Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tamar Epstein Case: Why the Kamenetskys think the annulment will be accepted

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Tamar Epstein’s annulment and remarriage, apparently with the support of Rabbi Kamenetsky is consistent with their history in this matter of making a mockery of halacha and the very notion of beis din. It should not be surprising that they would fully expect their actions to be widely accepted. Instead of facing condemnation for their outrageous actions until now, Epstein has been celebrated as a heroine while Rabbi Kamenetsky has been treated as an infallible Pope-like figure whose every word, no matter how contrary to normative halacha, is Halacha L’Moshe M’Sinai. With rare exception, the no holds barred tactics of Epstein, and Rabbis Kamenetsky and Schachter, and their accomplices (some of whom have pled guilty or been convicted in criminal proceedings related to this matter), have scared into silence most anyone who would otherwise publicly disagree.

Epstein abducted the parties’ child out-of-State in April 2008. Epstein and Friedman later agreed to bring the matter to the Baltimore Beis Din (BBD). Friedman agreed to cancel a civil court trial in October 2008 in order to bring the case to the BBD. The BBD held three hearings with the participation of both parties. After hearing testimony and examining the evidence, the BDD did not require a get. After the BBD heard Epstein’s testimony criticizing Friedman’s parenting, and also from several witnesses who testified favorably about Friedman’s parenting, the BBD issued a temporary custody order that significantly increased the child’s time with Friedman. Epstein then violated the BBD’s orders regarding dismissing the civil court trial scheduled for June 2009. In civil court, Epstein and her family again criticized Friedman’s parenting and argued that the BBD’s expansion of the child’s time with Friedman should be reversed. The Court declined to reduce the child’s time with Friedman, finding “both parties are fit and proper to have physical custody of the child.” However, Epstein successfully argued that her abduction of the child should be treated as a fait accompli because of the time that had elapsed between the relocation and the trial. Epstein specifically argued that the elapsed time should be held against Friedman because he had voluntarily agreed to cancel the October 2008 trial to bring the matter to Beis Din. In addition, Epstein also successfully asked the court for a custody schedule under which much of the child’s time with Friedman was rendered moot because of Shabbos.

As the BBD refused her demands to order a get, Epstein involved the Washington Beis Din (WBD). After sending three hazmanos to Friedman, the WBD ruled that it could not get involved given that the parties had brought the matter to the BBD whose orders Epstein had violated.

Epstein also had Rabbi Kamenetsky issue public letters attacking Friedman and his family. Rabbi Kamenetsky has longstanding personal and financial relationships with Epstein’s family, as has been reported in both the Jewish and mainstream media. ORA, and its posek, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, jumped into the matter claiming that the BBD should be disregarded because Rabbi Kamenetsky had taken the opposite position. Even while the BBD publicly said Friedman had not committed any wrongdoing and actions against him were wrong, ORA demonstrated against Friedman and also against the WBD for refusing to intervene against Friedman.

It is not clear if the goal was to coerce a get, which would have been invalid, or to help ORA fundraise and make the point that a get must be given on demand no matter the circumstances – contrary to even Rabbi Schachter’s previous statement that a get can only be required by a legitimate beis din. For ORA and Rabbi Schachter, who appeared with Epstein at an ORA panel at YU, Epstein was the heroine (touted by ORA as the “world’s most famous aguna”), and Friedman the villain.

If the tactics were actually intended to coerce a get, they were not working. But the fact that Epstein and her supporters were able to silence any opposition to their outrageous behavior, not only against Friedman and his family, but against the BBD and the WBD, just incited more. For example, one rabbi involved in the case privately acknowledged that Epstein was not an agunah and that the rallies against Friedman were abusive, but refused to say so publicly: “My word is nothing compared to [Rabbis Schachter and Kamenetsky] and I am not willing to argue with them because I know ahead of time that I will lose and [Friedman] will not gain.” Instead, he publicly denounced Friedman, claiming Epstein was being reasonable with regard to custody – after she filed a civil court contempt motion demanding the child’s time with Friedman be limited to supervised visitation.

To recap: two parties brought a matter to a beis din. One party didn’t like the beis din’s decisions and violated that beis din’s orders causing severe damage to the other party, so the first party gets a rosh yeshiva with whom that party has close personal and financial connections to publicly attack the other party?! And then Rabbi Schachter declares that the beis din is irrelevant because the rosh yeshiva’s word must be accepted as “sod hashem lera’uv” and incites communal attacks on the other party?! It is not just that the beis din to which the parties brought the matter and which actually heard the case refused Epstein’s demand for a get. Epstein, apparently with the active advice and encouragement of the Kamenetskys, abused the beis din process in order to have her abduction of the child treated as a fait accompli. This outrageous behavior makes a mockery of halacha, the very concept of beis din, and the Orthodox community.

Eventually, Rabbi Kamenetsky was able to cobble together a so-called beis din to purport to issue a “seruv” against Friedman. The “beis din” did not even pretend to function as anything other than a kangaroo court. The “beis din” did not bother issuing even a single hazmana [summons], but started off with a “hasra’a acharona” [final warning] demanding a get, thus issuing its ruling before commencing the proceedings.

Friedman was then attacked by several masked individuals while returning the child to Epstein’s house on Tisha Ba’av, in a beating and attempted kidnapping. The attack endangered not only Friedman’s life but also that of the child. But still, few rabbonim were willing to publicly denounce the outrageous behavior.

Amongst the signatories on the purported “seruv” was Rabbi Mordechai Wolmark, who was arrested by the FBI on charges of ordering a kidnapping and beating of a man in order to obtain a get. Rabbi Wolmark and several co-conspirators pled guilty. Other co-conspirators, including Rabbi Mendel Epstein, were found guilty at a trial at which the attack on Friedman was alleged to be part of the Epstein-Wolmark gang’s criminal conspiracy. The competence of Rabbi Wolmark, or the complete lack thereof, was demonstrated by the fact that Rabbi Wolmark ordered the kidnapping and beating of a fictional husband regarding a marriage that did not exist. At least two of the other “seruv” signatories were alleged to be part of the gang. That anyone would assign any credence to the actions of this “beis din” over that of the BBD in this case is beyond absurd – but yet some, including the WBD that had previously refused to intervene because it ruled that the BBD had jurisdiction, did.

This just further emboldened Rabbi Kamenetsky to believe that any actions he undertakes, no matter how directly contrary to halacha, will receive wide acceptance if those actions are undertaken on behalf of a wealthy and influential family. But all the public attacks against Friedman were not working. And the attractiveness of ordering another assault and kidnapping apparently diminished after the FBI sting operation. The idea that Epstein should come to a reasonable resolution of all matters, despite the fact that she is part of a powerful family accustomed to getting its way, seems to be something that Rabbi Kamenetsky never even considered, proclaiming that there was nothing to negotiate. When another rav in Philadelphia attempted to initiate negotiations, he was told in no uncertain terms by the Epsteins to mind his own business.

So it should not be that surprising that several months following the FBI arrests, ORA publicly announced that Tamar is “free” without a get. And still, there was little outcry at this mockery of halacha. Many rabbonim, including in Baltimore and Philadelphia, were outraged, but were too scared to speak out. Thus, it should not be surprising that Rabbis Kamenetsky believe remarriage based on an annulment will also be accepted. Time will tell. Rabbis Daniel and Dovid Eidensohn have refused to be cowed and continue to denounce this mockery of halacha and yashrus.

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