Rabbi Mendel Epstein began a 10-year sentence on March 1st after being sentenced by a New York judge in December 2015 for kidnapping and torturing men into granting their wives religious divorces. This may sound a bit outrageous, but in order to understand the Rabbi’s crime, you must first understand the basics of Jewish divorce.
Many are aware that while a couple may be validly divorced by a court and in the eyes of the law, that does not mean that their religion automatically recognizes them as divorced. In the Jewish religion in particular, a divorce, even one that has already been finalized via the court system, is not valid until a husband presents a “get” to his wife. The get is the religious divorce decree, and a Jewish woman is not able to remarry until she has received it.
Thus, although a Jewish couple may obtain a legal divorce or dissolution through the California court system, the divorce decree alone is not enough to dissolve a Jewish marriage. This is significant because if a Jewish woman does remarry without having received a get, the marriage is not considered valid in the eyes of the Jewish religion. Even worse, if she has children from such an invalid marriage, the children are considered to be illegitimate under Jewish law.
Unfortunately though, as you have probably realized from the discussion above, the Jewish law only allows the man to initiate a divorce by giving the woman a get. The woman has no ability to initiate a religious divorce herself. As you can imagine, in scenarios where the woman wishes to divorce, but the husband disagrees, this may result in a significant hardship to the woman. A woman is essentially at her husband’s bidding and tied to him in religious marriage with no available recourse (except in very few circumstances).
Now enter Rabbi Epstein, who claims his actions were done out of a sense of compassion and desire to help the women who came to him who wanted to remarry but their husbands refused to give them a get. That’s kind of endearing, right? Well it is, just until you find out how he actually convinced the men to give their wives gets.
It turns out that Rabbi Epstein was the ringleader of a gang of 9 men who would kidnap men and then torture them until they agreed to give their wives the get. The gang handcuffed the men, beat them for hours, and most controversially used an electric cattle prodder; landing Epstein the nickname of the “Prodfather.” Apparently the 70-year-old Rabbi had been doing this for years, and wasn’t caught until an undercover federal agent posed as a woman seeking his…services. He reportedly asked the agent for $60,000 to force her [fake] husband into giving her the get.
While it is easy to see how someone might want to help a woman receive a get from an unwilling husband, the exorbitant cost of Epstein’s services shows him to be much less of a philanthropist than he would like us to believe. Epstein isn’t alone here, as Rabbi Binyamin Stimler, another member of the “gang,” was sentenced to 3 years and 3 months for his role in assisting Epstein with this torture for money. While we find it interesting to see how religion and the law intersect, we are troubled by the steps taken to effectuate these religious divorces.
Regardless of your religious affiliation, it is important that you have competent and experienced legal representation during your divorce. Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.