Saturday, January 23, 2016

The unpleasant details of how Tamar Epstein deliberately destroyed her marriage with the encouragement of the Kaminetskys

The terrible travesty of justice in this case is not just that Tamar decided to have custody litigated in court instead of in Beis Din – although this decision by itself is extremely troubling and contrary to halacha. The terrible travesty in this case is that the destruction of a family with a young child could have been avoided. And even if divorce was going to occur, it could have been settled amicably and quietly. 

Instead of pursuing either of these two outcomes, the Kamenetskys encouraged the Epstein family to engage in no-holds barred warfare against Aharon, the Baltimore Beis Din, and even the very notion of halacha, and a Jewish community. This has included kidnapping the parties’ child and then getting that kidnapping to be treated as a fait accompli by violating several agreements between the parties, tricking Aharon into canceling a pendete lite civil court trial in which it was likely that the child would be returned in order to bring the case to Beis Din, committing perjury in court and the Baltimore Beis Din, violating the Baltimore Beis Din’s orders regarding dismissing the civil court case, and then successfully arguing in civil court that Aharon couldn’t contest the kidnapping because he had voluntarily cancelled the pendete lite trial to bring the case to Beis Din. 

There is no low to which this campaign would not stoop or any level of crime in which they would not engage, including a vicious Tisha Ba’av assault (in which Cheryl Epstein [Tamar’s mother] signaled her henchmen to attack by telling the child to give Aharon a kiss) that endangered the life of the child, Federal capital crimes, and a capital crime under halacha.

The following is an overview of what occurred prior the case being brought to the Baltimore Beis Din:

Tamar and Aharon were married in April 2006, and resided in Silver Spring. They were blessed with a child, C, in November 2007.

In March 2008, on Aharon’s birthday, Tamar told Aharon she was divorcing him. Tamar told Aharon she wanted to relocate C to Pennsylvania (PA). Aharon objected. Tamar told Aharon that if he didn’t move out of their apartment, she would take C to PA. Aharon told Tamar that she may not relocate C to PA. Aharon moved out of the apartment.

On April 10, 2008, Tamar unilaterally relocated C from Silver Spring to PA. When Aharon arrived in the parties’ apartment on April 10 to see C and she was not there, he phoned Tamar. Tamar said that she had taken C to PA, and if Aharon didn't like it, Aharon should call her lawyer. Tamar did not ask a Court or Beis Din [Rabbinical Court] to rule that she could relocate C. Instead, Tamar likely acted upon legal advice to take C and establish residency in PA, and then delay adjudication for as long as possible so that the relocation would be a fait accompli.

It is not generally a criminal offense for one parent to unilaterally relocate a child. However, such action is regarded extremely negatively by the law and the courts. The unilateral relocation of a child by one parent is “reprehensible” and the law in virtually every state is meant to “ensure[] that abducting parents will not receive an advantage for their unjustifiable conduct” – including a “parent who abducts the child pre-decree.” Comment to Section 208 of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act [codified by nearly every State, including MD and PA].

Tamar’s family immediately started spreading false rumors about Aharon, in order to justify Tamar’s unjustifiable behavior, including criticizing his parenting. This effort was led in Silver Spring by Tamar’s sister and brother-in-law, Yael and Rabbi Ranan Cortell, who are long-time residents of Silver Spring. Yael is an extremely popular teacher in a local Jewish high school. Rabbi Cortell was a top talmid in Silver Spring’s yeshiva, and remains very close to many of the rabbis in the Washington area. They have engaged in an extremely nasty campaign to isolate Aharon. This campaign has included pressuring families in Silver Spring and elsewhere not to let their children play with C during periods that C is with Aharon.

Tamar claimed that she would consider reconciliation, which Aharon wanted - but only if Aharon allowed her to temporarily keep C in PA. Aharon later agreed to temporarily let Tamar keep C in PA after several rabbis, including Rabbi Sholom Kamenetsky, promised they would work to foster reconciliation and urged him to agree to this arrangement– despite Aharon’s lawyer warning that this was likely a trick to keep C in PA permanently.

