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. Victory Gin

    @Deus Ex Machina – Go eat a di ck.

    October 11, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  2. NorCalMojo

    What a strange, backwards little community.

    October 11, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Tony T

      Believe me they are not a "little community" they exert great political influence in local and state elections by block voting...must have they homes declared as temples and pay no real estate taxes and increase the burden on other in the non Hassidic community.

      October 11, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
  3. David

    Jewish mafia stuff... Bugsy Seigel would be proud

    October 11, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  4. janet

    Marriage should just be a civil union of 2 people, I don't care if it's gay or straight. Once religion gets involved, it's a quagmire. I know too many devout catholic wives who were devestated when their husbands (and fathers of the kids) paid big bucks to get an annulment in order to marry their mistresses in a religious ceremony. There was already a divorce, but the church says you can't remarry with the church's blessing because there is no divorce in their eyes. I get a kick out of how the church claims the marraige is dissolved never actually existed but any "issue" is considered legitimate (keep them kiddies comin' to our church and give generously in the collection plate!)

    October 11, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  5. Slappy_McGiggles

    So much for God's "chosen one".

    October 11, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  6. Jor

    If I were these women I would leave the community entirely and find another religion.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Deus Ibi Est

      It's the WOMEN who want the divorces and their husbands who won't GIVE them. If you can't read get an adult to help!

      October 11, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
      • ME II

        I think they meant leave without the divorce or permission.

        October 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
      • Just the Facts Ma'am...

        I think he is trying to say why do these women care what these deranged zealots think. As the article said the "woman runs the risk of being shunned in her community, labeled an adulteress if she dares move on" but if they wanted out of their marriages they could have just left instead of hiring these nutjobs to procure the proper papers so they wouldn't be shunned.

        October 11, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
      • NorCalMojo

        They're already divorced. They want some magical piece of paper because an old book says it's necessary.

        October 11, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  7. Yuphah Kingkhuntz

    And these are the people who receive our unconditional military support for an apartheid regime in Israel. These people are every bit as crazy/scary as radical muslims, or evangelical Christians. End the apartheid regime in Israel.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Thinker23

      "And these are the people who receive our unconditional military support for an apartheid regime in Israel. "

      No, they are not. These rabbis live in NEW YORK. If you did not know it's in the United States of America.

      October 11, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  8. Nuck Chorris

    what's going here ? The Z10nuts journalists let this article be up for almost 2 days now???? Surely hell must be freezing over.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  9. Ceres

    This entire article and all it contains is just further proof that religions suck. I don't care which fairy tale super being overlord you believe in they all have men at the top of the ladder, woman and children are their pawns. All their teachings from day one revolve around oppression of woman and children, keeping them under mans thumb. How do they live with themselves, well that is easy, their gods allow them to, or at least the men that wrote these out-dated books.
    And although these "men" were trying to "help" the wives they were doing it by lining their own pockets, so was their intentions that honorable, no, not at all.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Deus Ibi Est

      You hate the fact that YOU are required to take personal responsibility for your actions.

      It's known as the "American syndrome" – NEVER to accept responsibility and AWAYS look for something else to take the blame for your failures............hence the 50% of Americans expecting everything from the stat and doing absolutely nothing for yourselves.
      What a bunch of saddos!

      October 11, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
      • ReligionIsBS

        Taking responsibility for your own action? You mean, like pawning your wrong-doings off on someone else? Jesus was a scapegpate. There is nothing less moral or responsible then letting someone else take the blame for your doings.

        October 11, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
        • Deus Ibi Est

          MAN committed Original sin by CHOOSING sin over God. And lost Heaven for the rest of us. Jesus died to restore our chance of Heaven. WE still have to work to get there by using our FREE WILL to choose good over evil.

          It's a bit silly making comments without INFORMED judgement.

          October 11, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
        • ReligionIsBS

          Its a bit silly to beleive in something so false. Not only that, but to beleive something so immoral is acually moral. Face it, you try to pawn your sins off on some guy that got nailed to a cross. You are the definition of immoral. Put down the fairy tailes and start taking responsibility for your actions.

          October 11, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
        • Alias

          God HAD to kill jesus, otherwise HE could not judge us fairly when we die.
          That is the rule god made when HE decided we were all guilty of a sin committed before we were born.

          October 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
        • ReligionIsBS

          Alias, your god sounds like a complete idiot. Why would he need to sacrafice himself to himself in order to learn how to forgive?

          October 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
      • ME II

        Umm, aren't Christians the ones that claim that everyone deserves hell, but Jesus' grace saves them from that? Where's the personal responsibility in that?

        October 11, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
        • Deus Ibi Est

          Christians KNOW that there is a hell for those who do not love GOD. They also LNOW that there is a Heaven if they do love God.
          The CHOICE between Heaven and hell is OURS. Nobody can choose for us........hence PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.
          It ain't rocket science!

          October 11, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
        • ME II

          @Deus Ibi Est,
          But who pays for your sins?

          October 11, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
        • ReligionIsBS

          Dues tries to do the immoral thing and pawn his sins off onto someone else (jesus), because he is immoral garbage.

          October 11, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
      • RerumCognoscereCausas

        On the contrary, most religions, including yours subtly encourages you to become more dependent on their organizational structure rather than become personally responsible for your own salvation. They want to take power from your hands and want you to believe in a concept of god that is a manic depressive, attention hore of some particular gender. They want you to believe you are perpetual sinners, so you will feel compelled to act in that manner, rather than free yourself by becoming responsible. As you believe, so you become.

