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. EstherLongIsland-1937

    Jews! Jews! Jews!
    Israel! Israel! Israel! – taht's all you anti-Semites have on your mind. hate, hate,hate for us.
    This story only increase the hate. The whole Middle East is burnng with hate for us.
    Call me old-fashioned but some things should be not in public eye. I mean, solve problems internally.

    October 11, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Alias

      And if some other religion discovered a psycho terrorist in their ranks, would you want them to cover that up as well?

      October 11, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Ted

      That's the price you pay for being first to market.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • Simon Lloyd

      While I can understand your embarrassment with the 'traditional aspects of your culture' there is no reason to feel alone.
      Judaism is FAR from the only religion to choose to word their 'religious/legal' texts with language like

      "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."

      AND Judaism is FAR from the only religion to still hold the belief that a man can "Possess" a woman, Islam and Christianity both also hold such traditions and also try to cover their shame by saying "we get picked on too much".

      Now I have two points here, the first is that judaism isn't picked on due to it's members behavior. Much like the women that are being victimized in Jewish Divorce courts, Judaism is discriminated against because Jew's are a Minority Group in a large culture.
      Secondly if this sort of thing honestly makes you feel bad, you CAN CHANGE YOUR CULTURE.
      Work to rewrite jewish religious laws, or alternately sever yourself from a group that displays abhorrent behavior.

      – Again this isn't just Jewish folks, generally speaking any conservative or as they prefer 'traditional' religious group is likely to display discriminatory behavior.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • sigmundfreud

      Esther: So solve the problem internally then.

      Here's a helpful hint: "solving problems internally" does not mean hiring thugs who break the law of the land.

      Here's another helpful hint: change the rules of divorce. Maybe the ultra-Orthodox should no longer be bound by laws written in the Bronze Age.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  2. New York

    Some people are just hard headed... sometimes you need a harder stick to soften a hard head. Man or woman, Jew or not!

    October 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  3. Ted

    CNN taking these disgusting incidents out of one U-dox community in N.Y. and putting them on front page for two days brings the question- Why not reveal much significant abuses in say Islamic communities of America. I guess Jews are indeed chosen for endless scrutiny at every level.

    October 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Alias

      Maybe because the Muslims didn't do this?

      October 11, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
      • bob

        They do. Only difference is, there's on one left alive to talk about it.

        October 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
      • Ted

        Or may be the writers are afraid for their lives.

        October 11, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The Belief Blog recently had a story about Amish thugs who assaulted other Amish by shaving their beards.
      Is CNN now anti-amish?

      October 11, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Dalia

      Please focus on your problems if you want
      Mid_east or Muslims have nothing to do with it.

      Salam, Shalom, Peace.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • som

      I see stories about the horrors of honor killings. SHould Jews be exempt?
      I am Jewish and I get tired of anyone who criticizes Israel or who condemns an evil practice like this Rabbi's methods being called anti-semitic. It's crying wolf. It is worn out, fewer people do not buy it anymore.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  4. BZ

    People are paying attention to only one side of this story. The problem that started the issue, is you have Husbands who will not give the GET to there wifes. They can go on with their lives and do whatever they want but they are being vindictive and spiteful to their wives who have to live in shame for the rest of their lives.

    October 11, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  5. Alias

    The actual core problem – as I see it – is the way the man effectively owns the woman in a marriage.
    The community acknowledges this ownership and will shun a woman who leaves a broken marriage without the man's permission.
    I guess the equal rights movement missed this religion/culture?

    October 11, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  6. EstherLongIsland-1937

    This is the problem with digital world.

    Why do people have to put everything online? This tory should have been concelaed here.
    All it does it increases anti-Semitism and hate. Somethings are meant to be solved internally and not exposed to any Tom Dick And Harry.

    October 11, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • Ted

      Only G-d can conceal. Humans must bring the reality out and fix it. What are you doing about it?

