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Orthodox Rabbi Accused of Kidnapping Errant Husband Schemes: Champion of Women’s Rights or Criminal

February 19, 2015

When you first hear about this rabbi who is charged with a kidnapping scheme, I am sure that you will be dumbfounded to learn that his lawyer says his client is focused on his own brand of supporting women’s rights and not guilty of any federal crimes, merely practicing his Jewish religion in a fashion supportive of women.

Orthodox Jews are not known for their feminist leanings, vigilante or no, so what do you say to a man who has Orthodox Jewish husbands who won’t agree to a divorce their wives seek, allegedly picked up and shaken around a bit? The real issue is: when does a religious practice become a federal criminal act?

Opening statements began Wednesday in the trial of Epstein and his three co-defendants: son David Epstein, Jay Goldstein and Binyamin Stimler. Mendel Epstein, who is accused of employing a kidnap team to force unwilling Jewish husbands to divorce their wives, faces charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping. The others face similar charges stemming from a staged kidnapping in 2013 and three other forced divorces.

Defense attorney Robert Stahl disputed the charges and portrayed Mendel Epstein, 69, as a “champion of women’s rights.”

“This is not a band of criminals extorting men for money or beating them for money,” Stahl said, arguing that Jewish law allows recalcitrant husbands to be forced to giving a divorce document known as a “get.”

He called the husbands the villains as Epstein, dressed in a dark suit, silently nodded toward Stahl.

According to the rabbi, this scheme may be allowed as a form of religious expression; however, the prosecuting team says that the rabbi uses “brutal” methods.

Prosecutors allege the Orthodox rabbi‘s team used brutal methods and tools, including handcuffs and electric cattle prods, to torture the men into granting divorces. The kidnap team brought surgical blades, a screwdriver and rope to a staged kidnapping in 2013, authorities have said. Epstein allegedly told the undercover agents he arranged similar kidnappings every year or year and a half, U.S. Attorney Joseph Gribko said. Gribko noted the recordings throughout his opening statement, including Epstein allegedly describing how the cattle prods were used.

“If (the cattle prod) can get a bull that weighs 5 tons to move, you put it in certain parts of his body and in one minute the guy will know,” prosecutors said Epstein told two undercover FBI agents posing as a brother and sister trying to force the sister’s husband to grant the divorce. Gribko said he was recorded telling the agents the effort would cost $60,000.

Stahl, holding Epstein’s 1989 book “A Woman’s Guide to the Get Process,” called Gribko’s opening statement an “interesting and compelling story,” but not evidence against Epstein.

Stahl argued that Epstein is simply good at advocating for women and that his reputation is “that he can convince these husbands to go give their wives a get.” Stahl didn’t dispute that “some laws may have been broken along the way,” but said that did not include kidnapping.

Because the man has written the book on the “Get Process” he is guilty of federal crimes? (Maybe especially if said creed is focused on women’s rights?) So far it doesn’t sound as if Epstein has admitted to orchestrating any tortuous means of getting husbands to agree to a divorce; he is only guilty of stating what a cattle prod applied to a sensitive area can do. Even that is a bit ambiguous. We can all imagine what a cattle prod would do, but that doesn’t mean that Epstein isn’t imagining what a cattle prod could do, as opposed to admitting that he used a cattle prod on some man’s sensitive anatomy. I can imagine the effect of applying a cattle prod to a genital region, and I could probably explain my imaginings, too, but that doesn’t mean I have ever even handled a cattle prod, much less used one to determine its capabilities.

Before we all begin sobbing in sympathy under the imagined concept of some poor hapless husband minding  his own business until he has a cattle prod attached to his penis by a rabbinical team intent on getting him to forcibly divorce his wife, let’s look at what a “get” truly is, at least according to Wikipedia:

A get (/ɡɛt/; Hebrew: גט‎, plural gittinגיטין) is a divorcedocument in Jewish religious law, which must be presented by a husband to his wife to effect their divorce. The essential part of the get is very short; the text is “You are hereby permitted to all men”, which means that the wife is no longer a married woman and that the laws of adultery no longer apply. The get also returns to the wife the legal rights that a husband holds in regard to her in a Jewish marriage.

