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New York Rabbis Arrested In FBI Divorce Sting
Two orthodox rabbis have been arrested on charges they plotted to kidnap reluctant husbands to force them to grant religious divorces.
Eight other men have been arrested in an FBI sting in New Jersey and New York.
Rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark charged Jewish women and their families thousands of dollars to obtain religious divorces from unwilling husbands, the FBI said.
Under Orthodox Jewish law, women seeking divorce must obtain their husbands' consent with a document known as a get.
While they can be divorced in the civil courts and remarry legally without the document, those marriages would not be valid under religious law.
"They didn't do it out of religious conviction," Assistant US Attorney Joseph Gribko told a judge in a federal court hearing for the suspects.
"They did it for money."
The rabbis allegedly charged around $50,000 (£31,000) for their services.
The undercover operation began in August when an FBI agent posing as a woman trying to get a divorce contacted the rabbis.
Another FBI agent posed as the woman's brother.
During the meetings, the rabbi spoke about "kidnapping, beating and torturing husbands in order to force a divorce", the FBI complaint said.
"Basically what we are going to be doing is kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beating him up and torturing him and then getting him to give the get," Rabbi Epstein is quoted as saying during the conversation, which was videotaped.
According to the FBI, Epstein offered to convince the husband by employing "tough guys" who place plastic bags over the heads of husbands and even use electric cattle prods.
"If it 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," he said, according to the complaint.
The undercover agents transferred him a $20,000 (£12,500) down payment, the complaint said.
Marc Agnifilo, a lawyer for Rabbi Wolmark, said: "It's a very complex case
"The government says it's all about money, but I don't think that's quite right."
Mr Agnifilo called coercion and even violence to get husbands to grant religious divorces "an old tradition".