Bad Rabbi: Tales of Extortion and Torture Depict a Divorce Broker's Brutal Grip on the Orthodox Community

Bad Rabbi: Tales of Extortion and Torture Depict a Divorce Broker's Brutal Grip on the Orthodox Community
Brian Stauffer

This much Abraham Rubin knew: He was lying, blindfolded and handcuffed, in the back of a van. He could feel it winding through the streets. He figured at least three men were in there with him, plus the driver. There was the one who'd stepped out of nowhere and punched him in the face as he walked down 56th Street in Brooklyn's Borough Park neighborhood just a few minutes earlier. And two, maybe three others who'd bull-rushed him and threw him into the van.

"He says he is the undertaker of failed marriages," says Gordon. "The relationship dies; someone has to bury it."

"We only want you to be a Jew," one of them said in Yiddish.

The van stopped. Rubin heard a door open and the men getting out. "The rabbi is coming," one said. Then the sound of two or more men climbing in beside him.

One asked Rubin in English to repeat what he was about to say.

"On the fourth day of the week, the 10th day of the month of Heshvan in the year 5757 in the creation of the world . . ."

It was the beginning of an oath, and the 31-year-old Rubin, a rabbi himself, knew the words that would follow.

He told the man that he would not repeat them.

That's when the punching began. A relentless onslaught of fists, pummeling his torso and face. Then came the stun gun, jolting Rubin's entire body, over and over. Rubin felt the men pull down his pants, felt the device applied to his genitals. Again and again.

Eventually, the words flowed from him.

". . . willingly consent, being under no duress, to release, discharge, and divorce you to be on your own, you, my wife . . .

". . . so that you are permitted and have authority over yourself to go and marry any man you desire . . .

". . . This shall be for you from me a bill of dismissal, a letter of release, and a document of absolution, in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel."

Three hours after snatching him off the street, at around 10 o'clock on the night of October 23, 1996, his abductors left Rubin, still blindfolded and handcuffed, at the entrance to a cemetery.

Six days a week, 13th Avenue, Borough Park's central commercial thoroughfare, bustles. The sidewalks are crammed, a steady stream of patrons flowing in and out of the many shops. The storefronts, bearing signs written in Hebrew script, are diverse — from shoes to books to fruits and vegetables. Pedestrian attire, on the other hand, is unvarying. The men wear long black coats and wide-brimmed black felt hats. Many carry a book tucked under an arm. The women, who favor long black skirts and running shoes, push strollers.

On Saturdays, 13th Avenue feels like an empty movie set. Even the Duane Reade is closed. Residents of Borough Park honor the Sabbath. According to a 2011 study by the United Jewish Appeal–Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, more than three-fourths of the neighborhood's population of 170,000 is Jewish. The district's city councilman, David Greenfield, has called Borough Park "the Jewish capital of the United States."

The first local synagogue opened its doors in 1904, about the time Jewish immigrants began building a community in the neighborhood. Waves of new families from Europe arrived following each World War. Through the second half of the 20th century, as Americans of all faiths uprooted for the suburbs, Borough Park's population turned increasingly Orthodox, a trend fueled by an influx of immigrants who practiced the ultra-conservative Haredi strain of Judaism. The UJA–Federation study reported that 80 percent of Borough Park Jews classified themselves as Orthodox. Only 2 percent classified themselves as Reform, the religion's most popular liberal denomination in the U.S. Among the respondents, 94 percent answered that their "closest friends are mostly Jewish."

In Borough Park, faith is deeply embedded into day-to-day life. Present in buildings: Affixed to the right side of nearly every doorframe is a mezuzah. Present in travel: Inside the B110 bus, which offers special express service between Borough Park and Williamsburg but doesn't accept MetroCards, a sign reads, "When boarding a crowded bus with standing passengers in the front, women should board the back door after paying the driver in the front." Present in disagreements: Community members rarely take their legal disputes to civil court, choosing instead to settle them through a Jewish rabbinical court, a beth din. An insular legal system governed by Jewish law, the beth din perhaps best embodies the community's self-sufficiency.

For the court's proceedings, litigants typically hire an advocate, known as a to'ein, to argue the case.

In Borough Park, few to'anim were as prominent as Mendel Epstein.

Epstein, now 68, was known to many in the Orthodox Jewish community as a devoted feminist. Stout and bald, with a bushy beard and a steely demeanor, he specialized in divorces. Over three decades he built a reputation for effectively representing women. Says one local rabbi, "He presented himself as a champion for the underdog."

The women who came to Epstein often had a singular problem: Their husbands refused to grant them a get, a document without which an Orthodox Jewish marriage cannot be dissolved. The rule can be traced to the biblical Book of Deuteronomy, and its sway remains stifling: Without a get, a woman who remarries is considered adulterous. Any children fathered by her new husband are illegitimate under Orthodox law and prohibited from marrying within the faith.