      October 11, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Alias

      None of us should be reading this, and the catholics were victomized when their child abuse was exposed.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      That's just what what Vatican said about their pedophilia scandal.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • CommonSensePrevails

      This should have been concealed??? That's dark ages commenting.
      I'm a non-believer, but it does not make me hate anyone. It's ignorant of you to even say that. People who hate will hate with or without this story.
      What it does expose is the complexity of religion, and how corrupt religious people can be, just as anyone else.
      What it should prove is that when someone calls themselves "religious" does not make them any more moral or better than anyone else. My morals have been put into question because of the simple fact of being a non-believer. However, I live a common sense life, respecting my fellow humans and treat with respect. I'm SO tired of hearing about believers having morals and the rest of us don't.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • Little Bunny FuFu

      Um, No. They kidnapped and tortured people. This is a public matter, just because they happen to relate to religious issues doesn't make it an "off the books" event to be handled internally.
      Likewise, I am a firm believer in transparency. Let the people see these different groups for what they are. And I don't just mean the Jewish community, this goes for any group, Christian, Muslim, Scientology, you name it. If your community believes in torturing people then let that be shown to the public and the chips fall where they may.

      October 11, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
  7. mklsgl

    I am a 48 year-old Conservative Jew living in Philadelphia who has many Orthodox relatives in Brooklyn. I think it's an abomination to all Jews that these Orthodox still live by laws that were intended for a society that existed 3000+ years ago. It's archaic, vulgar, and absurd. There are 613 Commandments (Laws) and they cherry-pick which ones they choose to abide. Please step back and see the world for what it is today, then reconcile that with your Orthodox ways.

    October 11, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • CJ

      This is absurd and a behavior unbecoming of a man of God. What a disgrace.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • EstherLongIsland-1937

      You sound like a self-hating Jew.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:43 am |
      • CJ

        You sound like someone who has an inability to admit a wrong by your own people. A people can not improve and grow if they do not have the ability to admit their faults.

        October 11, 2013 at 11:50 am |
      • sigmundfreud

        Sorry, Esther: my ancestors came here to escape from the ghetto – not to build a new one.

        So you think it's OK for even a Rabbi to break the law and hire thugs?

        I have a better idea: change the rules of divorce, and stop being bound by a code written in the Bronze Age. Unless of course you want to follow everything as it was in the Bronze Age, starting with Bronze Age dentistry, medicine, and technology.

        October 11, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      People like that are why you can buy appliances with a "Shabbos mode".

      October 11, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • Manchurian Candidate

      Do you think the same for Amish? They also live like it was the middle ages.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  8. jeff

    Again religion showing it's true colors. Corruption, hatred, violence, etc. If the leaders of the churches don't believe in God that sends a message to the world that your religion is just a man made crock of crap, even the leaders of the church think so..

    October 11, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Alias

      At least the children were not undressed this time.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • jeff

      I am just sick of unrighteousness among church leaders.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  9. Don Weber

    I'm Jewish. I'm a rabbi. And I don't understand anyone who would say that reporting this story is anti-Semitic. What happened is a crime, and the fact that we went through the Holocaust has absolutely nothing to do with it. These people acted criminally, and did so in the name of religion. A shande – a disgrace – but not one we should cover up.

    October 11, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • ME II

      As a rabbi, do you also consider the get, s shande?

      October 11, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • jeff

      I'm glad to hear you say that. Thank you.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt

      Problem is the matter becomes the basis and excuse for attacking Jews in general. How come all these crooked politicians nefarious activities, including war mongering and extreme torture tactics are not grounds for revoltion. Only when a Rabbi or two gets involved with similar misconduct, is their such a commotion. Maybe that's a positive. Since everyone should know by now the level of criminal actions of politicians as being of no surprise, they now get all excited about a couple of bad Rabbis misdeeds. It's telling that it's a big story and stands out when compared with the other scoundrels.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:29 am |
      • CJ

        It doesn't feel good to be judged on the actions of the worst 1% of your population.

        I am an Italian-American and don't like being considered a mobster. In addition, I was raised Catholic and I have issues with my church but don't like blanket statements about all priests made by others outside our religion. I don't like the hate.

        October 11, 2013 at 11:46 am |
      • Manchurian Candidate

        You dont think hasidim hiring hit men is news?

        It would be the same news if it were priests or imams.

        October 11, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Carey

      Amen! It's a shame they acted in this way, when there must be other measures that could have been taken to provide the wives with their freedom.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • dirksterdude

      A former of boss of mine was fond of the Yiddish word "mashugana" to describe people like this. I guess it means "crazy" or "bizarre" depending on context?

