10 Years Instead of Life: Orthodox Rabbi, Who Faced Max Life in Prison, Gets 10 Years After an Impassioned Sentencing Argument by Criminal Defense Attorney Robert G. Stahl
TRENTON, NJ - Orthodox Rabbi of Lakewood, New Jersey has committed his life to helping Orthodox Jewish women obtain religious divorces so that they could continue to live frum, religious lives. To remarry, an Orthodox woman must obtain a religious divorce - a get - in addition to a civil, secular divorce.
Without a get, a woman cannot remarry or have children; she is known as an agunah, a chained woman, chained to the prior marriage. Only the husband has the ability to grant the religious divorce and the get must be of the ex-husband's own free will.
Unfortunately, civil-divorced Orthodox Jewish husbands can refuse to give religious divorces to their ex-wives. Whether they are being vindictive, abusive, angry, or simply seeking substantial monetary payment, husbands' refusal to approve the get leaves ex-wives in religious and Jewish community limbo.
The Rabbi has spent his life protecting the right of these Orthodox Jewish women who are involuntarily chained to these bad marriages. When their husbands do not agree to the get, these wives are derisively called, agunots, an unflattering Hebrew term meaning that they are anchored to their husbands.
Defense Attorney Robert G. Stahl represented the Rabbi in a seven-week U.S. District Court trial in Trenton, New Jersey. The Orthodox Rabbi and three others had been charged with, among other things, conspiracy to kidnap and kidnapping.
The case stemmed from an FBI sting operation in which the defendants were alleged to have agreed to kidnap a husband who allegedly refused to give his wife a get. In this case both the "husband" and the "wife" were undercover FBI special agents.
A Trenton federal jury found the Orthodox Rabbi guilty of kidnapping conspiracy but not of kidnapping. In addition, his son was acquitted of the kidnapping charges lodged against him.
At the Rabbi's December 2015 sentencing, attorney Stahl made an impassioned argument for leniency. The Rabbi, who had faced life imprisonment, received a 10-year federal prison sentence.
After the jury's verdict, Mr. Stahl said in a statement that his defense had proved there was a group of devoted Rabbis trying their best to help victimized women who were chained to terrible marriages. Their husbands steadfastly and stubbornly refused to grant gets which would allow these trapped women to move on and live fulfilling, 'frum' (religiously observant), lives."
Defense Attorney Robert G. Stahl Interview
on Crime Watch Daily, WPIX, April 6 2016
Rabbi Epstein's Request for Bail Pending Appeal
U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson in Trenton denied rabbis Mendel Epstein of Lakewood and Binyamin Stimler of Brooklyn bail pending their appeals.
Coverage of Judge Wolfson's decision appears in NJ Advance Media for NJ.com.
Rabbi Epstein's Sentencing
"Stahl, however, acknowledged that in his zeal to help women in desperate situations, Epstein had 'crossed the line' and broken secular law. Still, Stahl argued for a lighter sentence, citing Epstein's good works and multiple health problems, including a heart condition and severe sleep apnea."
Robert G. Stahl leaving courthouse with Rabbi Mendel Epstein
"The sentence for Rabbi Mendel Epstein, 70, is less than what the federal government had requested for a man prosecutors said was the head of a well-organized operation that kidnapped and beat men. But it also was more than what his defense attorney argued was deserving of a man who devoted his life to good deeds and charitable acts."
"Stahl had argued that Epstein's sentence should be less than that for the traditional kidnapping cases before judges, which usually involve murder, terrorism or child abduction."
"Defense lawyer Robert Stahl called Epstein a 'champion of women's rights.' Epstein wrote the 1989 book 'A Woman's Guide to the Get Process.'
"The problem of recalcitrant husbands in the Jewish faith is dealt with in a few ways but can be complicated in the US, said Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America. In Israel, he said, husbands who refuse to grant divorces can be imprisoned. Because that can't happen in the United States, communities sometimes exert social pressure on the husband."
Rabbi Epstein's Conviction
In his opening statement, Epstein’s attorney, Robert Stahl, described his client as a "champion of women’s rights." (Epstein wrote the 1989 book A Woman’s Guide to the Get Process.) "This is not a criminal conspiracy to have a bogus divorce and cheat the woman out of money. The government likes to paint this as it’s something about money. It’s not. It’s about the woman and letting her move on in life, getting divorced," Stahl said.
Lawyer: Rabbi accused of forcing divorces was ‘exaggerating’
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — An Orthodox rabbi accused of using brutal tactics to force unwilling Jewish men to divorce their wives was "puffing and exaggerating" when he talked to undercover FBI agents, his lawyer said Tuesday.