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24 comments
rcaextortion
rcaextortion

The article sorely overlooks that facts of rampant filing of false abuse charges--women told by Epstein that they can and should file false abuse charges to deny their husband's custody--that this happens first before any state of limbo happens--and the rampant misuse of orders of protections to just throw husbands out of their own homes for which they are paying rent or the mortgage; that there are "recalcitrant" intransigent women making unfair unequitable divorce demands.

The article fails to bring to light that many rabbis consider Epstein a quack--meaning his so-called knowledge and arguments were just bunk--i've been present to see him presiding as a judge (not a lawyer-toen) try & pass notes to his client on what claims to make--that is a clear violation of judicial procedure for a judge; the article overlooks the accusations of Epstein's confessions of pedophilia and that he can get away with anything with anyone's children.

The article has very little discussion of the numerous charges of corruption & bribery of the police, the D.A.'s (Gribbitz & Hynes and undoubtedly others) the FBI's lack of action and lie that they did not investigate when several citizens have stepped forward and said the FBI investigated Epstein decades ago.  The FBI's statement that they have no files on Epstein is just a lie.

IMHO, the article fails to cover many, many issues.  Some issues are illuded to.  But, not clearly stated.  

As Oswald Spengler put it, 'you can't really understand a culture you were not brought up in'.  But this much needs to be clear, that Epstein is just singing a song people want to hear, so he can make money.  He is no feminist.  He is not a fundamentalist.  He is no champion of the underdog.  He is just a criminal and an extortionist who operates outside the laws--American and Mosaic.  And, lots and lots of corrupt public officials are aiding him for their own personal corrupt reasons and they are on the take.

mooser42001
mooser42001

The Rabbi said: "They'll think it's some crazy Jewish affair"   Why, if that hadn't been said by a Rabbi, I would think it was anti-Semetic!

NJMediator
NJMediator

The article ends: "He hasn't signed the Get". The husband does not sign a Get; he authorizes that it be written. Witnesses then sign it. It is very difficult to explain a religious procedure in a popular journal that is not well-versed in all that is part of the Get process. The bottom line is that Rabbi Epstein is accused of violating the law. He may have meant well, or not, but American law governs the behavior of Orthodox Jews. For those who used this opportunity to take aim at religious behavior, the answer is simple. The behavior described here did not rise to religious behavior. The salacious details do not in any way controvert this conclusion.

dubsdingleberries
dubsdingleberries

Thank you orthodox Jews for honoring me with abuse, insults, bad behavior and treatment that ignores the fact that non-religious Jews are simply your equal.  Your lifestyle is nothing short of hysterical and insane  -- the politics of blind support for Israel is deeply disturbed -- your religious beliefs are no better than members of any other cult or religion that cause suffering to the participants.  Signed...an actual Jew.

skier456
skier456

Women without a Get cannot get married, so are relegated to a life of celibacy with no children other than the ones they already have.  If it were men in that situation, would the article be written differently?

bestsustenance
bestsustenance

7 pages? Not to say that Im impressed with the behavior of said Rabbi, but I cant wait to see how many pages  the HOLEY Village Voice will devote to all the salacious details of  each Knockout perp and Knockout crime, and cant wait to see the mocking tone employed by the writer about each perp......!

Nah, that wouldnt be PC. Fuegedabatit.

Fair treatment, my HOLEY PC friends! 

dubsdingleberries
dubsdingleberries

Science tells us that the "dimensionality of God" collectively felt by all who participate in a specific set of religious practices is by agreement amongst themselves. If there were an actual material "God" dispensing "holy authority", it would controvert all advanced laws of physics and all advanced understanding of what science actually is. This simple fact applies to secret satanic rituals or a Catholic Eucharist or people applauding one another at Scientology meetings -- take your pick.  Hard to believe, I'm sure, but Judaism is in the same category when it comes to its relation with science.

Is that an attack on Judaism?  

No...because science recognizes that religions fulfill specific human needs involving our understanding of that which is non-material. Does it pose a threat to those who would use religion to solicit either blood, or money or the capital of people's hard labor for their own power and enrichment?  Yes, I think it does, and thank God for that!  The political structures that incorporate violence most effectively do so...with invocations of "God."  God wants you to fight for us...the Jews!  Or...God is calling you to be a suicide bomber -- an "Army of One" member -- or any collectivized violent structure.  Your induction into any part or section of the U.S. military is based on an oath -- and oaths always involve "God."  That way, when you come home with your legs missing, or in a casket, those who wrote the orders aren't responsible -- only God knows why your particular tragedy had to happen -- even though a scientific analysis would point to the functioning of a hugely profit-driven industry based on these catastrophic events involving the lives of innocent young men and women.


