Prosecution of Religious Kidnapping-for-Hire Ring

From the Criminal Complaint in United States v. Epstein (D.N.J. filed Oct. 7, 2013):

I. According to Jewish law, in order to effect a divorce, a husband must provide his wife with a document known as a “get.” Although a divorce may only be initiated by the husband issuing a get, the wife has the right to sue for divorce in a rabbinical court, known as a “beth din,” which may order the husband to issue the get. If the husband refuses the court’s demand, he may be subjected to various penalties in order to pressure him into consenting to the divorce, i. e., giving the get. A woman whose husband will not consent to a divorce is known as an “agunah” (“agunot” in plural).

2. Defendants MENDEL EPSTEIN and MARTIN WOLMARK are Jewish Rabbis who charge agunot and their families thousands of dollars to obtain gets from recalcitrant husbands by means of violence.

3. Defendants ARIEL POTASH and FNU LNU a/k/a “Yaakov” are Orthodox Jewish men who assist Defendants MENDEL EPSTEIN and MARTIN WOLMARK in obtaining gets from recalcitrant husbands by means of violence.

4. Essentially the Defendants’ organization operated as follows. The family of an agunah made contact with the Defendants. The agunah ‘s family then made payment to the Defendants, after which the Defendants convened a beth din, which issued a contempt order, known as a “seruv,” against the husband. If the husband failed to respond, the beth din issued a ruling, known as a “psak din,” authorizing the use of coercion and/or violence to obtain the get. The Defendants then arranged to kidnap the recalcitrant husband and assault him until he consented to the divorce, i.e., until he “gave the get.”

5. In a recorded conversation on August 14, 2013, Defendant MENDEL EPSTEIN admitted to planning, approving and committing numerous kidnappings and coerced gets. Specifically, Defendant EPSTEIN claimed that his organization kidnaped one recalcitrant husband approximately every year or year and a half…

Yow. Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) has more, with links to news stories. The prosecution is under 18 U.S.C. § 1201, the federal kidnapping statute. No, there’s no viable religious exemption claim, even under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (I’m pretty sure there’s a “compelling governmental interest” in preventing kidnapping). Also, “Lnu? Doesn’t sound Jewish.”