TRENTON (Reuters) - A New Jersey rabbi and his wife surrendered to authorities on Monday on charges of kidnapping an Israeli man and threatening to bury him alive if he did not agree to a traditional Jewish divorce.
Rabbi David Wax, 49, and Judy Wax, 47, of Lakewood, N.J., face the possibility of life in prison if convicted of kidnapping in New Jersey.
They appeared in federal court in Trenton Monday afternoon and indicated they would post $500,000 bail to secure their release.
Under Jewish law, in order to finalize a divorce, the husband must grant his wife a “get,” a document that permits her to remarry.
According to the criminal complaint, the Israeli man, who lived in New Jersey, was invited to the Waxes’ home on October 16, 2010, purportedly to discuss work he and David Wax were doing on some Talmudic texts, federal prosecutors said.
Instead, he endured hours of violence and threats, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey.
Wax and at least two unidentified men administered a beating, showed him a body bag and promised to bury him alive in the Pocono Mountains if he did not agree to the divorce, the complaint alleges.
Wax also allegedly forced the man to call his father in Israel, who recorded the call, authorities said.
Wax told the father that he would kill him and his son unless the father paid $100,000 to the wife’s family, authorities said.
“For you there’s a special gift,” Wax told the father, according to the complaint. “It’s called a bullet.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas Arpert ordered the Waxes to surrender their passports and remain in New Jersey. Judy Wax has dual citizenship in the United States and Israel and her husband is a U.S. citizen.
More than a dozen friends and family members attended the 10-minute court session, during which most of the men quietly read the Torah.
Defense attorney Mitchell Ansell, who represents David Wax, said his client is innocent.
“He has no history of any type of criminal or violent behavior,” Ansell said, before the court appearance. “He is a father of eight who runs a nonprofit publishing company of Jewish materials.”
While the complaint does not connect the man’s wife, who lives in Israel, to the alleged crimes, it says travel records show she went to New York a day before the alleged attack and returned to Israel on the following day.
Both Waxes were charged with kidnapping, and David Wax was also charged with making a threatening phone call.
Ansell confirmed Wax knows the Israeli man’s wife but would not comment further.
Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton