2013 New York divorce torture plot

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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 started with the apprehension of Rabbi David Wax, and culminated in the arrest of a group of rabbis from New York under the direction of Mendel Epstein, including Jay Goldstein, Binyamin Stimler, and Martin Wolmark, 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 attempted kidnapping in 2015, and were sentenced to prison.

Background[edit]

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]

Victims[edit]

  • Abraham Rubin: On October 23, 1996 in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Rubin was shoved into a van, beaten and stun-gunned in his genitals until he agreed to give his wife a get. After his 3-hour ordeal, he was left handcuffed and blindfolded at the entrance to a cemetery. Charges were dropped against his attackers by Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes in 2000, after Rubin "could not identify any of his assailants."[3][dead link][5][6]
  • Stephen Weiss: An accountant, Weiss came forward in 1998, alleging that his jaw, leg, and arm were broken in 1992 by members of a ring run by Epstein and Martin Wolmark, but no arrests were made. Newsday interviewed an additional dozen residents of Borough Park and Midwood, Brooklyn, all of whom claimed that they were harassed, threatened, or assaulted by men working for their estranged wives. Hynes agreed to look into the charges but, despite pressure from the victims, declined to prosecute.[7]
  • Israel Markowitz: On December 1, 2009, Markowitz was lured from Brooklyn by Epstein's son David[8] to Lakewood Township, New Jersey under the pretense of employment. Markowitz was then assaulted, placed in a van, tied up, beaten and shocked with a stun-gun until he agreed to give his wife a get.[9]
  • Yisrael Bryskman: On October 16, 2010, Bryskman, an Israeli citizen, was lured from New York by David Epstein[8] to the Lakewood home of David Wax, an accomplice of Epstein, where he was promised employment as a typist of Talmudic texts. Bryskman entered Wax's home shortly before midnight, was shown into a second-story bedroom, and immediately caught a fist that broke his nose. He was then forced to the floor, blindfolded, handcuffed, and ankle-tied. A pool of blood appeared on the carpet, ruining it. He was presented with a body bag "to get [you] used to the size," kicked in the ribs, burned with acid, and threatened to be urinated upon, fed to rats,[10] and buried alive, until he agreed to give his wife a get. Wax then attempted to extort $50,000 (or $100,000)[7] from Bryskman's father in Israel over the phone, threatening to have them both murdered if he refused to comply.[5][9][11]
  • Usher Chaimowitz: On August 22, 2011, in Brooklyn, Chaimowitz and his roommate, Menachem Teitelbaum, were assaulted, tied up, and beaten for two hours until Chaimowitz agreed to give his wife a get. Teitelbaum was punched in the face, had four of his teeth knocked out, his head pushed through a wall, and his mouth stuffed with dirty socks when he tried to scream for help.[9][12][13]

FBI sting operation[edit]

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

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

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

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:

The man and woman were undercover FBI agents.[3][dead link][5][12]

Criminal trials[edit]

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.[16]

On April 21, 2015, Epstein and two accomplices, Binyamin Stimler and Jay Goldstein, 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 and Stimler were sentenced to 10 years (120 months) and 3 years (39 months) respectively. One day later, 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.[9][17][18][19]

On January 12, 2016, David Wax was sentenced by Wolfson to 7 years imprisonment.[20]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Judaism 101/divorce
  2. ^ Malinowitz, Chaim; "The New York State Get Bill and its Halachic Ramifications"; Jewish Law Articles
  3. ^ a b c Goldstein, Joseph; Schwirtz, Michael (October 11, 2013) "Rabbis Said to Use Torture For Fee to Force Divorce", The New York Times[dead link]
  4. ^ Bandler, Jonathan; Lieberman, Steve (October 10, 2013) "FBI Arrests N.Y. Rabbis in Jewish Divorce-gang Probe, USA Today
  5. ^ a b c d e 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. ^ a b Shaer, Matthew (September 2, 2014) "Epstein Orthodox Hit Squad", GQ
  8. ^ a b Samaha, Albert (May 23, 2014) "Indictment Officially Ties Rabbis to Three Divorce Extortion Kidnappings", Village Voice
  9. ^ a b c d 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". 
  10. ^ Roberts, Fiona (July 19, 2011) "Rabbi and Wife 'Kidnapped Man and Threatened to Bury Him Alive if he Didn't Agree to Divorce his Wife in Israel'", Daily Mail
  11. ^ Loder, Stephanie (May 15, 2014) "Stun Guns Forced Orthodox Divorce, Prosecutors Say", Asbury Park Press
  12. ^ a b Jones, Abigail (April 8, 2015) "In Orthodox Jewish Divorce, Men Hold All the Cards", Newsweek
  13. ^ Spoto, MaryAnn (March 2, 2015) "'Give A Divorce,' Attackers Yelled As They Beat Men, Victim Testifies In Lakewood Rabbi Trial", NJ.com
  14. ^ (December 14, 2015) "Rabbi Sentenced for Role in Divorce-Coercion Ring", New York Times
  15. ^ Blau, Reuven (February 19, 2015) "Rabbi Accused in Forced Divorce Plot is Called 'Hired Hand' who would 'Harass or Nail' Husband in Phone Recording", New York Daily News
  16. ^ (October 11, 2013) "Two Prominent Orthodox Jewish Rabbis Arrested in Divorce Extortion Case", News12 Westchester
  17. ^ Blau, Reuven (April 22, 2015) "N.J. Jury Finds Orthodox Rabbi Guilty of Kidnap-Divorce Plot, New York Daily News
  18. ^ (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
  19. ^ 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". 
  20. ^ (January 13, 2016) "NJ Couple Sentenced For Helping Jewish Divorce Ring", The Times of Israel

External links[edit]