The Federal Bureau of Investigation has accused Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark of a plot to kidnap and torture a man to force him to grant his wife a divorce under Jewish law. They also accused two other men of scheming to extort “gets,” religious documents without which women cannot divorce their husbands. Since wives cannot seek divorce unilaterally under Jewish law, the four men had developed a practice of charging women and their families tens of thousands of dollars to coerce their husbands into granting gets, according to the FBI:
Two undercover agents contacted Wolmark and Epstein in August about seeking a divorce. According to the complaint, Epstein spoke about forcing compliance through “tough guys” who use electric cattle prods and even place plastic bags over the heads of husbands.
The FBI said the price was more than $50,000.
The investigation took place in Ocean and Middlesex counties in New Jersey and Rockland County in New York. Several defendants were arrested overnight in raids in both states, including in Brooklyn, the FBI said. They were scheduled to appear in federal court in Trenton late Thursday.
The two other defendants are Ariel Potash and a person identified as Yaakov. Their hometowns were not provided in the complaint.
The undercover agents were a woman posing as a wife unable to get a divorce from her Orthodox Jewish husband, and her brother.
They met with Epstein at his Ocean County home in August, during which the rabbi spoke about “kidnapping, beating and torturing husbands in order to force a divorce,” the complaint said.
“Basically what we are going to be doing is kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beating him up and torturing him and then getting him to give the get,” Epstein is quoted as saying during the conversation, which was videotaped.
Epstein is also quoted saying he wanted to use a cattle prod to torture the reluctant husband.
“If it can get a bull that weighs 5 tons to move. . . you put it in certain parts of his body and in one minute, the guy will know,” he said, according to the complaint.
In some cases, according to The New York Times, women can sue their husbands for a “get,” but they might not comply with a rabbinical court’s ruling. Wolmark and Epstein were confident, according to the FBI, that the police would not interfere with their method of enforcing rabbinical justice:
Should the husband go to the police, Rabbi Epstein said, it was important that there were no obvious signs of injury. Without such physical evidence, Rabbi Epstein said, the police were unlikely to probe too deeply into the affairs of the Orthodox Jewish community, which can appear impenetrable to outsiders.
“Basically the reaction of the police is, if the guy does not have a mark on him then, uh, is there some Jewish crazy affair here, they don’t want to get involved,” Rabbi Epstein explained, according to the criminal complaint.
Beyond Epstein’s claims to have successfully extorted “gets” in the past, the FBI’s complaint did not describe any actual kidnappings.
See Wednesday’s news in photos from around the world in the gallery below.