A New Jersey rabbi and his wife appeared in federal court Monday after surrendering to the FBI on charges that they conspired to kidnap, beat and ransom an Israeli citizen wanted by religious authorities for refusing his wife a divorce, court documents show.
Rabbi David Wax, the author of several books on Jewish law, is alleged to have lured a man identified by the FBI only as Y.M.B. to his Lakewood home in October of last year, where two unidentified men handcuffed, bound and beat him for hours, brandishing a body bag and threatening to bury him alive in the Poconos Mountains unless he agreed to dissolve his marriage, according to the criminal complaint obtained by HuffPost Crime.
"Do you want a funeral or a divorce?" Wax reportedly threatened the victim's father over a recorded call, according to the complaint.
Half an hour into the hours-long ordeal, the victim had acquiesced in English and Hebrew to the religious divorce he had allegedly refused to grant for years and even fled his home to avoid. The assailants allegedly demanded cash payments from the victim's father to the woman's family in exchange for the victim's life.
Earlier reports of the attack identified the subject as Yisrael Meir Bryskman, 36, who fled to the United States from Israel, where he faces possible prison time for refusing to grant a religious divorce, called a 'get,' which would allow his wife to remarry under Jewish law. The couple had been separated for years, but they remained locked in a bitter custody battle over their children.
The FBI report alleges that the victim fled Israel for the United States during legal proceedings surrounding his divorce.
Although some religious men may refuse to give a get and may even serve jail time in Israel to avoid one, Bryskman (sometimes spelled Israel Meir Briskman)'s case had gained notoriety in Orthodox circles. In a rare move, Israel's High Rabbinical Court even placed an ad directing religious Jews around the world to shun the spouse. According to YNET News, the ad said:
"The High Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem calls on the Israeli communities and the judges and rabbis of Israel wherever they may be to implement these rules of alienation and refuse the 'divorce refuser' Israel Meir Briskman any financial, physical, or legal aid until he carries out his sentence and grants his wife an unconditional, immediate divorce.
Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, told The Huffington Post authorities could not disclose the nature of the relationship between the the victim's wife, who lives in Israel, and his assailants, or whether something else might have motivated the attack.
"The investigation is continuing," Carmichael told HuffPost Crime.
FBI records show that the victim's wife flew from Tel Aviv to New York on Oct. 15, just before the alleged attack, and returned on Oct. 18, the day after. They also show several calls from Wax's cell phone and numbers for the wife and her family in Israel.
While little is apparently known about what motivated the attack, the 11-page complaint includes a meticulous account of the early morning hours of Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010, when it is alleged to have occurred.
According to the report, the victim arrived by bus to the rabbi's home at around midnight on Oct. 17 and left with Wax by taxi around 3 a.m. en route to Brooklyn, where the victim was staying with a cousin. Part way there, the pair was met by Wax's wife Judy, who transported them the rest of the way in her van, the complaint said.
Back in New York, Bryskman was reportedly treated for a broken nose, black eye and cuts to the head, according to an earlier report in the Lakewood View. Later that day, the Waxes replaced their bedroom carpet, records show.
The pair pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday in federal court in Trenton, the Associated Press reported.
“He has no history of any type of criminal behaviors or violent behaviors. He's the father of eight children," Mitchell Ansell, Wax's attorney, told the AP. "We're confident that when all the facts are made public, he'll be cleared of these charges and his good and honorable name will be restored."