In order for a woman to get a divorce under Jewish religious rules, she has to get her husband to allow her to be “permitted to all men”??? Apparently so. Wikipedia doesn’t link this definition to an exact source that is valid, beyond news articles, but apparently according to news articles, Jewish men are holding their wives “hostage,”by not allowing them to “get” a divorce.

From a Jewish-based newspaper, there are claims of women who are not allowed a “get” by their ex-husbands, because said husbands or ex-husbands have a means to exert control. These aren’t situations in which the men are guilty of simply forgetting to sign on the dotted line:

A recent study of unresolved divorce cases over the past two years in the Chief Rabbinate shows that some 180 women are “chained” to their husbands, while a slightly higher amount of men are “chained” to their wives.

Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, the Director-General of the Rabbinical Courts, says this shows that “the claims by women’s organizations of thousands of women whose husbands refuse to give them divorces have no basis in reality.”

In addition, the numbers show that men are slightly more likely than women to fall victim to “divorce blackmail” by their spouse.

A spouse becomes “chained” when the divorce proceedings have ended, yet his or her spouse refuses to agree to the divorce.  A woman suffers more in this situation, as she is Biblically forbidden to marry again, and children she might bear to another man would be considered bastards according to Halakhah [Jewish Law].  A man is similarly not permitted to marry before being divorced, but the ban is much less severe, and in any event his future children will not be considered illegitimate.

The Rabbinate considered the 942 divorce cases that were opened before 2005 and were still unresolved by the end of 2006 – a fraction of the cases that were opened during the period in question.  Some 16,000 divorce proceedings are begun each year.

Specifically, the review analyzed nearly 350 of the unresolved cases – but which were active in 2005 – and came up with the following numbers: Some 19% remain open because the husband refuses to grant a divorce, while about 20% are open because of the wife’s refusal.

What a wicked web we weave when men try to control how women conceive. Note that the cases that the religious group reviewed were specifically selected, only 350 cases out of 16,000 divorce cases filed, and the cases reviewed were only 350 OF the unresolved cases, or in other words, the cases reviewed were only a fraction of the total number of unresolved divorce cases. It’s probable that the religious investigation consisted of hand selecting and equal number of contested divorce cases and presenting them to the media to make it seem as if women were the real problem–notice that the full number of unresolved divorce cases was not released. The rabbinical group only released an exactly equal number of contested divorces, not the total number of divorce cases, so the extent this problem presents for women has never been fully disclosed.

Now, men who refuse to relinquish sexual “rights” to their wives are suddenly being forced into granting freedoms to their partners by criminal means? Isn’t it illegal to extort someone to sign or break a contract? So, isn’t it illegal to continue to force women to maintain a contract they have wish to break, particularly when it comes to their own sexuality? Does that make it illegal for a rabbi to say that pushing men to grant their wives or ex-wives sexual freedom, according to religious custom, is a violation of criminal law?

Let’s not muddy the waters here with discussion of “men are victims, too” b.s. here, because we aren’t talking about men being victims of not getting their sexual freedoms reversed under religious law–we are talking about women’s sexual rights. Men’s progeny are not impacted by a “get”–women’s progeny are. It’s not about the men. And, should all this seem too Middle Ages to be relevant today, consider that laws have just been rewritten to allow sanctions to be applied to such husbands who won’t agree to a divorce, albeit agreed to be applied equally, but written to address just this problem that the prosecutorial team in the rabbi case claims is not a real problem:

The Knesset, at the end of its recent session this summer, voted into law a bill that allows Rabbinical courts to impose sanctions on spouses who refuse to grant a divorce.  Seri said he welcomes the law, “but only if it is imposed bilaterally, and not only on husbands.”

The law authorizes the courts to issue restraining orders to recalcitrant spouses – orders that can forbid him/her to leave the country, hold a driver’s license or bank account, or even, in some cases, to hold a job.  The courts can even, in extreme cases, order his or her incarceration or, if he/she is already in prison, their isolation.  The sanctions can also include the confiscation of monies and property, as well as the full or partial negation ofpayments and stipends.

“The bill is designed to force a divorce in cases where the Court has decided that one must be issued,” said MK Zevulun Orlev (NRP), who sponsored it together with Likud MK Gideon Saar.

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