Orthodox Jewish Rabbis Arrested in New Jersey for Kidnapping and Torture Plot

Orthodox Jewish Rabbis Arrested
Photo by Cea (Flickr)

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has arrested Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark of New Jersey on charges of plotting to kidnap and torture a man to force him to concede a divorce under orthodox Jewish law. Eight other people have also been arrested in connection with this plot.

Under Orthodox Jewish law, a husband has to give permission for divorce by signing a document called a “get.” Without an official “get,” an Orthodox Jewish woman is not permitted to marry again even she obtains a civil divorce. According to the FBI, the two rabbis sought more than $50,000 to obtain the permission of a Jewish court for the kidnapping, and to hire men to force a man to sign a “get.”

The FBI investigation involved 2 undercover agents, one posing as a wife seeking a divorce from her husband because of his refusal to have children, and the other as her brother who approached Rabbi Wolmark, who then contacted Rabbi Epstein. While Epstein is known as a divorce mediator in the Orthodox Jewish community, Wolmark is a school administrator at a Jewish school, the Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey, New York.

According to transcripts of the meeting, which was videotaped, Rabbi Epstein 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 added that electric cattle prods, handcuffs and a plastic bag would be used in the process: “We take an electric cattle prod. If it can get a bull that weighs five tons to move... You put it in certain parts of his body and in one minute the guy will know...”

Epstein further stated that the instruments would not leave marks, which would deter the police from taking any complaints seriously: "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.”

“They [the Kidnappers] don’t need him for long, believe me,” added Epstein. “They’ll have him in the van, hooded, and it will happen.”

Of the money demanded, $10,000 was slated for a rabbinical court to approve the action of kidnapping. The undercover agents had wired $20,000 to the accused as a deposit. On October 2, Epstein and Wolmark had a “Beit Din,” the official rabbinical court, convened in Rockland County to issue a decree authorizing the kidnapping.

Orthodox Jewish law creates a serious challenge for many Jewish women. A divorced woman without a “get” is called an “agunah,” which is a woman unable to remarry, chained to her former marriage.

“It’s not like a civil divorce. For religious people, a get is everything, and there is no real authority to get it sometimes except through back alley approaches,” said family practice attorney Janet Pennisi, who has handled cases where many Orthodox Jewish women have conceded many rights just to obtain the “get.”

While a Jewish court can demand a husband to issue a “get,” he is not bound to issue the document, and in difficult divorce cases, can withhold it indefinitely.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said one of the accused admits he had participated in other kidnappings, and the FBI believes this group may be responsible for assaults on as many as 24 people. Both Epstein and Wolmark had been charged in a 1998 civil case for taking part in the kidnapping and torture of a rabbi from Brooklyn, New York who was refusing his wife a “get.” While Assistant US Attorney Joseph Gribko said “they did it for money,” Rabbi Wolmark's lawyer claimed this was a situation where religious law clashed with federal law.



Nirav Mehta

This case is a most clear-cut example of the incompatibility of religious and secular law and why the latter must always prevail over the former. To be true to Orthodox Judaism, you have a Jewish religious court authorizing kidnapping and torture, in order to ensure a woman is not enslaved to an ex-husband after divorce due to the terms of their own religious law. This crime streak particularly elucidates that while secular law is progressive, religious law will remain in the Stone Age forever. It is not merely individuals but the entire Jewish law that must be put on trial, for American women are still being treated as slaves of their husbands. No nation must permit stone-age legal codes to be practiced - "sentiments" be damned.

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