      October 11, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • EstherLongIsland-1937

      This is anti-Semitism. Look at Iran. they want to wipe us off.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:45 am |
      • Ted

        Clean the house, and nobody can wipe you off.

        October 11, 2013 at 11:54 am |
      • sigmundfreud

        Wrong, Esther. Do you think that Rabbis are somehow above the law? And I'm a Jew too. Using your logic, are Catholic priests who abuse children above the law? The Catholic Church seems to think so. Are Protestant fundamentalists who steal money on TV above the law?

        The Talmud says Jews must also follow the law of the land. So now the Rabbis are accused of breaking the law, and so they are in court.

        I have a better idea: change the rules. Why should we be bound by rules written in the Bronze Age?

        October 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Reporting a crime is not racist.

        October 11, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
      • JohnDoe

        Granma, take the blue pill and go to sleep forever. How old are ya, 90-100?

        Anti-saemitism has no value anymore. thhy rubbed it away good.

        October 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • JamVee

      Thanks Don!

      But you are but a voice in the wilderness!

      October 11, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
  10. James

    Reminds me of that episode of the Sopranos where Tony has to bully the Jewish guy into giving the "get" because the "Rabbi goon squads" were put out of business by the DA.

    October 11, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • sam stone

      "where are the romans now" – jewish guy

      "you're looking 'em, a**hole" – tony

      October 11, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt

      Cut out all the Hollywood produced trash and 90% of what people do to others as a result of seeing it on film, would never occur. Of course that's wishful thinking. This country is run be trash leaders, producers,and special high flying economic interests who's religion is the almighty billion/trillion dollar bottom line

      October 11, 2013 at 11:35 am |
      • CommonSensePrevails

        Ignorant comment to say the least! It appears you stoop down to others' level as well.
        So just because you are Jewish makes you better than anyone else? There's greed, power hunger, deceit and violence everywhere. Just because someone declares themselves religious does not insulate them from that nor from being ignorant. You as an individual has to try to make a difference; it does not matter your religious affiliation. Me as a non-believer, I respect each individual because they are a decent person. I have no respect for people who think they are good because they "believe" in a religion.

        October 11, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  11. JamVee

    This is what happens when the "ultra right" of ANY RELIGION starts believing that they are above the law. I hope they get at least 10 years in prison.

    October 11, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  12. Lord Toronaga

    You will note the the Southern Poverty Law Center doesn't classify these people as a hate group. Oops forgot the the SPLC is a Jewish organization.

    October 11, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • James

      How are they a "hate group?" Oh, that's right. They're not. You're just an anti-semite yourself, probably a "white nationalist" and you think ALL Jews should be labeled as a "hate group."

      October 11, 2013 at 11:13 am |
      • Lord Toronaga

        Nope...Just these guys will do....for now. They hate women = hate group. SPLC run by Jews. SPLC never speaks out against the hate buried in religious Jews communities. SPLC = BIASED

        October 11, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  13. RebeccaBlight

    Why is this story even up here? This is out internal issue and should be kept within the community.Living proff anti-Semitism is on rise.

    October 11, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt

      WAKE UP! Jews are disliked, hated and persecuted since time began. No justifiable reason is needed by non-jews

      October 11, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • Sara

      This blog covers scandals in the Christian, Muslim and other faiths as well as atheist controversies. It's all about exposure, and it's those that want to hide their secrets about whom we need to worry.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • sigmundfreud

      Sorry, Rebecca. Jews (and I am one) are subject to the law of the land. If ultra-ultra-Orthodox Rabbis broke the law – especially criminal law – they deserve to be prosecuted.

      What you are saying is that somehow they are above the law. That is no different from the Catholic Church declaring that somehow priests are immune to charges of child abuse. It's no different from Protestant fundamentalists stealing money from people in the name of God.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Nathan

      How is it an internal issue when they broke the law? You can be assured if it had anything to do with Catholic priests, or Buddhist monks it would be headlines too.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      That sounds just like the Vatican's reaction to the pedophile priest scandal.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  14. Fred Evil

    How very....religious of them.
    So sad people are so beholden to such folly.

    October 11, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • Responding to the Pride

      So when people extort others for "nonreligious" purposes, do I get to say how very atheist of them?