On May 5, the parties signed an agreement, titled Separation for Purposes of Fostering Reconciliation, providing that Aharon would let Tamar keep C in PA for two months, but only because she made that a precondition for considering reconciliation. The agreement provided that this arrangement would not affect jurisdiction or be detrimental to Aharon with regard to child custody.

During those two months, Tamar refused to as much as attend marital counseling with Aharon. After the two months were over, Tamar informed Aharon on the phone that their marriage was over. Tamar refused Aharon’s repeated requests to bring C back. Tamar said that for several years, she would, at most, generally only allow C to see Aharon on Sundays during the daytime.

Under halacha [Jewish Law], custody matters are supposed to be adjudicated in Beis Din [Rabbinical Court]. But any specific Beis Din generally only has jurisdiction if both parties agree. The matter was extremely time-sensitive. Tamar was allowing C to spend very little time with Aharon. Tamar’s continuing to hold C in PA would transfer jurisdiction over the matter to PA, unless the case was filed in MD court. In addition, Tamar’s continuing to hold C in PA would be extremely prejudicial in any eventual adjudication, no matter what the forum. Tamar refused to negotiate or mediate. Tamar also refused to see a rabbi together with Aharon to find a way to resolve custody issues according to halacha. Aharon certainly had as much legal right to physically seize C and bring her back to MD, as Tamar did to physically seize C and relocate C to PA. But Aharon did not do so. Aharon received a psak [Jewish Law ruling] to bring an emergency child custody motion in Court, but only on the condition that after the emergency motion Aharon would bring the matter to Beis Din for the case to be decided, before any further proceedings in Court. Aharon brought an emergency custody motion in late July 2008, at which point Tamar had not allowed C to spend any time with Aharon on Shabbos [the Jewish Sabbath] or Yom Tov [Jewish Holidays] for almost three months.

The emergency custody hearing was held on August 1, 2008. Tamar violated the parties’ Reconciliation Agreement by arguing that the Maryland courts did not have jurisdiction. Tamar also violated the Reconciliation Agreement by extensively arguing that the custody arrangement during the time covered by the Agreement should be prejudicial. Tamar falsely claimed that she had taken C to PA with Aharon’s consent. The Court recognized Tamar was depriving Aharon of “meaningful access” to C but said that the matter was not an emergency because “the kid's not in any danger” and “nobody's bleeding.”

The Court said that the emergency hearing was not a trial on the merits and that the custody order after a trial would be different than the custody order at the emergency hearing. The Court ruled – perhaps because Tamar had convinced the Court that “Well, they agreed that she would leave” – C would remain in PA in the interim, with C to be with Aharon every other weekend. The Order was to be temporary; for example, it did not address holidays in any way.

The Court indicated that at trial (the pendete lite trial was subsequently scheduled for October 6, 2008) there was a good chance that C would be returned to Silver Spring. In addition, the Court said that if Tamar had unilaterally taken C, the Court would look upon that badly. Even Tamar’s lawyer, after falsely claiming that Tamar had not unilaterally taken C (“This [taking C unilaterally] was not something that was done”), acknowledged: “as you said, the Court would look badly on this if she just packed up and left.”

Tamar filed suit in MD court for limited divorce. Aharon opposed Tamar’s claim for divorce.

In September 2008, the parties signed an agreement to cancel the October trial and bring the matter to the Baltimore Beis Din (if the parties could not reach a settlement through mediation), and providing that custody arrangements before any litigation would not be prejudicial.

Aharon agreed to cancel the October 2008 trial only because that was required by the psak and Aharon wanted to follow halacha. Aharon followed the psak to cancel the trial even though it was to his own severe disadvantage as: (1) Aharon had every reason to believe that the Court would have ruled in Aharon’s favor at the October 2008 trial; and (2) even if Aharon prevailed in Beis Din (or the Beis Din would not decide custody – as turned out to be the case), he would be at risk that the Court would ultimately decide the issue at a later date (the Court may not show deference to a Beis Din decision in custody cases, even if the parties have agreed to binding arbitration), and Aharon would be severely prejudiced in such a later proceeding by the fact that C would have been in PA for a much longer period.

Tamar rejected as a basis for negotiation the mediator’s proposal that C mostly live in PA, and be with Aharon about one-third of the time; equally split marital property; and a get given and accepted. Tamar ended mediation.

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