I'll tell you what...I'll say a prayer for you and a prayer for those who believe that God is good...and the main reason billions (actually, upon second thought, "trillions") must be spent on weapons whilst people the world over suffer the consequences.  I'll say a prayer that you one day wake up and realize that there's nothing good about a God that prevails over science.

bestsustenance
bestsustenance

An actual Jew? Jew by birth perhaps, not by practice. If you dont believe and observe the Torah, thats all you are. I dont despise you, my brother. It would be nice if you didnt despise me for my choices and keeping the faith of my ancestors, all the while living successfully in the secular world, in every way.

whateveryousay
whateveryousay topcommenter

@skier456 What is to stop a woman from just walking away, file for a divorce and move on?


mooser42001
mooser42001

Bestsustenance, when did you turn white? I thought we were Jewish, not white?  Are you now rejecting your Jewishness?
 Please, sir, don't tell me Jews are white. I want at least one thing to be proud of!

omanlieder
omanlieder

@bestsustenance The knockout crime is bullshit. But hey, thanks for bringing up a completely manufactured crime.

DoctorBucephalus
DoctorBucephalus

@dubsdingleberries Thanks for launching on that long-winded philosophical treatise of yours without warning, said no one, ever. Way to blanket over all the distinctions underlying NJMediator's points. I mean, if the man never says anything is being attacked, even if some of the tone (*salacious") is indicative, aren't you out of line responding to him as if he did say it? I don't think anything you've written contradicts anything the above commenter initially posted. For a rationalist, you should really watch the non-sequiturs, as the irony there gets pretty thick.

dubsdingleberries
dubsdingleberries

@bestsustenance   The Torah is your religious document.  Not mine.  I didn't choose it...and there is actually nothing to indicate that not choosing the Torah makes my "Jewishness" less than yours -- even though you insist that to be the case.  Likewise, the fact that you can find other religious Jews who agree with you and support your thinking...does not make it valid -- just as the leader of any church or cult is not validated by the fact that he (or she) has followers.  If you choose to believe that your way is "the" way, because of texts written in the dark past -- before science prevailed -- you're welcome to do so; however, the relationship of your thinking to reality is tenuous at best.  I can find videos of orthodox Jews wherein they declare that "Arabs" or Palestinians are animals.  The fact that you may agree or disagree with those sentiments does not make them valid, not does it invalidate them -- although it stands to reason that thinking of Palestinians in this manner is not rational or productive in any way, shape or form.  By the way...you're not my brother.

womanphoenix
womanphoenix

What's to stop her?  Oh, being disowned by her family, possibly stripped of all she owns, not being able to marry within the Orthodox community, things like that.

Think you could easily make that choice, if you were a woman reared in that culture?

bestsustenance
bestsustenance

And the Rabbi's crime is more real?

Hey, any crime the O in the big white house in DC doesnt speak of, doesnt exist, remember?

mooser42001
mooser42001

<i>"What makes you Jewish?"</i>

Hey, best sustenance, you make me, a Jew, sick!  You want to know what a Jew is? I'll tell you what my Father told me a Jew is: "Son, at one time, saying 'I am a Jew'  could lose a man his life, or subject him to discrimination.  As far as I'm concerned, any man brave enough to say he is a Jew, is one"

I have always found his advice sound.

And BTW, best sustenance, there aren't that many of us left, why do you want to kick anybody else out? So there will be more Jewish for you?
 When there aren't enough Jews left for Yom Kippur, will you get to fast for a whole week?

bestsustenance
bestsustenance

Hopefully you and I agree that we all have the right to choose what we believe. Hopefully you and I agree that there are good people and bad people  within every group in the human race, whether believers of any kind, or non-believers. Good luck to you as well.

dubsdingleberries
dubsdingleberries

@bestsustenance I'll tell you what...you win the argument.  Your a "real" Jew and I'm not a real Jew.  How's that?  Is that what you need?  I grew up in a Jewish family -- I'm not defending the degree or level of my Jewishness.  My grandfather was an editor for "The Jewish Daily Forward" for 60 years.  I could provide other details of being raised as a Jew, but I'm not going to.  We're commenting on an article that delineates the most primal dysfunction anyone could imagine -- within the Jewish faith.  Is the "bad Rabbi" also more Jewish than me?  There's no argument here -- no debate.  The abuse of the Palestinian people speaks for itself when looking at Orthodox Jewry -- there's nothing to add.  Good luck.

bestsustenance
bestsustenance

No human is an animal. Some humans, among them Jews and non-Jews, behave  animal-like though.

If observing the Torah in some form doesnt make someone Jewish, what does?

What makes you Jewish?

bestsustenance
bestsustenance

Ok, so to be healed from my malady,  if theres any hope at all for me, that is, must  I also  judge ALL lovers of Israel badly and judge  ALL Arabs well?

Thinkin' about it.

mooser42001
mooser42001

What we are seeing here with ol' bestsustenance, is another unfortunate sufferer of the "Ziocaine Syndrome".  This unfortunate collection of behaviors causes some people to act as if they are intoxicated by cocaine and alchohol whenever certain subjects are discussed.

It's a shocking display, but I believe its sufferers demand our empathy.

womanphoenix
womanphoenix

"Crimes", you mean.  And they are quite real and of long standing.

But hey, you'll say anything you can to help keep people hating and fearing black folk, as your goal is to cut Corporate America's taxes and thus social programs.  (See also: Southern Strategy, Lee Atwater.)

 

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