Rabbi Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison for Coercing Religious Divorces
Orthodox Rabbi Mendel Epstein of Brooklyn, New York was sentenced to ten years in prison on December 15th for his part in a conspiracy involving physical and emotional abuse to coerce Jewish husbands to divorce their wives. Under the Orthodox Jewish faith, only husbands may initiate religious divorce, which is formalized through a document dissolving the marriage under Jewish law called a “get“. This religious doctrine has long meant that a wife desiring to be divorced may not do so without her husband’s approval.
During a FBI sting investigation, Rabbi Mendel Epstein offered a way out for women dealing with obstinate husbands that refused to grant their wives a divorce through intimidation and physical abuse. Epstein, who had a reputation for being able to get husbands to acquiesce to divorce, charged clients up to $60,000 to ensure a husband would provide a get. Epstein utilized an eight-person team that kidnapped husbands and often used brutal techniques including, physical beatings, torture, suffocation with plastic bags, and the use of cattle prods to force husbands into submission. The cattle prod, famously used as a human killing device in the film No Country for Old Men, garnered Rabbi Epstein the ominous nickname “The Prodfather.”
At his sentencing on Tuesday, Rabbi Epstein pleaded with the Court for leniency, noting that everything he had done was with pure intentions. According to Epstein, he only authorized and facilitated the kidnappings and physical abuse to help deserving wives obtain a religious divorce of which they were entitled from husbands who refused to grant it. Prosecutors, however, pointed out that Rabbi Epstein’s motives were not so altruistic, noting his fee of up to $60,000. Ultimately, the Judge sided with the prosecutors in levying a ten-year sentence, noting that such a harsh sentence was necessary to deter others from engaging in such practices.
It is important to note that religious divorce is distinct and different from legal divorce. Many different faiths have their own individual requirements on grounds for divorce, however, legal divorce is controlled by state law. Further, religious Divorces do not constitute a legal divorce under state laws. For example, in North Carolina a divorce pursuant to religious law does not legally legal dissolve a marriage.
To speak with someone about filing for Divorce in North Carolina, please call us today at (704) 810-1400 to schedule a consultation.