Three rabbis convicted for kidnapping men and forcing them to grant Jewish divorce

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Three rabbis were convicted in federal court of planning to kidnap Jewish men in order to force them to grant their wives a religious writ of divorce.

The three Orthodox rabbis were convicted late Tuesday in federal court in Trenton, N.J. of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Two of the rabbis also were convicted of attempted kidnapping.

The jury debated for three days after a two-month trial on the case of Rabbi Mendel Epstein, 69, of Lakewood, N.J.; Rabbi Jay Goldstein, 60, of Brooklyn; and Rabbi Binyamin Stimler, 39, of Brooklyn, CBS New York reported.

They are part of a group of men, including at least one other rabbi, who operated a ring that kidnapped men and used violence, including beatings and stun guns, until they agreed to the religious divorce.

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Under Orthodox Jewish law, a wife cannot divorce without obtaining the writ, known as a get, from her husband. She also can not remarry in a Jewish ceremony without the get.

The ring was caught in an FBI sting operation in October 2013 in which federal agents posing as a Jewish woman and her brother sought the gang’s services. The “husband” was to be assaulted at a warehouse in Edison, N.J. When the other men arrived at the warehouse wearing masks and carrying rope, surgical knives and a screwdriver, they were arrested.

The convictions come three months after Rabbi Martin Wolmark,56, of Monsey, N.Y. pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. He will be sentenced on May 18.

The conspiracy charge carries a possible life sentence, Reuters reported, citing the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Sentencing for the three rabbis was set for July 15.