According to the laws and tenants of Judaism, women cannot remarry until their husband gives them a “get,” or a Jewish religious divorce. Women who are trapped in failed marriages and denied gets are labeled as “agunot,” meaning “chained women.” There has been a gang operating in New York and New Jersey, comprised of Jewish men and rabbis, travailing to free “agunahs” through force, using handcuffs and electric cattle prods. A number of these men have been tried and sentenced for extortion recently.
In October 2013, Avrohom Goldstein, Ariel Potash and Sholom Shuchat traveled from New York to a warehouse in Edison New Jersey. They were joined by Moshe and Jay Goldstein (Avrohom’s brother and father), David Hellman, Simcha Bulmash, Binyamin Stimler, to meet with a woman and her brother to force the divorce by by confining, restraining and threatening woman’s husband into granting her a get. According to Shore News Magazine, “Shuchat was there to witness and authenticate the get, which Potash would later deliver to the wife.” Little did they know, the woman and her “brother” were undercover FBI agents. The men were arrested and charged.
Also arrested and charged were rabbis Mendel Epstein and Martin Wolmark, who linked the woman with the gang. The FBI agent masquerading as an agunah claimed that Epstein put her in touch with Wolmark, who said she needed “special rabbis” to get her get.
Avrohom Goldstein, Potash and Shuchat were all charged with one count of traveling in interstate commerce to commit extortion. Avrohom Goldstein was sentenced to 45 months in prison yesterday. Potash got 14 months. Shuchat was sentenced to time served. In addition to their sentences, each of the three will each serve two years of supervised release.
In November, Moshe Goldstein was sentenced to four years in prison on the same charge in November. Hellman caught 44 months and Bulmash was sentenced to 48 months. Stimler and Jay Goldstein were both convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping. they are scheduled to be sentenced next month.
The rabbis will also be sentenced in December. Rabbi Epstein was convicted on a charge of conspiracy to kidnap and acquitted of attempted kidnapping. Rabbi Wolmark pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion.
Though the charges against these men are serious, they are considered by some to be advocates for women.