Vigilante Orthodox Rabbis Arrested For Kidnapping Husbands

by
Owen Poindexter
A pair of rabbis are in trouble with the law after taking Jewish law into their own hands. No, that’s not a tagline for a bad movie (yet), but a real life drama about two rabbis that tried to secure a divorce under Jewish law for two women…by kidnapping and torturing their husbands.

rabbi, kidnapper, arrested, divorce
A scene outside a New York yeshiva that was raided in connection to the rabbi kidnapper case.

A pair of New York rabbis are in trouble with the law after taking Jewish law into their own hands. No, that’s not a tagline for a bad movie (yet), but a real life drama about two rabbis that tried to secure a divorce under Jewish law for two women…by kidnapping and torturing their husbands.

Under some Orthodox Jewish norms, a married couple may only divorce if the man serves notice—called a get—to his wife. Two women were having difficulty getting a get from their husbands, and the rabbis, Martin Wolmark and Mendel Epstein, agreed, for a fee, to convene a rabbinical court that would authorize the use of violence to extract gets from these men.

And they would have gotten away with it if the F.B.I. didn’t find out and arrest them. The F.B.I. managed to catch the rabbi kidnappers by calling to enlist their services. An agent, posing as a distraught wife, called Rabbi Wolmark and explained that her husband refused to serve her with a get.

“You need special rabbis who are going to take this thing and see it through to the end,” Rabbi Wolmark replied. Rabbi Wolmark referred the undercover agent to Rabbi Epstein, who went into more detail about how this whole get getting works:

“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.” Rabbi Epstein also explained that his “tough guys” used cattle prods and other weapons that don’t generally leave marks.

This is one of those stories that makes you realize that something you have never heard about is probably way more frequent than you could have imagined. These rabbis are certainly bad apples and don’t represent the Jewish faith, but at the same time, given this need among certain Orthodox Jews, what are the odds that these are the only two rabbis providing it?

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