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. Colin

    Judaism is the belief that an infinitely old, all knowing being, powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, has a personal interest in how much skin I have on my d.ick.

    Atheism is the belief that the above belif is fvcking stupid.

    October 10, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Agreed, the fact that 40% of americans believe that mythos is sad. I can see in the middle east, isreal africa where people are poor and ignorant. But the fact that thiestic nonsense is still around in the west is so sad.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:11 am |
  2. bot

    Anti-semitism accusations against CNN, the FBI, and everyone else in 3...2...1...

    October 10, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  3. Kirsten

    This reminds me of an episode of In Plain Sight...

    October 10, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
  4. som

    If I condemn this behavior, will the Anti-defamation League and AIPAC call me antii-semitic? Will the Rabbis get kosher food in jail?

    October 10, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
  5. SY

    My question is why aren't these men granting their wives divorces? And why are these women so desperate to get out of their marriages? Maybe the husbands are the bullies and deserve what they got... Anyway, it's shouldn't have to be so hard for a woman to get out of a marriage she doesn't want to be in.

    October 10, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
    • Zwei Stein

      the rabbis

      A divorce granted by a judge, in court fulfills the legal requirement, but not necessarily the religious requirement. Many people wish to comply with the religious requirements as well as the legal requirement.

      October 10, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
      • SY

        I agree with you that that is what is going on here, but my point is, it's wrong that the woman can be kept enslaved like this. This needs to change in the Orthodox community.

        October 11, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
        • counselor39@hotmail.com

          Way ahead of you. It HAS changed.
          Now, Orthodox Rabbi will strenuously suggest to the couples they are to marry, that a pre-nup mandating that the Bet Din (Rabbinic Court) has jurisdiction is to be signed by the parties before he performs the ceremony. In fact, many Rabbis will no longer perform the ceremony if the parties refuse to agree on this. Once agreed to, the Bet Din can grant the divorce over a party's objection.

          October 11, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
    • mickey1313

      If someone is an ignorant thiest, then they should at least have the courage of there convictions. The line is till death do us part, not untill i dont feel like it anymore. If you want to live a thiestic cult life, fine, but no halvsies. Follow the rules or quit the cult, but stop the pu**yfooting around and cherry picking the parts of the faith you want and ignoring the rest. Remember, and jew christian or muslem who does not think it is right to stone to death disobediant childeren ARE HYPOCRITES, and if god is real, they are blasphmores and will be banished to he77.

      October 10, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
    • hasta

      This mentality where women are always percieved to be victim is costing this society in a very bad way. It is also possible that wives are evils and they just want men's money and marry other men. This kind of bad behavior of women will continue if we keep assuming women are victims and whatever bad they do to men, men deserved it. Get your facts right, women are as aggressive as men and sometimes more, they are almost in equal numbers as child molesters but people like you would feel your child is safer with women. Think again. Get your facts right and do not judge if you do not know. read erin prezzi..

      October 11, 2013 at 1:04 am |
      • SY

        when the women are risking being seen inferiorly by their community as divorcees, i think the image you are suggesting is doubtful. I strongly suspect their husbands are either abusive or crazy or both.

        October 11, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • TEEPU

      Thee men are trying to extract out concessions on other matters i.e division of assets, child support etc.

      October 11, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  6. Zwei Stein

    Rabbis in the slammer! Don't think they're gonna like it!

    October 10, 2013 at 11:31 pm |
    • Denise K,

      Oh my! I just watched this episode from 2000 on the Sopranos. last week for the first time.
      Seriously I never knew what a GET was until the Sopranos epdisode where the kidnapped the husband and extorted money out of him and this rabbi Father n law. And now 13 years later is is still happening....freaky

      October 10, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
  7. loudmusic

    ....and I sure as s___ don't f-ing roll!! Shomer Shabbos!!!

    October 10, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
  8. Mary

    Silly Rabbi, tricks are for kids!

    October 10, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
    • loudmusic

      Actually, if I remember correctly, it was "Silly Rabbi, Kicks are for Trids"...but yeah... haven't heard that one since I was about 7 years old.

      October 10, 2013 at 11:31 pm |
  9. Ajax

    Wow man. Just wow.

    October 10, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
  10. GunnerGA

    And why were the wives not arrested? Follow the money!

    October 10, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
  11. Zwei Stein

    This isn't "new" behavior. This and many other unlawful practices have been around for a long, long time. I'm just surprised and glad that an administration finally found the 'nuts' to go after them.

