2013 New York divorce torture plot

2013 New York divorce torture plot
Part of Racketeering
Planned by Federal Bureau of Investigation
Objective Shut down get extortion and kidnapping ring
Date October 9, 2013 (2013-10-09)
Outcome Arrests and convictions

The 2013 New York divorce torture plot was a sting operation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation against a gang that had been torturing Jewish men into granting their wives religious divorces. It culminated in the arrest of a group of men from New York under the direction of Mendel Epstein who were involved in the planned kidnapping and torture of a fictitious Jewish husband in Middlesex County, New Jersey, with the purpose of obtaining from him a get. Epstein and his men were found guilty of kidnapping in 2015, and were sentenced to long prison terms.


A Jewish man is allowed to divorce his wife for virtually any reason by first receiving her permission, and then giving her a get. If she is unwilling, and his complaint against her is substantial, he can pursue a Heter meah rabbanim and remarry, although one is rarely awarded.[1]

A Jewish woman seeking a divorce from her husband must present her complaint to a Beth din with the implication of a serious physical blemish or character defect. The husband must be willing to divorce his wife, for if he gives the get unwillingly, the divorce is invalid, and any future offspring of the wife would be considered mamzers. If the circumstances truly warrant a divorce and the husband is unwilling, the dayan has the prerogative of instituting community shunning measures to "coerce him until he agrees," with physical force being reserved only for the rarest of cases.[2][3][4]

It was in this grey area of halakha that in the mid-1980s a rabbi from Brooklyn, New York named Mendel Epstein began to advocate for women seeking religious divorces from their husbands, often coercing these men through the use of violence. In 1991, men's rights activist Monty Weinstein staged a protest with 25 people outside Epstein's home, with some carrying signs that read "Stop Mendel Epstein!"[5]


FBI sting operation

In the summer of 2013, a woman dialed Martin Wolmark and told him a story about a husband who refused to give her a get. Wolmark said:[5]

You need special rabbis who are going to take this thing and see it through to the end. . . getting a guy like Mendel Epstein who's a hired hand.

On August 14, 2013 she visited Epstein in Lakewood with another man she said was her brother. Epstein said to the two visitors:

This is an expensive thing 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.

The man then asked about Epstein's effectiveness, to which he replied:

Wait a minute here. I guarantee you that if you're in the van, you'd give a get to your wife. You probably love your wife, but you'd give a get when they finish with you. Hopefully, there won't even be a mark on him. We prefer not to leave a mark. Because then when you do, they do go to the police, the police look at the guy. . . and basically the reaction of the police is, if the guy does not have a mark on him, then, 'Is there some Jewish crazy affair here?' They don't get involved.

Epstein explained he would need $10,000 to approve the coercion at the Beth-din, and $60,000 for the "tough guys", one of whom was Epstein's son David, who would use karate, rope, a screwdriver, and plastic bags over the men's heads to get them to cooperate, and then:

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 the body and in one minute the guy will know.

The man and woman were undercover FBI agents.[3][5][10]

Criminal trials

On October 9, 2013, 8 men wearing Halloween masks, ski masks, and bandanas came to a warehouse in Middlesex County, New Jersey. As they waited for the "husband" to arrive, federal agents burst in and arrested the would-be kidnappers. Epstein was arrested separately in Brooklyn.[12]

On April 21, 2015, Epstein and two accomplices appeared before District Judge Freda L. Wolfson of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey in Trenton, whereupon they were convicted of conspiring to kidnap. On December 15, 2015, Epstein was sentenced to 10 years (120 months) imprisonment. One day later, Jay Goldstein was sentenced to 8 years (96 months) imprisonment. Six other co-defendants also pleaded guilty before trial, and were sentenced to up to 48 months.[8][13][14][15]

On January 12, 2016, David Wax was sentenced by Wolfson to 7 years imprisonment.[16]

See also


  1. Judaism 101/divorce
  2. Malinowitz, Chaim; "The New York State Get Bill and its Halachic Ramifications"; Jewish Law Articles
  3. 1 2 3 Goldstein, Joseph; Schwirtz, Michael (October 11, 2013) "Rabbis Said to Use Torture For Fee to Force Divorce", The New York Times
  4. Bandler, Jonathan; Lieberman, Steve (October 10, 2013) "FBI Arrests N.Y. Rabbis in Jewish Divorce-gang Probe, USA Today
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Samaha, Albert (December 4, 2013) "Bad Rabbi: Tales of Extortion and Torture Depict a Divorce Broker's Brutal Grip on the Orthodox Community", Village Voice
  6. Saul, Josh; Italiano, Laura (October 11, 2013) "Rabbis beat me, stun-gunned my genitals", New York Post
  7. 1 2 Shaer, Matthew (September 2, 2014) "Epstein Orthodox Hit Squad", GQ
  8. 1 2 3 4 U.S. Attorney’s Office District of New Jersey (December 15, 2015). "Two Orthodox Jewish Rabbis Sentenced To Prison For Conspiring To Kidnap Jewish Husbands, Force Them To Consent To Religious Divorces".
  9. Loder, Stephanie (May 15, 2014) "Stun Guns Forced Orthodox Divorce, Prosecutors Say", Asbury Park Press
  10. 1 2 Jones, Abigail (April 8, 2015) "In Orthodox Jewish Divorce, Men Hold All the Cards", Newsweek
  11. Spoto, MaryAnn (March 2, 2015) "'Give A Divorce,' Attackers Yelled As They Beat Men, Victim Testifies In Lakewood Rabbi Trial", NJ.com
  12. (October 11, 2013) "Two Prominent Orthodox Jewish Rabbis Arrested in Divorce Extortion Case", News12 Westchester
  13. Blau, Reuven (April 22, 2015) "N.J. Jury Finds Orthodox Rabbi Guilty of Kidnap-Divorce Plot, New York Daily News
  14. (Apr 21, 2015) "Three Orthodox Jewish Rabbis Convicted of Conspiracy to Kidnap Jewish Husbands in Order to Force Them to Consent to Religious Divorces", U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
  15. U.S. Attorney’s Office District of New Jersey (December 16, 2015). "Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Sentenced To Eight Years In Prison For Conspiring To Kidnap Jewish Husbands, Force Them To Consent To Religious Divorces".
  16. (January 13, 2016) "NJ Couple Sentenced For Helping Jewish Divorce Ring", The Times of Israel

External links

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