      October 11, 2013 at 11:25 am |
      • Alverant

        Only if it was done in the name of Atheism, which hasn't happened yet.

        October 11, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  15. thebannedgreeman

    This is a strange case right from the 'Get go'.

    October 11, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Responding to the Pride

      Bada boom bada bang.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  16. fromperpig

    Ladies, why go through such trouble? Why spend thousands in shady back alley deals?...Next, time, just go to "gets.com" for all your unholy needs!

    October 11, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  17. Andrew

    I've said it before... that orthodox judaism is the insanely harmful and ignorant fundamentalism that no ones talks about.

    October 11, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt

      Comments and opinions like yours are the harmful and wrongful catalyst to justify antagonism and violence against innocent practicing Jews who would never consider being a party to the kind of actions in this story.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:11 am |
      • Alverant

        If the husbands would grant the "gets" then would the wives be forced to criminal activity to get a divorce? Two wrongs don't make a right, but you have to see that allowing the husband that much power in a marriage is the first wrong.

        October 11, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  18. DavidHool

    A story about corrupt Jews in US media??? They were right.
    The whole US is anti-Semitic. You have no idea how much our people suffered during Holocaust.
    The Americans media need not expose all our inner problems. And there are not problems, just media hating us Jews.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Fred Evil

      "The whole US is anti-Semitic."
      A little too much medical marijuana this morning? That statement is utterly ridiculous.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Michael

      I have no idea of how the Jewish people suffered under the holocaust? Sorry, but I do. Not because I'm Jewish (I'm not) but because I am a student of history. I take particular exception to your using that time in history to bludgeon the rest of the country. Yes, it happened. It was also almost 70 years ago. Those that insttigated and carried out those policies have seen justice dealt. Deal with it. Stop holding it over the world's head. The world has moved on; it's time that you do as well.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:09 am |
      • Tony T

        Do you feel the same way about the black community and slavery that happened over 20 year ago. How is that anti semitism working for you ?

        October 11, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • CanuckInuit

      Awww shut up! with your HollowHoax.

      My forefathers were Cherokee, Inuit. They were wiped out too,

      All people have had thier holocaust, some less some more.

      Stop crying about it and making money off it.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:13 am |
      • denim

        You were systematically gassed, tortured, and beaten? Maybe some of that, but not all of it. Minimizing what the Nazis did doesn't help your case.

        October 11, 2013 at 11:19 am |
        • OIue

          He is right. He is NOT minimizing it.

          As he/she says:
          "All people have had thier holocaust, some less some more."

          October 11, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • denim

      I'm Jewish. You are so full of it that it's amazing you haven't exploded.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:17 am |
      • The Devil

        yes, yes, your people were hurt – join the parade, humans kill humans for all sorts of reasons. stop crying about it already.

        October 11, 2013 at 11:47 am |
        • denim

          So you think the whole US is anti-Semitic?? That the media hates Jews? You're full of it, too.

          October 11, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Alias

      So your logic is;
      We were victoms in the past, so we shouldn't be criticized for anything we do today.

      Well, I'm convinced.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:39 am |
      • Nuck Chorris

        That's how they guilt us emotionally and we keep supporting illegal settlements in Israel

        October 11, 2013 at 11:56 am |
        • JohnDoe

          How else will we make money? Oy vey!

          October 11, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
    • Kada

      here we are again..
      what's the link between this article and the Holocaust?

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

        VIOLENCE AND DESTRUCTION. What else do you need ?

        October 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  19. Dan H

    I'm sure there is a lot of tragedy involved here somewhere but this is hands down the most hilarious religious crime I have ever read about. I mean cattle prods and karate, COME ON! They can't write anything funnier than that and by they I mean all the Jewish writers, as talented as they are they cannot fathom anything like this. I'm calling it right now and I deem the Rabbi Dayman!

    October 11, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Chaim Yenervelt

      Typical American thinking. Considers this a joke or a funny skit from one of his programmed brainwashing TV episodes

      October 11, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • denim

      You must've missed the one about the Amish beard shaving attacks.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  20. Roscoe Chait

    The orthodox or fundamentalist of any religion results in severe abuse.

    October 11, 2013 at 10:57 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.