Jewish gets — divorce decrees that, after a marriage fails, can only be provided by the husband — have been the subject of much controversy and even violent crime for years. A woman cannot get remarried under Jewish law unless she can produce a get. But after a marriage goes bad, husbands often withhold the prized document out of spite; or they use it as a bargaining chip in child-custody or alimony disputes. To spur them into compliance, a little extrajudicial persuasion (read: violence, or the threat thereof) may have to be applied.
In 2013, a Brooklyn rabbi named Mendel Epstein was arrested for having organized, in exchange for a king’s ransom, the kidnapping and torture of men who wouldn’t otherwise agree to their wives’ requests for a get.
Two years earlier, New Jersey rabbi David Wax and his wife Judy had been nabbed for allegedly kidnapping and assaulting an Israeli national from whom they were trying to extract a get. The prosecution said that the Waxes administered hours of beatings, breaking the man’s nose; and that they showed their victim a body bag, promising that they would bury him alive if he did not do as instructed.
Epstein and his thugs — including his son David — are now facing the music in secular court.
Opening statements began Wednesday in the trial of Epstein and his three co-defendants: son David Epstein, Jay Goldstein and Binyamin Stimler. Mendel Epstein, who is accused of employing a kidnap team to force unwilling Jewish husbands to divorce their wives, faces charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping. The others face similar charges stemming from a staged kidnapping in 2013 and three other forced divorces.
Defense attorney Robert Stahl disputed the charges and portrayed Mendel Epstein, 69, as a “champion of women’s rights.” “This is not a band of criminals extorting men for money or beating them for money,” Stahl said, arguing that Jewish law allows recalcitrant husbands to be forced to giving a divorce document known as a “get.” He called the husbands the villains as Epstein, dressed in a dark suit, silently nodded toward Stahl.
A conservative Hasidic rabbi as a champion of women’s rights. Sounds legit.
Prosecutors allege the Orthodox rabbi’s team used brutal methods and tools, including handcuffs and electric cattle prods, to torture the men into granting divorces. The kidnap team brought surgical blades, a screwdriver and rope to a staged kidnapping in 2013, authorities have said. Epstein allegedly told the undercover agents he arranged similar kidnappings every year or year and a half, U.S. Attorney Joseph Gribko said. Gribko noted the recordings throughout his opening statement, including Epstein allegedly describing how the cattle prods were used.
“If (the cattle prod) can get a bull that weighs 5 tons to move, you put it in certain parts of his body and in one minute the guy will know,” prosecutors said Epstein told two undercover FBI agents posing as a brother and sister trying to force the sister’s husband to grant the divorce. Gribko said he was recorded telling the agents the effort would cost $60,000.
Stahl, the defense attorney, did acknowledge in court that
… “some laws may have been broken along the way.”
(Thanks to Jaynee for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)