Did you hear the one about the man from New Jersey who refused to divorce his wife? Eight Jewish heavies wearing Halloween masks and brandishing cattle prods turned up in a warehouse with the aim of kidnapping and torturing him until he agreed to give a get. But when the gang arrived to carry out their plan, they found an FBI agent waiting for them.
This was no Purim spiel but the details of a case heard earlier this month in a court in Trenton, New Jersey.
On March 6, one of the gang members, David Hellman, pleaded guilty to charges which could lead to him receiving a $250,000 fine and 20 years in prison. The 31-year-old personal trainer from Brooklyn was remanded on $500,000 bail with GPS monitoring.
Then on March 10, according to the US Attorney’s Office, the brothers Avrohom, 31, and Moshe Goldstein, 34, also pleaded guilty to crossing state lines to commit extortion, and were similarly remanded.
Hellman, the Goldstein brothers and five other men (including the Goldsteins’ 59-year-old father, Jay) were accused of driving the 60 miles from Brooklyn to a Trenton warehouse on October 9, 2013, with the intention of tying up, torturing and using karate on a husband to force him to give his wife a get.
Two other men — Rabbi Mendel Epstein, 68, a prominent strictly-Orthodox divorce mediator in Brooklyn, New York; and Rabbi Martin Wolmark, 55, head of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey, New York — are also charged in connection with the case.
Epstein and Wolmark are suspected of masterminding the operation.
Epstein, who published a “Bill of Rights of a Jewish Wife” in August 2013, has strong views on the rights of agunot. He wrote that refusing a get can “prolong the process and increase the suffering, usually on the woman’s side of the equation.”
Epstein argued that this suffering can poison the children against the halachic Judaism that insists on the get, rather than against the father who is refusing to grant it.
According to court documents, Epstein charged $60,000 for a violent “get” — $10,000 to pay the rabbis on the rabbinical court to approve the kidnapping and $50,000 to hire the muscle to carry it out.
When the eight men arrived at the warehouse to put the plan into practice, they met a man they thought was the husband’s brother-in-law, but it was in fact an FBI agent.
Hellman admitted that they discussed their torture plans with the agent.
The fact that the men travelled between states — from New York to New Jersey — makes it a federal offence with more dire legal consequences.