Two rabbis stand accused of running a “divorce-gang” that systematically used kidnapping and torture to coax legal consent from Jewish men reluctant to dissolve their marriages. The dubious service was offered to religious women as a way to bypass the orthodox provision whereby prospective divorcees must obtain their husband’s “get” — a signed document agreeing to the dissolution. For a fee, the gang would convene a rabbinical court and sanction the use of cattle prods, handcuffs, and karate.
A sweeping sting carried out Wednesday by the FBI led to the arrest of Rabbi Martin Wolmark of the Yeshiva Shaarei Torah and ultra-conservative divorce mediator Rabbi Mendel Epstein of Brooklyn, N.Y. Authorities also arrested two “thugs” identified in court documents as Ariel and Yaakov. The latter allegedly worked for the rabbis as hired muscle, and were responsible for some of the more convincing intimidation techniques.
The enforcement effort began in early August, when an undercover FBI agent and another agent posing as her brother contacted Rabbi Wolmark for his services. After the female agent told him she was would do anything to obtain her reluctant husband’s get, Rabbi Wolmark agreed to take their case and put them in touch with Rabbi Epstein, who would help them coordinate the kidnapping. As if to dispel any lingering doubts about the service’s legitimacy, Rabbi Epstein immediately began listing his “preferred methods,” which involved cattle prods and karate moves, USA Today reports.
"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," Rabbi Epstein told the undercover FBI agents. "You probably love your wife, but you'd give a get when they finish with you... Hopefully there wouldn't even be a mark on him."
"I guarantee that if you're in the van, you'd give a get to your wife," he added.
According to a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J., the expensive service required women to pay $10,000 for the rabbinical court’s authorization and between $50,000 and $60,000 to hire men for the job. “Tough guys” like Ariel and Yaakov were allegedly told to keep scars and bruises to a minimum, as a dearth of physical evidence would deter authorities from probing the close-knit orthodox community, the New York Times reports.
“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, speaking to the undercover agents.
Rabbi Wolmark, Rabbi Epstein, and their hired thugs are expected to appear in court on Thursday.