    October 10, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
  12. St. Christopher McLeod

    This is fodder for the comedy shows on TV, we have the Amish Mafia, now Wierd Al was correct depicting Rabbis as 'gansters', gonna pop a cap in your skull.


    October 10, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
    • St. Christopher McLeod

      It's a ganster's paradise.

      October 10, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
  13. mlg4035

    Ahhh, religion!
    Isn't it GRAND?!!!

    October 10, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
  14. Vikachi

    Thay should of used there LOGIC n used SCIENCE to take cair of this prob.SCIENCE can do anything.its killed more life then one could ever count.its killin the earth as we tex.its made things too make da hubby kill himself fast or slow.n its legal if in da name of SCIENCE.I mean its only LOGICAL

    October 10, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
    • mickey1313

      You are a sad "person" anyone who thinks that science (aka the study of how the universe works) can be good or evil. It can be used any way you choose. On the other hand, there is no evidence that religon has EVER done ANYTHING benificial for humanity. Most war is started over faith, most bigotry hate, and abuse stems from religon. It is a pleague upon the world, and until the secular folks actually stop apoligizing for ripping these beliefs to shreads, our peoples cannot advance. Thiesm is the main road block to humanities further devlopment.

      October 10, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
  15. futurecasted

    Jewish thugs?how ironic..... jews.. being bullies? That sounds too much like factual to to be published kn the news... who okayd this?? Lol

    October 10, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
  16. hasta

    More than 70% divorces are filed by women in this country. Now women are using violence to achieve it. Reverse the situation I am sure you guys are asking for head of the husbands. Has any of these women thought what men are going through by the hands of these rabbis.

    Men, do not marry... save your energy .. save your money .. Women have been committing violence by using men to do it for them and then claimed that men are violent.. you do the math .. do not think women are saints..

    October 10, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
  17. Andrey

    So why is that placed in Belief section: was it something that their religion required them to do?
    I guess not: if only their religion is not all about money. I do not know: is that what Judaism is about? I guess CNN should be an expert on that!

    October 10, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
  18. Observer

    Just more proof of how ridiculous the Bible is when it comes to laws for marriage and divorce.

    October 10, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
    • Christian

      A responsible adult gets the facts before speaking, but a fool speaks as he/she pleases.

      October 10, 2013 at 11:23 pm |
      • hal 9001

        Pattern match #435C for the entity commonly known as the "flunkie" of the Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. Writer's Boot Camp.

        October 10, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
      • Observer


        Yes. So do you agree with the Bible that some people should be FORCED into marriage even if they hate each other?

        Do you agree with the Bible that some people should NEVER be allowed to divorce no matter what?

        You have read a Bible, haven't you? You wouldn't want to look like a fool, right?

        October 10, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • Duh

      Jews don't study or acknowledge the bible. they use the Torah and the Talmud. Big difference.

      October 10, 2013 at 11:28 pm |
      • mickey1313

        You do know that the "old testament" is the torah dont you, that is the first half of the bible up to exidos. Then after that the cult of chr1st takes over with the "new testament" because god, who is all knowing and all powerful, got it wrong at first. Wow thiests are bat sh1t crazy.

        October 10, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
  19. Billy

    I didn't read this yet. Was there any non-consensual beard-cutting involved?

    October 10, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
    • Think Thunk

      No, but a lot of non-consensual foreskin cutting going on by these types.

      October 11, 2013 at 11:08 am |
  20. nanala

    As always there is probably more to this story. I don't know anything about the Jewish religion but wonder how much of the cut the rabbis kept for themselves, how much went to the muscle and if a portion was used to benefit the community. How desperate these wives must be to have to resort to these measures. And what of the heart of the rabbis? I'd like to think they did these deals to help the women and families involved.

    October 10, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
    • kiel

      you are definitely right!! its mainly young women who spitefully refuse to give a divorce causing her never to be able to remarry

      October 11, 2013 at 2:39 am |
    • mecanico-tuercas

      You are very intelligent! These Rabbis ware probably helping an abused wife stuck with an evil guy.
      the headlines catches eyes and the antisemitic relish on these type of stories but the reality is that the rabbis were acting out of the desire to help. case closed!

      October 11, 2013 at 7:48 am |
      • Casenotclosed

        Kidnapping and assault is what it is. Who cares why, they must go to jail for a long time. These people are just too stupid to say they don't care about this tradition and move on.

        October 11, 2013 at 6:30 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.