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. Bob

    Typical Jewish behavior.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:18 am |
    • Paul

      I'm amazed as to how many Jew haters there are.

      Enjoy your kkk meeting pal

      October 11, 2013 at 1:23 am |
      • Michael Girouard

        Anti-semitism is not exclusive to neonazis. And it's so blatant and acceptable. And I'll bet the same haters complain about Muslims as well. There is an off-white theme running through this.

        October 11, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
      • andyourpointis

        I think they hate anyone who believes in God and belongs to a religion. They seem to think if we eliminate God from society, that society will be a better place....like pagan nations (who all live in peace, right?)

        October 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
  2. children of Israel

    The is no ism in the Bible? *Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. *Luke 17:5 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. *Revelation 1:9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. *John 18:6 As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. *Revelation 1:18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. (Mark 12:26-29)

    October 11, 2013 at 1:14 am |
    • Reality # 2

      All of these passages with the exception of Mark 12: 28-29 are from the analyses of many contemporary NT scholars, historically nil.

      And keep in mind the following:

      "Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation "the insanest of all books".[30] Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he "considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams." [31]

      Martin Luther once "found it an offensive piece of work" and John Calvin "had grave doubts about its value."[32]

      JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.")

      Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694.

      Jesus was actually a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Many contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

      So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man would do or say?

      October 11, 2013 at 7:45 am |
  3. Penel9

    I've no understanding of what a "get" is or why a women would pay "tens of thousands of dollars" to their spiritual leader to get a divorce by way of having the husband kidnapped and tortured unless the husband, wife, spiritual leader and their beliefs are just all plain askew, corrupt and abuse is the norm within their community. This isn't about Judaism.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:09 am |
  4. Joe Mauro

    this is what the FBI does???Maybe the parks should reopen and the FBI should close.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:06 am |
  5. Martin Epstein

    Serves these husbands right. Why won't they issue a get? These rabbis are providing a social service.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:06 am |
  6. Susan

    The problem with Orthodox rabbis is they think there is no law (but their own, of course) to obey. Thus, the idea to "rough" husbands up in a van.....pathetic.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:02 am |
  7. mork

    What? You won't give me a get? What, I should take you in a van and punch you?

    October 11, 2013 at 1:02 am |
  8. Jesse

    Something about this isn't Kosher.

    October 11, 2013 at 12:43 am |
    • Frunt Goibbelsberg

      That was very chabad.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:52 am |
      • Paul

        Lol 🙂

        October 11, 2013 at 1:13 am |
    • Steve, the Rabbi drove Old Dixie down

      I feel so sorry for those men! I love my wife, and I'd hate to lose meshuga.

      October 11, 2013 at 1:12 am |
    • Steve, the Rabbi drove Old Dixie down

      These rabbis are in some deep shikse!

      October 11, 2013 at 1:15 am |
  9. Sad

    A sickening, disgusting, and sinful generation (religious and atheist) who love their own desires and lusts of filth and dare to attempt and spit on his name and character. There will be many crying and gnashing their teeth. But then again, they won't believe it until it too late. A wicked generation of satan worshippers

    October 11, 2013 at 12:33 am |
    • Alfredo

      Satan is a Christian deity, Atheist don't waste their time on such things.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:38 am |
    • mickey1313

      Thiests are all so full of sh1t that they cant even see straight. Shove your pompous thiestic openion up your azz.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:52 am |
      • Frunt Goibbelsberg

        Sh1t? Schwunt? I think they're full of shit AND schwunt! Yeah! Good call with the weird spellling there! 😀

        October 11, 2013 at 12:55 am |
    • jo

      clearly u don't know what u r talking abt

      October 11, 2013 at 12:56 am |
  10. MiBigAl

    The Jewish religion claims that they are chosen by God. My question is, after looking at history, what exactly were they chosen for?

    October 11, 2013 at 12:33 am |
    • mickey1313

      Stealing the hard earned wealth of western nations. Remember more american tax mony goes to Isreal then ISREALIE tax mony. It is sad and sick, and any who suport zionism should pay with blood.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:53 am |
      • Paul

        Stealing our hard earned money??? Last time i checked Israel did not steal our money.

        Our govt "giving" yes.

        But we also give to those death loving Muslims too.

        October 11, 2013 at 1:17 am |
    • liberty

      that is a really good question that i have also asked, according to a rabbi i asked, there is no given reason why G-d chose Abraham over anyone else. according to Rabbi Harold Kushner (author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People), he explains it the same way, that it was arbitrary, that G-d was looking, in a way for people to be hs pilot project, essentially.

      Another bit of misinformation about keeping kosher and not eating pork or shellfish due to being unclean....the Torah says don't eat it, but never gives reasons why.

      October 11, 2013 at 1:08 am |
    • Martin Epstein

      It was a mutual agreement between God and the People of Israel. If they would choose Him as their god, he would choose them as his people. It was not a question of the Israelites claiming to be better than anybody else.

      October 11, 2013 at 1:10 am |
    • Yon

      Well, for starters. They have been able to keep ancient religious texts in context. Unlike the Romans that stole them and misinterpreted them, unlike the Muslims and mormons that made up their own supposibly based on ancient Hebrew.

      Seriously, what crime has been done here? Half of America divorces every year and it is really ugly. Children are harmed in serious ways. Divorce is ugly, period. It is not like they sold guns that ended up killing border guards ir police. What the heck is our government thinking when they let loose murderers every day?

      Me thinks this story is bigus.

      October 11, 2013 at 1:15 am |
      • Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

        The jewish book is the most corrupted one on earth , corruption has creepded in to it duging 5000 years of time

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

    "You need special rabbis who are going to take this thing and see it through to the end,"


    October 11, 2013 at 12:32 am |
    • Stan M.

      Just like Catholic pedo-priests "self-regulation" that always managed to destroy all evidence and terrorize all witnesses and victims for centuries. Good times.

      October 11, 2013 at 1:00 am |
  12. children of Israel

    Exodus 9:13 And the Lord said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me. *Luke 1:68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath redeemed his people,.. (Romans 11:1)

    October 11, 2013 at 12:24 am |
    • Hahaha!

      Just take your meds, Einstein.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:33 am |
    • Stan

      Oh my God! You killed Kenny! You ba$tards!

      October 11, 2013 at 12:33 am |
      • Zaug, Overlord of Underwear

        Ohnoes! 😯

        October 11, 2013 at 1:05 am |
  13. MiBigAl

    Organized religion. The scourge of the planet. We are right because God told us we are and if you don't believe me, I'll kill you!

    October 11, 2013 at 12:22 am |
    • MiSmallAl

      "Scourge of the planet." Good line from The Office!

      October 11, 2013 at 12:54 am |
  14. Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

    CNN has made it a different kind of story no disqus ?
    where are the pictures of rabbis and the women and their husbands ? This is really interesting women cant give divorce to their husbands !! pathetic

    October 11, 2013 at 12:20 am |
  15. Brad

    I've never known a rabbit to be anything but snuggly and cute. This story shocks me to the core.

    October 11, 2013 at 12:18 am |
    • Stan

      This is no ordinary rabbit! That's the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on! Look, that rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer! He'll do you up a treat, mate. I'm warning you! He's got huge, sharp... er... He can leap about. Look at the bones!

      October 11, 2013 at 12:39 am |
  16. Nanson Hwa

    What the Rabbis did is not too Kosher.

    October 11, 2013 at 12:17 am |
  17. Schlomo Scheckelstein

    Oy Vey it's another Shoah!

    October 11, 2013 at 12:16 am |
  18. Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

    What women cant divorce their husbands? what kind of pathetic religion is this?
    Guys this is 21 century women and men are equal ! And have rights to divorce !

    October 11, 2013 at 12:11 am |
    • Paul

      Can see by your "name" that you are more than likely an anti Semite.

      Have respect for their 5000 year old traditions.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:16 am |
      • Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

        Now that is stupidest thing ever said . This is 21century do you still want to live in ancient era?5000 years back stone age?

        by the way you proved it ,antisemitism is myth . Now you will call those FBI who arrested the rabbis anti-semites.

        October 11, 2013 at 12:23 am |
        • Paul

          Did anyone say anyone wanted to live in ancient times?
          I said "have respect for their 5000 year old TRADITIONS"


          October 11, 2013 at 12:29 am |
      • Moh Mad

        He is most likely a Moslem.

        October 11, 2013 at 12:24 am |
      • hyoer

        Wouldn't say that if it was a story about some Muslim right?

        October 11, 2013 at 12:24 am |
      • mickey1313

        Why? when that tridition has been responsible for more pain death and evil than any other cause in the western world. Thiests are ignorant fools, who are bairly even smart enough to be thought of as human. I speak to thiests just as I would a child or a ret@rd, slowly, with the knowladge that weather or not they act like it, they can not understand what is being said. And even it they can understand, there believe in evil ways, thus there openion is moot.

        October 11, 2013 at 1:00 am |
        • RC

          Damn, you spell like a 4 or 5 year old. Pretty hard to take anything you say seriously.

          October 11, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
      • Palaniappan Rajaram

        There should be uniform civil code that applies to people of ALL religion. Regardless of to which religion you belong, you should be able to walk into a court and file divorce papers. If your temple won't accept you because you got your divorce in a "non kosher" way, find a new one or leave the temple/faith altogether.

        October 11, 2013 at 1:13 am |
  19. CommonSense

    I'm confused ... the Jews were kidnapping and extorting and an Italian was representing them in court? My world has flipped ...

    October 11, 2013 at 12:11 am |
    • Paul

      Haha...and the judge is black. 🙂

      October 11, 2013 at 12:24 am |
      • Doc1

        Irrelevant to @Commonsense's comment. You obviously didn't get it.

        October 11, 2013 at 12:30 am |
        • Paul

          Course I got the joke...he was joking that things are in reverse (Italian mobsters...etc

          Just adding to the joke that the judge is black cos they are normally white.

          Silly add to a silly joke 🙂

          October 11, 2013 at 12:44 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.