Indictment Officially Ties Rabbis to Three Divorce Extortion Kidnappings

Brian Stauffer
As we detailed in our December feature story, Bad Rabbi, members of Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community have accused Mendel Epstein of kidnappings and assaults since the mid-1980s. Epstein, the locals claimed, specialized in coercing husbands to grant their wives a get, the document required for a divorce under the religion's law.

At least one victim, Abraham Rubin, contacted the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office in the mid-'90s, claiming that a group of men had thrown him into a van, blindfolded him, and beat him. Multiple witnesses filed affidavits implicating Epstein and Martin Wolmark, a rabbi from upstate New York, and Yaakov Goldstein, the scribe tasked with transcribing the get. Epstein was not arrested, and his name remained unknown to those outside the Orthodox community.

That finally changed last fall, when prosecutors and federal agents in New Jersey conducted a sting operation again Epstein. In a recorded conversation he detailed his services to an undercover FBI agent posing as a desperate wife. Epstein, Wolmark, and ten others were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping, among other charges. At that point, Epstein was officially tied to only that single incident.

But that has also changed. Prosecutors have charged Esptein for three kidnapping incidents, according to the indictment against Epstein and four others, which the U.S. Attorney's Office of New Jersey unsealed on Thursday.

See also our December feature story: Bad Rabbi: Tales of Extortion and Torture Depict a Divorce Broker's Brutal Grip on the Orthodox Community

In addition to Mendel Epstein, the indictment lists his son David Epstein, Wolmark, Goldstein, and Binyamin Stimler as defendants.

In November 2009, the document states, David Epstein "lured a man from Brooklyn, New York to Lakewood, New Jersey under the pretense of an employment offer." On December 1, the man was "assaulted by [David Epstein] and others, placed in a van, tied up, beaten and shocked with a stun-gun until he agreed to give his wife a get."

On October 16, 2010, according to the indictment, David Epstein and others beat up a man in Lakewood, after luring him under the pretense under the of helping [unnamed government cooperator] with Talmudic research. Wolmark and Goldstein officiated the get, the indictment states. Based on the date and details, the victim was Yisrael Bryskman, and the unnamed cooperator was David Wax, who pleaded guilty earlier this month. It was the investigation into the Wax case that initially led the New Jersey U.S. Attorney's Office to Epstein, spokesperson Rebekah Carmichael told the Voice in November.

On August 22, 2011, the indictment states, David Epstein, Goldstein, and others "forced their way inside the residence of a man and his roommate in Brooklyn, New York... then assaulted [them], punched them the face, handcuffed them, blindfolded them, and bound their legs until [the man] agreed to give his wife a get."

The indictment also cites the details of the sting that led to Mendel Epstein's arrest. Epstein offered his services to the undercover agent for $70,000. He mentioned that he orchestrated at least one kidnapping a year.

"We take an electric cattle prod," Epstein said in their recorded conversation. "If it can get a bull that weighs five tons to move, you put it in certain parts of the body and in one minute the guy will know."

Federal agents arrested eight accomplices, including Goldstein and Stimler, as they prepared for the kidnapping in a warehouse. Four of those accomplices have pleaded guilty.

All five defendants in the incitement face one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, as well as multiple counts of attempted kidnapping. Epstein, gold stein, and Wolmark also face multiple counts of kidnapping. The maximum sentence for conspiracy to commit kidnapping is life in prison.

Next: the text of the indictment.

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I am not surprised by this, except the fact that the usually patriarchal Orthodox rabbinate has some members who are willing to play Robin Hood to help out women in trouble.

The trouble is the ancient system of Jewish divorce that gives the husband the final say.  If the husband does not himself consent to the divorce then the wife is not really divorced in Jewish law.  She may be divorced and free to remarry in New York law, but in Jewish law she is still married to Husband #1 and any attempt at remarriage is regarded, in Jewish law, as adultry and the resulting children as out-of-wedlock.

Orthodox husbands have been using this ancient loophole to make outrageous demands on their want-to-be-ex wives; they won't consent to the divorce unless the wife gets no property, no alimony, no child support, and maybe no custody of the children.  Sometimes they even demand the woman give to them additional money or property.  

Even when the husband promised not to make demands in a Jewish pre-nup, the civil courts, and even rabbinic courts, have been unable to extract their cooperation.  The Israeli government has tried jailing some of these husbands - and they're stubborn enough to stay in jail for years rather than give in.  In the meantime their divorced (in civil law) ex-wives cannot remarry in the Orthodox world; they are "agunah" - "the shackled".  I will bet the mortgage that some Orthodox widowhoods were arranged as a solution.

Grabbing these greedy ex-husbands off the street and beating a divorce consent out of them is probable the only practical remedy.


@markopp1 A group of women Torah scribes are having a conference soon in Toronto, FYI re: either journo hat you wear. Dunno if of interest.


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.

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