October 11, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt


      October 11, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  8. octopus

    hopefully, FBI can now take money from the wives and process their complaints directly.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  9. sopranofan

    Should've called Tony Soprano, He handled a similar situation with boltcutters.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt

      Jews shouldn't try to get muscle in to the Mafia's line of business. They are Pros and the Jews are amateurs when it comes to violence as a, "make him an offer he can't refuse,"means of enforcement.

      October 11, 2013 at 10:52 am |
      • sid

        actually they are trying to look like Amish mafia...

        October 11, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  10. Red

    Oy vey!

    October 11, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt

      He should have gone to SAN JOSE

      October 11, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  11. brads2sense

    Cattle prods, plastic bags, "tough guys?" I thought maybe a beating with a Challah bread or smothering by chopped liver, but these tactics? Oye gavalt!

    October 11, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt

      This is the result of these Rebbe's watching too many Hollywood trash movies starring Edward G, Robinson (Jewish), Bugsy Siegel Story, Murder Inc., ( LLC directors,Louis Lepke, Lansky and Chaim Weiss).

      October 11, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  12. Sara

    Thisnis what happens when you try to regulate the modern family based on ancient rules from another time. These women were no doubt desperate. There error was in not knowing when to abandon a dying faith.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  13. Ax

    Meyer Lanskey must be laughing it up right now. "Amateurs..."

    October 11, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt

      MAFIA were Experienced PROS to resolve issues. REBBIES are complete AMATEURS, fortunately for proposed victims

      October 11, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  14. Alopt

    You mean to say that someone in a religious position of authority was using it to make a profit for themselves? *gasp* How completely unheard of!

    October 11, 2013 at 10:26 am |
  15. m

    ohh i thought at first it said 'rabbits' were plotting something...either way it's very disturbing. can they even be rabbis after such a thing? is there any religious rule against plastic bagging and cattle prodding someone? and that guy saying 'even if you love your wife...you'll give a get' wow....that's the sort of person he'd do that to? i guess these rabbis won't have any problem with being tortured to get a confession

    October 11, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  16. Badly-Bent

    OK, give a little, get a little?

    October 11, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  17. Oy vey goyim

    With Jews ... you lose!

    October 11, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • asdrel

      How very Nazi of you...

      October 11, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt

      Only if you pay attention to them and don't complete due diligence. Applies to Jews, Goyem, and everyone else!

      October 11, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  18. palintwit

    Historians now agree that the south lost the civil war because generations of inbreeding resulted in an abnormally high number of mentally challenged soldiers in the confederate army. Also, physical deformaties such as webbed feet prevented the confederates from running from the northern army, thus insuring their capture and defeat. One has only to take a casual drive south of the Mason-Dixon line to see the descendants of the confederate forces, easily recognizable by their lack of teeth and sloping foreheads.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • metzitzat b'peh is gross

      If it's one thing you Jews know it is inbreeding.

      October 11, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
      • counselor39@hotmail.com

        Wow. A self-hating Jew...how novel.

        October 11, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
    • rdn0819

      Your name demonstrates your level of intelligence.

      October 12, 2013 at 11:52 am |
  19. muslim2012


    October 11, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  20. Michael

    Someone should give these rabbis an award because I bet if you interview all the wives involved they were all mistreated, abused etc and had no way out of the marriage and this was their only hope. This sure does sound like the original reason the Klu Klux Klan was started, to do the job the law enforcement community or government refused to do which in that time was teaching a white man not to beat his wife and force him to leave, however wiki and all will lead you to believe differently in terms of why it started.. But then like anything that starts good, MAN corrupts it and turns it into a HATE MACHINE.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • ME II

      1) In this day and age kidnapping and extorting a divorce should not be necessary, and wouldn't be except for an ancient belief system. I.e. These woman are perfectly within their civil rights to leave this environment and get a divorce and there are organizations that will help them do just that.

      2) Where did you get your information on the KKK? It sounds like propaganda from the KKK to clean up its image.

      October 11, 2013 at 10:28 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.