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FBI: U.S. couple kidnapped Israeli to force divorce

TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey rabbi and his wife surrendered to the FBI on Monday on charges they abducted an Israeli man, beat him and threatened to bury him alive if he didn’t give his wife a religious divorce.

The case against David and Judy Wax in U.S. federal court marks a strange twist in a chain of events that started with a divorce dispute in Israel’s Rabbinical Court over the victim’s refusal to give his wife a "get," an Orthodox Jewish divorce document permitting a wife to remarry.

Absent from U.S. court documents is the name of the victim, Yisrael Briskman, who apparently fled Israel after refusing to grant a divorce. But his name shows up in a 2008 public notice from the High Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem, placed in religious publications in Israel and abroad.

The notice deems it forbidden for the Jewish community to do business with Briskman, extend kindness to him or give him a place to stay. It also calls upon the public to notify the court of Briskman’s whereabouts.

Following a brief federal court appearance Monday, David and Judy Wax were released on $500,000 bond pending trial. A federal magistrate in Trenton, N.J., has ordered the two to surrender their passports, but declined a prosecution request that they wear electronic monitors while free.

According to the FBI complaint, the victim was lured to the Wax home in Lakewood, which is home to a large Orthodox Jewish community, to discuss opportunities for the victim to work on a book the rabbi was writing about the Talmud. Once in the home, the victim was allegedly bound, robbed, shown a body bag and told he’d be buried alive in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains if he didn’t agree to the divorce.

David Wax is also accused of threatening to have the victim’s father killed if he didn’t pay the wife $100,000.

"He has no history of any type of criminal behaviors or violent behaviors. He’s the father of eight children," Mitchell Ansell, David Wax’s attorney, told The Associated Press. "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."

Attorneys for both defendants said they would plead not guilty.

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