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. JOSH P.

    I thought these were God chosen people,they can do no wrong,let me guess their God will get them out of this or a crooked Khazar judge that look just like them.

    October 11, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  2. t2vodka

    Once again, men telling women what they can and cannot do, how pathetic.

    October 11, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  3. Kenny Bania

    So the wives paid the Rabbis to kidnap their husbands so they could get a divorce? If this is the case why arent any of the wives charged? I dont believe they need their husband's 'permission' to get a divorce. Maybe by their religious beliefs but the state of NY would have granted it.

    October 11, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • Johan Christensen

      EXACTLY right! Of course NYS grants it. This is no different than Catholics not wanting to divorce because they think it is forbidden to them without an annulment by a Priest.

      October 11, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • Kenny Bania

      Although in the state of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli, a candidate running for governor, is proposing legislation that the husband does in fact need to give his permission for a divorce.

      October 11, 2013 at 8:37 am |
    • Irene

      According to the Jewish law, the marriage is performed by a rabbi and is not later filed with the state's agency overseeing marriages, be it NY or any other state. Their marriages are thus only recognized under their laws and as far as the state is concerned, there is no record of them ever being marriaed. That's how some of them are able to receive government aid as single mothers, by the way. Anyway, since it was never filed with NYS, they cannot really get a divorce through the courts and the only divorce the orthodox Jews are concerned about is the "get" that is their religious divorce, and if they don't get one, they are still married according to the Jewish law. What the wives did was terrible and if true, they must be prosecuted as well not just the rabbis, I guess I see why they resorted to this but it is soo wrong and illegal that it is just not acceptable no matter what the reason is.

      October 11, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • Carl

      You are exactly right. This is entirely for the religious divorce (a "get"). It has nothing to do with the actual divorce sanctioned by the state of NY that is recognized by any secular legal authority. It merely would allow the woman to remarry according to the Jewish tradition at some future point, kind of like Catholics getting an annulment from the Church. Unfortunately, it is up to the husband to grant a religious divorce. On the flip side, the wife receives a ketubah from her husband at marriage, which is a contract granting her unique rights that he is to provide throughout their marriage. The CNN article has not really portrayed this accurately and in proper context. Obviously such strong-arm tactics are entirely improper, but the husbands are maliciously withholding a simple piece of paper that gives a religious rubber stamp to a divorce that has already occurred.

      October 11, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  4. TXJew

    Terrible article. It doesn't explain motive. This criminal enterprise is a result of a long-standing interpretation of Deut. 24:1-4, which is phrased as a man giving his wife a divorce. Orthodox interpretation takes this to mean only men can initiate divorces, their wifes cannot, effectively trapping wives in dysfunctional marriages. This gang is a crazy attempt at an extra-legal solution to this problem – acting on behalf of the beleagured wife, these men were trying to force the husbands to initiate the divorce. It's inspired by the the ruling of Maimonides, who said when a husband refuses to grant a divorce to a wife who wants out, the court has permission to coerce the husband's agreement with imprisonment and corporal punishment. Liberal Jews, unbound by the restrictive logic of this interpretation, allow either party in a marriage to say they want out and act on a divorce.

    October 11, 2013 at 8:33 am |
  5. I, Isaac, take thee, Rebecca


    October 11, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • Hosea 2:19-20

      וְאֵרַשׂתִּיךְ לִי לְעוֹלָם וְאֵרַשׂתִּיךְ לִי בְּצֶדֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּט
      וּבְחֶסֶד וּבְרַחַמִים וְאֵרַשְׂתִּיךְ לִי בֶּאֱמוּנָה וֽיָדַעַתְּ ה׳אֶת

      October 11, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  6. Big Man

    Nothing new here. They've been doing this to the Palestians teenagers for years now. They've just decided to expand the business

    October 11, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • Johan Christensen

      Palestinian terrorists and if that is the case who cares?

      October 11, 2013 at 8:31 am |
      • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

        One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

        October 11, 2013 at 8:32 am |
        • Johan Christensen

          Alas that is true. So they can keep on freedom fighting with their suicide AND along with their other Muslim extremists freedom fighting by shooting people in malls, blowing up marathons, attacking oil rigs, hijacking planes and crashing them. Gotta love freedom.

