Rabbi Mendel Epstein, 70, of Brooklyn was convicted this week in a bizarre series of crimes where he and others kidnapped and beat Orthodox Jewish men who refused to grant their wives religious divorces or “gets.” He was to 10 years in prison, a relatively light sentence given multiple kidnapping and beatings ordered by Epstein. The attackers were paid by women to force “gets” out of their husbands. That makes this a religious-based form of organized crime.
Epstein is the father of nine, grandfather of 45 and great-grandfather of five. He is a prominent rabbi who specializes in divorce proceedings, is heard on secretly recorded conversations bragging about using a cattle prod and other violent means to force recalcitrant husbands to agree to the religious divorces. Epstein provided the undercover agents with details of how the target husband would be taken to a warehouse in Edison where he would be kidnapped and beaten until he agreed to the get. That sounds actually like what a mobster would do for money. In such a case, however, the sentence would have likely been longer. Indeed, Epstein was called the “prodfather” for his claimed preference for using a cattle prod on kidnap victims.
Epstein was contrite at trial and said that he was “embarrassed and ashamed” by the tapes and that “Over the years, I guess, I got caught up in my tough guy image.” He said that his clients knew his reputation as the rabbi who goes and gets into all crazy places and he doesn’t give up He gets you the get.”
While Epstein said it was not the money that he was motivated by, he is caught on tape demanding $60,000 from the undercover agent and prosecutors said that only a small portion of that payment went to the “muscle men” who were there to rough up the husband.
Epstein’s attorney, Robert Stahl, argued that Epstein’s sentence should be less than that for the traditional kidnapping cases because those cases usually involve murder, terrorism or child abduction.
Two other rabbis were also convicted with Epstein including Rabbi Martin Wolmark, 57. The other men in the warehouse also received remarkably good deals given the kidnapping charges. Arrested were Jay Goldstein, 61, Moshe Goldstein, 32, Avrohom Goldstein, 36, Simcha Bulmash, 32, Binyamin Stimler, 40, David Hellman, 33, and Sholom Shuchat, 31, all of Brooklyn, and Ariel Potash, 42, of Monsey, N.Y.
Putting aside these sentences, it is astonishing that these Orthodox Jewish individuals — both the wives and the kidnappers — would be appalled at the thought of a divorce without a “get” as a sin but not view kidnapping and beatings as a sin. Call me a bit confused on that point.