No religion is immune from immoral, illegal, or even insane actions by radical church leaders. Religions, just like men, are not infallible; nothing is perfect. When an imam, priest, pastor, or rabbi breaks federal or state law, their religious laws and policies become a secondary consideration. In New Jersey, a rabbi is accused of kidnapping and torture of men who refused to grant a divorce to their wives.
Rabbi Mendel Epstein leads an Orthodox community of about 60,000 in Lakewood, New Jersey. Epstein, his son, and three other conspirators claim that they were following Jewish law, and therefore did not commit a crime. He was recorded telling two undercover FBI agents that they were going to kidnap a man for a couple of hours. The Rabbi faces multiple charges of organizing teams which committed kidnappings and attempted kidnappings.
Other recordings revealed instruments of torture and their use on the men whose only crime was refusing to divorce their wives. In 2013 Epstein’s team brought surgical blades, rope, and a screwdriver with them. Another recording described the use of cattle prods and handcuffs. Rabbi Jacob Goldstein testified for the prosecution. He said that it has long been a practice in his faith to coerce an unwilling husband to end a bad marriage, physical threats and violence are not allowed. He said that according to Jewish law, the law of the land is the law.
Epstein’s attorney Robert Stahl calls him ‘a champion of women’s rights.’ The divorce document is called a ‘get.’ Epstein is the author of a 1989 book, ‘A Woman’s Guide to the Get Process.’ Rabbi Epstein reportedly committed kidnapping nearly once every year.
Several of Epstein’s co-defendants have plead guilty, and others will be tried along with the rabbi.
Stahl says that he is anxious for the trial to begin. He says that witnesses and the evidence will prove that although some laws may have been broken, kidnapping was not one of them.
A key prosecution witness will face serious cross-examination regarding his credibility. David Wax plead guilty to one charge of ‘conspiracy to commit a kidnapping.’ He claims to have been paid $100,000 to kidnap a Jewish man and force him to sign papers granting his wife a ‘get.’
Multiple cases pitting religious rights against the law are in the process of resolution. Last year Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill labeled as protecting religious freedom. It would have restricted certain freedoms for the LGBT community. Her explanation for her veto was that although religious freedom is a core value in Arizona, so is non-discrimination.
Another test before the courts is whether or not businesses can be forced to offer health insurance to their employees which includes birth control, equated by some zealots with abortion.
Can businesses such as bakeries and wedding photographers be forced to allow their services to be used for same-sex marriages, if their beliefs denounce the gay and lesbian lifestyle?
Several states from Utah to Mississippi are writing laws similar to the one vetoed in Arizona; if passed will they be upheld by the Supreme Court?
The final test will prove whether or not America is a free country or a nation ruled by the few; an oligarchy. Although any organization, including religions, have the right to protest and attempt to influence legislation, the views of one small group cannot be allowed to force the majority to comply with its wishes and beliefs. We cannot allow special interests, our government, or the courts to continue rewriting our Constitution to please themselves or their constituents. They cannot be allowed to erase the phrase “all men are created equal.”
Commentary by James Turnage