A group of rabbis faces kidnapping charges after allegedly hiring "tough guys" to torture husbands in an effort to persuade them to divorce their wives, according to the FBI.
The women paid tens of thousands of dollars to the rabbis for their services, according to a criminal complaint. One of the accused rabbis allegedly told an undercover agent that their hired help would cover the husbands' heads with plastic bags and use electric cattle prods and karate to assault them, according to the FBI.
"Did these guys watch the Sopranos too many times?" Rabbi Shmuley Boteach told HLN. "It's an affront to faith. You want to go to the gym and fix up your guns -- you’re not supposed to be using them on other people. We rabbis use our mouths – we don’t beat people up."
Under Jewish law, a husband must present a wife with a "get," a religious divorce document to release her from the marriage. In the case of an unwilling husband, Rabbi Shmuley says the wife can pressure him -- legally -- with the help of rabbis.
"We can shame him in public -- there are communities where they even take out giant billboards," Rabbi Shmuley said. "They will revoke people’s synagogue memberships. They make it impossible for them to attend communal events. They’ll even ostracize them communally, telling people, 'Don’t invite them to your family celebrations.' Slowly the guy gets the message."
Rabbis Mendel Epstein, Martin Wolmark, Jay Goldstein and seven other defendants pleaded not guilty on Thursday. FBI agents say the organization kidnapped a husband every 12 to 18 months. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
"We Jews live by the law of the land, we are patriotic American citizens. You can’t break the law. You can’t use religious law to break the secular law -- the government’s law. If they are found guilty, they will have to suffer the consequences of any other criminal, this is criminal activity," said Rabbi Shmuley. "They’re destroying Judaism and destroying the good name of the Jewish community through the most despicable vigilante behavior."