Rabbis accused in violent plot to force divorce
Joseph Goldstein, NY Times, October 13, 2013
Two rabbis offered an unusual service to Jewish women who could not get their husbands to agree to a divorce, according to the FBI. For a fee, they would convene a rabbinical court and authorise the use of violence to get the recalcitrant husband to agree to a divorce, the FBI said.
But that was not all, according to court papers unsealed on Thursday. They would also employ hired muscle, two men known as Ariel and Yaakov, to kidnap the husband and torture him, until he pledged to divorce his wife, according to a criminal complaint in the US District Court in Newark, New Jersey.
The two men, whom the authorities describe as rabbis—Martin Wolmark and Mendel Epstein—as well as a third man, Ariel Potash, have been charged according to court papers. In some Orthodox Jewish communities, a divorce is granted only once a husband provides his wife with a document known as a “get”. And stories of the frustrations and obstacles that women face in their quest to obtain a get are commonplace. While a woman can sue in rabbinical court to try to secure a get, some husbands do not comply with the court’s edict.
That, according to the FBI, is where the rabbis came in. “You need special rabbis who are going to take this thing and see it through to the end,” Mr Wolmark said in a recorded telephone conversation with an undercover FBI agent posing as a woman whose husband would not grant her a get.
During the conversation, Mr Wolmark referred the undercover agent to Mr Epstein, whom he described as “a hired hand” who could help. The fee was high, according to the court papers: $10,000 to pay the rabbinical court to approve the kidnapping and an additional $50,000 or more to carry out the kidnapping. In a subsequent meeting at Mr Epstein’s home in Ocean County, New Jersey, he explained what he planned to do.
"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," according to a recorded conversation described in the criminal complaint. Authorities said the evidence includes a recorded conversation in which Mr Epstein "claimed that his organisation kidnapped one recalcitrant husband approximately every year and a half".