        October 11, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • Not A Monotheist

      Please don't lump in the rest of the religions with the Monotheists!! The Monotheist religions are the ones that cause the trouble (i.e. Christianity, Islam, Judaism) with patriarchal foundations oppressing women. Multi-theistic religions provide both male/female with Mother goddesses often being the most powerful. Blessed Be!

      October 11, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  10. behonest

    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.
    Am I reading this right? ... possesses... Another point for religion.... Looks like their calender still remains in the Seventeen hundred!

    October 11, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • Deus Ibi Est

      This needs to be done in cases of failure to pay child support too.

      Of course Americans just HATE the thought of ANYONE having to take personal responsibility!

      October 11, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  11. Speedster

    And people still wonder why I'm not religous.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • Petercha

      These nutcases do NOT speak for all religions, not even all of Judaism.

      October 11, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • Nel

      The FBI has no place in this...

      October 11, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
      • Deus Ibi Est

        The FBI can't catch terrorists; they can't reduce the crime rate; they're a waste of space UNTIL...........they can persecute religions. THEN they're all action, all energy and all show! And you Yanks PAY them for this?????? LOL

        October 11, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
      • Little Bunny FuFu

        kidnapping and torture is illegal and should involve the FBI. There is no excuse for this, religious or otherwise.

        October 11, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
        • Muskie


          October 11, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  12. JohnDoe

    Rabid Rabbi
    loves Naughty Netanyahu.

    ..always wanted to say that... hehe heheh

    October 11, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  13. jj

    Whatever works

    October 11, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  14. Tad

    Ok stop me if you've heard this one, 3 Rabbis walk in to a conspiracy kidnaping felony....

    October 11, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  15. qazoo

    Id' give a get and a go myself.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
  16. Joe

    Yasher Koach Rabbis! Thank you for helping these women fight back against abusive husbands!!!!! These rabbis are heroes as far as I'm concerned.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Doc Bush

      A shandeh far de goyim.

      October 11, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • Petercha

      Just how do you know that the husbands are abusive? And even if they are, two wrongs do NOT make a right.

      October 11, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Deus Ibi Est

      Excellent post Joe.
      Unfortunately most Americans would disagree with you because they are allergic to taking responsibility for their actions. Hence 50% who rely on government handout as they won't accept that it is NORMAL to support yourself.

      See how the people below try to support the wrongdoing husbands and hate the victims? That's the "American Syndrome"

      October 11, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
      • ReligionIsBS

        This guy has a secret crush on Americans. LOL!

        October 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  17. ironman59

    Just another one of the millions of reasons that religions should be wiped from the face of this planet. The amount of evil & damage done on a daily basis under the guise of "religion" or "religious law" cannot be calculated. It is what has held back mankind since the beginning of time. The day that it is gone will begin a new era in the advancement of mankind.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • MomOf5

      I feel the same way but at the same time we must admit that there are many good, honest, hardworking people that are very involved with their place of worship. Many places of worship do get involved with their surrounding community to help improve peoples lives, for example helping the homeless.

      October 11, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Deus Ibi Est

      There have been more persecutions, tortures, imprisonment and murders done by ATHEISTS in the last 100 years than ALL the religions in history! Fact.

      People who hate religions are the ones who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions and failings. They hate ANYTHING that accepts this.

      October 11, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
      • ReligionIsBS

        LOL. Prove it. Hitler? Catholic!

        October 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
        • Farthest

          Hitler raised Catholic.. Commited atheist. Read.

          October 11, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
        • Alias

          Hitler may have been an atheist, but he used religion to unite his followers and justify his actions.

          October 11, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • GH

      In response to "Ironman59" and his comment that religion should be "wiped off the face of the earth": Religion isn't the problem - religious extremism is. Certain parts of many religious texts are taken literally rather than symbolically, resulting in the kind of extremism that attempts to proselytize, promotes social and cultural ignorance, and destroys lives and communities, all "in the name of [insert deity here]." It must be understood that these texts were written in an ancient time for an ancient civilization, and that with modern times we should have a better understanding as to their meaning. Or ... maybe it's simply that these extremists have a fetish for violence that may not even relate directly to religious texts.

      October 11, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  18. crappygovernment

    They all hate tebow too! The Netanyahu Football League fears Jesus and Tebow!

    October 11, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • Muddy

      Tebow would have to be a real Quarterback for me to even think about Hating him. He is just a never was with a good hype machine. I will save my distaste for Mr Vick who should have never been allowed out of jail for the things he has done.

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

        Acts 14:1-2 talks about Tebow. Rev 3:8-10 says Tebow fans will defeat the Elways, Woody Johnsons and Bob Krafts!

        October 11, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
      • RC

        Africkin' men bro. Africkin' men. I believe he should have been thrown into the dog fighting ring with his hands bound behind him. Preferably blindfolded.

        October 11, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
  19. jdoe

    Sounds like the Rabbi is doing a great community service.

    October 11, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • Deus Ibi Est

      Ahhh! Now you're broaching on unchartered territory.
      NO-ONE expects 60% of uneducated, greedy, workshy Americans to admire SELFLESSNESS!

      October 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  20. Lord Toronaga

    This is the same religious ilk that the new Fed Chair nominee Yellin come from. And the previous Fed Chair.. And the previous Fed Chair... etc

    October 11, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Ted

      The FEDs worship a different Holy book – it is called a "Printing Press".

      October 11, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • The Pope

      They help each other and they will never give this position away .

      October 11, 2013 at 1:02 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.