New York authorities say 3 rabbis, including one who claims to have conducted more than 2,000 divorces, were arrested for allegedly pressuring Orthodox Jewish men into giving their wives religious divorces. As many as six others people are also in custody but may not be charged.
Rabbi Mendel Epstein, Rabbi Martin Wolmark, Rabbi Jacob Goldstein and a fourth man, Ariel Potash, are facing charges.
The investigation revealed that unhappy Orthodox Jewish wives who wanted a divorce were paying $100,000 to the rabbis. In exchange, the rabbis would facilitate divorce, frequently by hiring armed thugs kidnap the husbands and beat them until they agreed.
The investigation also revealed the activity had been going on for 20 years or more.
One of the rabbis, Mendel Epstein, claims to have been involved in more than 2,000 divorces and has advocated for a group called “A Jewish Wife’s Rights.”
“Mendel Epstein talked about forcing compliance through the use of ‘tough guys’ who utilize electric cattle prods, karate, handcuffs and place plastic bags of the heads of husbands,” FBI Special Agent Bruce Kamerman said.
To divorce in the Orthodox community, a husband must provide his wife with a document known as a “get.” A woman whose husband will not consent is known as an agunah.
FBI agents raided the Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Suffern at around 9 p.m. Wednesday. They loaded equipment into several unmarked cars and left after midnight.
Students were forced to wait in the yeshiva’s parking lot during the raid.
Meanwhile, FBI agents were also at Rabbi Epstein’s house in Flatbush, Brooklyn, executing a search.
The suspects allegedly hired by the rabbis were based in Middlesex County.
The investigation came out of the FBI Newark office.