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TRENTON, N.J. (RNS) Four Orthodox rabbis implicated last year in a torture-for-hire operation intended to convince husbands to grant their wives Jewish divorces were indicted Thursday (May 22) on conspiracy and kidnapping charges, authorities said.

Paul J. Fishman, United States Attorney

Paul J. Fishman, United States Attorney. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Justice, Public Domain


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A federal grand jury indicted the four rabbis and one of their sons on various charges of kidnapping, conspiracy as well as attempted kidnapping, a statement from U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman’s office said.

Rabbis Mendel Epstein, 68, of Lakewood, N.J.; Martin Wolmark, 56, of Monsey, N.Y.; Jay “Yaakov ” Goldstein, 60, of Brooklyn, N.Y; Binyamin Stimler, 38, of Brooklyn, N.Y; and Epstein’s son, David Epstein, 39, also of Lakewood, N.J., were all charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping.

The rabbis were also charged with attempted kidnapping. In addition, David Epstein faces three counts of kidnapping, Goldstein two counts, and Wolmark one count.

All five face maximum terms of life in prison if convicted on the conspiracy or kidnapping counts.

The rabbis and several others implicated in the scheme were arrested in October at a Middlesex County warehouse as they allegedly waited, torture instruments nearby, for their next target: a Jewish man who had declined to give his wife a divorce, known as a “get.”

“Among them, they carried rope, surgical blades, a screwdriver, plastic bags, and items used to ceremonially record a get,” according to the statement from Fishman’s office.

But the rabbis had tumbled into a setup by authorities. The FBI had begun an undercover operation after becoming aware of alleged assaults and kidnappings involving Goldstein and David Epstein.

According to a complaint outlined in federal court in October, the rabbis and six others charged would, by the necessary means, “convince” a formerly unwilling husband to grant his wife a divorce.

According to the complaint, authorities recorded Rabbi Epstein talking about kidnapping, beating and torturing husbands to force the get, a document that within the Jewish Orthodox community allows a wife to sue for divorce.

“You know, this is an expensive thing to do,” Epstein said. “It’s not simply … 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.”

The four rabbis and others had been charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping in October. David Epstein was previously charged in a 2009 kidnapping, allegedly to compel a divorce in a complaint filed on May 15.

(Richard Khavkine writes for The Star-Ledger.)

YS END KHAVKINE

4 Comments

  1. These people distort Jewish law and are a threat to it. Since Takanas Rabbeinu Gershom, over 1,000 years ago, both men and women can refuse a divorce because marriage is sacred and should be protected. These are criminals and Rav Elyashiv Of Blessed Memory and now Rav Chaim Kanievsky, may he live long, and the Eida HaChareidis have ruled that such coerced divorces are invalid and the children of such second marriages could be mamzerim. Epstein is nothing more than a thug who has disgraced Judaism in ways that Judaism’s worst enemy could not. The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot and their leader Hershel Schachter have done similar things, in tandem with the Beth Din of America, both are being investigated by the FBI, together with a so-called rabbi in the South, Rabbi David Lehrfield, whose gittin have been ruled to be highly questionable and his conversions are not accepted. (the local rabbonim advise using Rabbi Mendel Senderovic, Rabbi Twersky’s Rosh Kollel, who travels to the South every month instead). Schachter and Lehrfield are facing similar investigations and have been derided as having broken the foundations of Jewish religious law.

    • I put a good deal of the blame on Haredim men being such d-bags when it comes to religious divorce. By using the power to grant a get (as entirely the right of only the husband) they use it as a means of leverage and extortion in civil divorce proceedings.

      Yes Epstein is a thug, but he would not have served a need if not for the raging problem of guys behaving badly by capitalizing on religious law. Given the general obnoxiousness of haredim men, I have a bit of sympathy for him.

      Marriage is not sacred enough to stay in it by coercion browbeating and peer pressure. Extolling marriage at all costs is just stupid and harmful. Just the sort of thing one expects from rigid adherence to religious dogma at the expense of human conditions.

    • Well, you are a little off. The men can refuse, and not release the wife, with a “get” in place. If the men want a divorce, the woman cannot object and say no. it is not up to the woman as long as the “get” is complied with. In these cases the woman where not being released from their “get’s” by their husband even though they were divorced in the civil court system. And without their “get’s” being exercised they are not consider a part of the religious community.
      Furthermore if the Rabbi’s are behind this, they in their wisdom see the men as not allowing the Get to be exercised as incongruent with the Halakha.

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