New York Rabbis sentenced for violently coercing divorces

Harshest punishment handed down in New York case so far was 48 months in prison.

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November 23, 2015 03:41
2 minute read.
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Gavel [Illustrative]. (photo credit: INIMAGE)

 
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Several New York rabbis were sentenced to jail terms last week for seeking to violently compel recalcitrant husbands to grant their wives religious divorces in exchange for money.

Rabbis Avraham Goldstein, 26, and Ariel Potash, 42, were sentenced to 45 and 14 months respectively for their role in the extortion scheme. Crown Heights Rabbi Sholom Shuchat, who pleaded guilty last year, was released in lieu of time already served.

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Only days earlier, Rabbis David Hellman, 33, and Simcha Bulmash, 32, of Brooklyn, were sentenced to jail terms of 44 and 48 months for their role in the ongoing plot.

All had been picked up as a result of an undercover FBI operation and convicted of conspiracy to cross state lines for the purposes of kidnapping. The US government has implicated 12 people in all in the case.

According to the prosecution, Lakewood Rabbi and ringleader Mendel Epstein, would arrange Orthodox men to be beaten for refusing to grant their wives a get, or a Jewish divorce paper.

Without a get these women would be unable to remarry.

According to court records, Hellman, Bulmash and a group of co-conspirators traveled in October 2013 from New York to a warehouse in Edison, New Jersey, with the intent of forcing a Jewish husband to give his wife a “get,” or Jewish religious divorce.

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Epstein, 70, of Lakewood, New Jersey, and Martin Wolmark, 57, of Monsey, New York, also were charged in the scheme. Moshe Goldstein, 32, of Brooklyn, New York, was sentenced earlier this month to four years in prison in the same case.

The issue of “get refusers” and “chained women” is a contentious one within the Orthodox community. While some classical rabbinic commentaries do advocate beating recalcitrant husbands until they relent, the majority of contemporary Orthodox leaders oppose such measures.

Epstein is widely known in the press as the “prod father” for his alleged use of cattle prods to secure divorces, in order not to leave visible signs of abuse.

Members of the extortion ring were recorded by undercover officers as stating that a kidnapping and beating would cost $60,000, court papers showed.

“Basically the reaction of the police is, if the guy does not have a mark on him then, uh, is there some Jewish crazy affair here, they don’t want to get involved,” Epstein was quoted saying in a government document cited by the Web site, CrownHeights.info.

According to the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (chained women), an advocacy group, “social, communal, legal, and financial pressure” should be used to persuade men to grant a religious divorce.

JTA contributed to this report.

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