          October 11, 2013 at 8:35 am |
        • Carl

          Nope. A terrorist is a terrorist. Freedom fighters do not intentionally target innocent women and babies for a brutal death.

          October 11, 2013 at 9:00 am |
      • JOSH P.

        Sure J-ew s.c.u.m

        October 11, 2013 at 8:43 am |
  7. weezer

    At first I thought this was a plot for a Woody Allen movie, but after I read about the plastic bags over the heads, cattle prods, and Karate, I realized it was Tarentino.

    October 11, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Tarantino (sorry, I'm a pedant).

      October 11, 2013 at 8:24 am |
      • Rebbe Bupkis

        Coen Brothers maybe?

        October 11, 2013 at 8:39 am |
        • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

          It depends. If you want a more subtle approach, go with the Coens. If you want people getting shot in the balls, go Tarantino.

          October 11, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • Johan Christensen

      Actually this is old news.. the Sopranos already have a similar episode. Crazy orthodox Jewish laws requires special finesse and force application to make the husbands join the 21st century.

      October 11, 2013 at 8:32 am |
  8. David

    Hell yea, Jersey Jews made front page headlines!!! There's nothing soft about us

    October 11, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • Bleh64

      With the exception of the lack of grey matter located between your ears maybe!!!

      October 11, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  9. I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

    This reminds me of The Sopranos when Tony was asked by the Hasidic Jew to force his son in law to present his wife with a get.

    October 11, 2013 at 8:12 am |
  10. Stephen

    Reminds me of the old Yiddish axiom, "If you don't ask, you don't gets".

    October 11, 2013 at 8:12 am |
  11. Tutuvabene

    Sounds like a comedy skit on Saturday Night Live.

    October 11, 2013 at 8:06 am |
  12. Rob

    Isn't this something from the first season of The Sopranos?

    October 11, 2013 at 7:50 am |
  13. Reality # 2

    And why do some rabbis act the way they do?

    •Exodus 32: 3,000 Israelites killed by Moses for worshipping the golden calf.

    •Numbers 31: After killing all men, boys and married women among the Midianites, 32,000 virgins remain as booty for the Israelites. (If unmarried girls are a quarter of the population, then 96,000 people were killed.)

    •Joshua: ◦Joshua 8: 12,000 men and women, all the people of Ai, killed.
    ◦Joshua 10: Joshua completely destroys Gibeon ("larger than Ai"), Makeddah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir. "He left no survivors."
    ◦Joshua 11: Hazor destroyed. [Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (1987), estimates the population of Hazor at ?> 50,000]
    ◦TOTAL: if Ai is average, 12,000 x 9 = 108,000 killed.

    •Judges 1: 10,000 Canaanites k. at Battle of Bezek. Jerusalem and Zephath destroyed.
    •Judges 3: ca. 10,000 Moabites k. at Jordan River.
    •Judges 8: 120,000 Midianite soldiers k. by Gideon
    •Judges 20: Benjamin attacked by other tribes. 25,000 killed.

    •1 Samuel 4: 4,000 Isrealites killed at 1st Battle of Ebenezer/Aphek. 30,000 Isr. k. at 2nd battle.
    •David: ◦2 Samuel 8: 22,000 Arameans of Damascus and 18,000 Edomites killed in 2 battles.

    ◦2 Samuel 10: 40,000 Aramean footsoldiers and 7,000 charioteers killed at Helam.
    ◦2 Samuel 18: 20,000 Israelites under Absalom killed at Ephraim.

    •1 Kings 20: 100,000 Arameans killed by Israelites at Battle of Aphek. Another 27,000 killed by collapsing wall.
    •2 Chron 13: Judah beat Israel and inflicted 500,000 casualties.
    •2 Chron 25: Amaziah, king of Judah, k. 10,000 from Seir in battle and executed 10,000 POWs. Discharged Judean soldiers pillaged and killed 3,000.
    •2 Chron 28: Pekah, king of Israel, slew 120,000 Judeans

    •TOTAL: That comes to about 1,283,000 mass killings specifically enumerated in the Old Testament/Torah.

