Judge sets bail for Jewish scribe, 3 others in kidnapping-divorce case
NEW YORK (CNN) — A federal judge set bail Friday for four of 10 men facing kidnapping charges after allegedly arranging the violent assaults of Orthodox Jewish husbands, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Judge Douglas Arpert set bail at $1 million for Jay “Yaakov” Goldstein, while the other three — Moshe Goldstein, Avrohom Goldstein and Simcha Bulmash — had bail set at $500,000, said Matthew Riley, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey.
Jay Goldstein’s attorney, Aidan P. O’Connor, told CNN on Thursday he hoped his client would be able to leave jail and reunite with his family.
Goldstein, Rabbi Mendel Epstein and Rabbi Martin Wolmark, along with seven other defendants, are accused of accepting tens of thousands of dollars to orchestrate the kidnappings of Jewish husbands to persuade them to grant divorces to their wives, according to a criminal complaint.
Goldstein is a sofer, a Jewish scribe who transcribes the Torah and writes other religious documents, including divorce papers, according to his attorney.
On Wednesday, Arpert set bail between $500,000 and $1 million for the two rabbis, along with four other defendants: Ariel Potash, Binyamin Stimler, David Hellman and Sholom Shuchat.
Arpert also ordered home arrest — with exceptions to leave for medical reasons, attorney meetings and religious purposes — for all six, according to court documents.
Jay Goldstein, the rabbis and the other men were arrested after an FBI undercover investigation that led to a raid on October 9, according to the criminal complaint.
In one conversation with undercover FBI agents, the complaint alleges that Epstein talked about forcing the divorces with the help of hired “tough guys,” who he said used plastic bags to cover the husbands’ heads, and electric cattle prods and karate to assault them.
“I guarantee you that if you’re in the van, you’d give a ‘get’ to your wife. You probably love your wife, but you’d give a ‘get’ when they finish with you,” Epstein told the undercover FBI agents.
A “get” is a document that Jewish law requires a husband to present to his wife to be issued a divorce, the complaint says.
Without it, a woman is considered an “agunah,” a chained woman bound to a man no matter how over their marriage might be. The implications of not having a get are serious in the Orthodox Judaism world. For Jews of other denominations, who interpret Jewish law differently, the requirement of a get is less stringent or dismissed altogether.
An Orthodox Jewish woman who does not receive a get, however, a woman runs the risk of being shunned in her community and labeled an adulteress if she dares move on. And any future children she has are considered bastards permitted to marry only other bastards.
The complaint says that Epstein told the undercover FBI agents that his organization had kidnapped a husband every 12 to 18 months.
The complaint also says that Wolmark told the agents, “You need special rabbis who are going to take this thing and see it through to the end.”
“I can say that we are pleased the court accepted our bail proposal. I anticipate Rabbi Wolmark will be released shortly,” said Marc Agnifilo, Wolmark’s attorney.
“The rabbi is a highly respected Gittin scholar, and he steadfastly denies the allegations that he ordered violence,” said Agnifilo.
Wolmark, Esptein and Potash’s attorneys all told CNN that they are confident their clients will have their bail processed and be out on a house arrest by the end of this week.
CNN’s calls to the other defendant’s attorneys were not answered.
All 10 defendants pleaded not guilty last week. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
CNN’s Chris Boyette, Jessica Ravitz and Rosa Flores contributed to this report.