    The New Testament has only one major atrocity, that of god committing filicide assuming you believe in this Christian mumbo jumbo. Said atrocity should be enough to vitiate all of Christianity.

    October 11, 2013 at 7:50 am |
    • Bobpitt

      We are not responsible for what ours forth fathers did, but we are responsible for what we do now..!!!

      October 11, 2013 at 7:56 am |
    • bob

      Ah! That explains it. Thanks for the clarification...

      October 11, 2013 at 8:00 am |
    • Tutuvabene

      The simpler explanation is money.

      October 11, 2013 at 8:07 am |
    • Indigo Wizard

      Wow, thanks for running the #'s on that. I think that you might be a little on the optimistic side with your population estimates. Given the daily needs of food, water, etc to survive in that climate. Still, even at 50%, that's over 600,000 peeps.

      October 11, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • TXJew

      I guess that's why Christians have always been so peaceful and Christendom is a byword for pasificism. There's only one verse that matters here, Deut. 24:1-4 where the phrasing is taken to mean that only a man can initiate a divorce.

      October 11, 2013 at 8:25 am |
      • Randyb12

        That's because women were the property of their husbands and before that...their fathers.

        October 11, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • Lolita

      When this book was written your great ancestor lived in the cave raping his goat

      October 11, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • rdn0819

      And then god killed all of the human race with the great flood except for Noah and his family. You forgot about that one.

      October 11, 2013 at 8:32 am |
      • Reality # 2

        From the New Torah for Modern Minds:

        " For instance, an essay on Ancient Near Eastern Mythology," by Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, states that on the basis of modern scholarship, it seems unlikely that the story of Genesis originated in Palestine. More likely, Mr. Wexler says, it arose in Mesopotamia, the influence of which is most apparent in the story of the Flood, which probably grew out of the periodic overflowing of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The story of Noah, Mr. Wexler adds, was probably borrowed from the Mesopotamian epic Gilgamesh."

        October 11, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • Holly

      Uh Duh..these are Jews..not Christians...and Jesus came to fulfill the law. Jesus and his followers espouse love and do NOT follow the LAW of the OT! Hello..don't speak of something you don't understand because you wish to be contentious. Have a blessed day.

      October 11, 2013 at 8:35 am |
      • Ahab the Arab

        I am not sure that the evidence fully supports the myth of a man named Jesus. The Haysus I know could field and throw but couldn't hit.

        October 11, 2013 at 8:48 am |
      • Randyb12

        You mean like the Crusades which inflicted horror on many woman and children along the road to Jerusalem, or do you mean the Salem witch trials where people were burned at the stake...or do you mean Catholics and Protestants killing each other in Northern Ireland.

        October 11, 2013 at 9:07 am |
        • Reality # 2


          The Twenty (or so) Worst Things GOD'S CREATURES Have Done to Each Other:

          M. White, http://necrometrics.com/warstatz.htm#u (required reading)

          The Muslim Conquest of India

          "The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

          Rank …..Death Toll ..Cause …..Centuries……..(Religions/Groups involved)*

          1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and "Shintoists")

          2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

          3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

          4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

          5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

          6. 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)

          7. 20 million Joseph Stalin 20C (Communism)

          8. 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)

          9. 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C

          10. 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)

          11. 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)

          12. 15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians vs. Pagans)

          13. 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C

          14. 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C

          15. 10 million Xin Dynasty 1C

          16. 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists)

          17. 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs. Christians)

          18. 8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians)

          19. 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)

          20. 7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

          *:" Is religion responsible for more violent deaths than any other cause?

          A: No, of course not – unless you define religion so broadly as to be meaningless. Just take the four deadliest events of the 20th Century – Two World Wars, Red China and the Soviet Union – no religious motivation there, unless you consider every belief system to be a religion."

          Q: So, what you're saying is that religion has never killed anyone.

          A: Arrgh... You all-or-nothing people drive me crazy. There are many doc-umented examples where members of one religion try to exterminate the members of another religion. Causation is always complex, but if the only difference between two warring groups is religion, then that certainly sounds like a religious conflict to me. Is it the number one cause of mass homicide in human history? No. Of the 22 worst episodes of mass killing, maybe four were primarily religious. Is that a lot? Well, it's more than the number of wars fought over soccer, or s-ex (The Trojan and Sabine Wars don't even make the list.), but less than the number fought over land, money, glory or prestige.

          In my Index, I list 41 religious conflicts compared with 27 oppressions under "Communism", 24 under Colonialism, 2 under "Railroads" and 2 under "Scapegoats". Make of that what you will."

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

      I'm mad you even wasted your time to look all that up and type it!

      Stop doing bath salts and go take care of your kids weirdo

      October 11, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  14. Circus Circus

    Once again, reinforcing ugly stereotypes. Does it ever end.

    October 11, 2013 at 7:48 am |
  15. Blistein

    Ever wonder why its "jews" versus the world?

    October 11, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • Anti-Semitism is a MYTH !

      Fukk there is now hue and cry and media is suppressing it ? Had it been some thing in middle east it would be all over the media fukin hypocrites

      October 11, 2013 at 7:41 am |
    • mecanico-tuercas

      Before you can even begin to understand what is going on. I will be nice for you to read between the lines.
      In America in very easy to be charged and the media picks up the story and you only hear what they want you to read.
      By the end of the year these Rabbis will probably go home after a nightmare with the US government.

      October 11, 2013 at 7:43 am |
      • Circus Circus

        Go home....to Israel. The US is just a business address.

        October 11, 2013 at 7:49 am |
        • bob

          So, I just finish telling Blistein to stop playing the anti-semite card and Circus posts his comment. (Gives truth to the saying that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean people aren't out to get you...).

          October 11, 2013 at 7:57 am |
        • Ahab the Arab

          could interest you in nice daimond ring for that pig of girlfriend

          October 11, 2013 at 8:23 am |
        • rdn0819

          And then I suppose your next statement will be for black people to go home to Africa. And the Irish to Ireland. And the Germans to Germany. And the Hispanics to the many Hispanic countries. I guess that just leaves the Native American Indians. No, wait, they migrated from Asia so they have to go back there. So who does that leave? You? Putz.

          October 11, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • bob

      It's not. This is nuts; these people and this scheme are crazy and wrong by almost any standards. Stop preaching anti-semitism as an excuse for bad behavior by Jews.

      October 11, 2013 at 7:54 am |
      • Bobpitt

        the problem is that Some Jews don't see any thing wrong with what happened..

        October 11, 2013 at 7:57 am |
        • rdn0819

          Really? And who are these people? I'm Jewish and I find it reprehensible and criminal.

          October 11, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • TXJew

      This is actually Jew vs. Jew. Pay attention.

      October 11, 2013 at 8:26 am |
  16. ToldUso

    Who's tougher, Rabbi thugs or the Amish mafia??

    October 11, 2013 at 7:29 am |
    • Bobpitt

      See..!!! The Middle east are not the only ones with religious fanatics...

      October 11, 2013 at 7:52 am |
  17. Ace

    That's a new one.

    October 11, 2013 at 7:11 am |
  18. miguel

    Hahaha How exactly does a Jewish thug look like? I can't picture Woody Allen roughing up anybody.

    October 11, 2013 at 7:08 am |
    • Circus Circus

      Not hard to picture. The real gangsters/mob/thugs in the first half of 20C US were Js. H-wood, of course in early films insinuated as Italian. That label has stuck ever since. The power of the media to protect brethren.

      October 11, 2013 at 7:38 am |
  19. eleanor fitzgerald

    This is Orthodox Jewery? It is just too weird. How about Orthodox Jews and fanatical Muslims consider leaving the dark ages behind?

    October 11, 2013 at 7:07 am |
    • EdwardTr

      Do not forget the Christian right.

      October 11, 2013 at 7:31 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.