Thursday, February 25, 2016

The unpleasant details of how Tamar Epstein destroyed her marriage with the encouragement of the Kaminetskys (part 3)

How Rabbi Schachter’s conferring papal infallibility upon Rabbi Kamenetsky led Rabbi Kamenetsky to believe he could annul a marriage: Part 3

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 and constituted Federal capital crimes, and a capital crime under halacha.  Instead of protesting against the Kamenetskys’ horrible abuses, other rabbis [with the notable exception of Rabbis Eidensohn] were generally silent or cheered them on, with Rabbi Schachter bestowing Rabbi Kamenetsky with papal infallibility.

Parts 1 and 2 described what happened before 2010.

The following describes what happened next:

Tamar again filed for absolute divorce and obtained a divorce on April 12, 2010, pursuant to Maryland’s no-fault divorce law.

The Baltimore Beis Din refused demands by Tamar and the Kamenetskys that the Beis Din order that a get be given.  The Beis Din had held several hearings with the participation of both parties and ruled that there was no obligation to give a get. 

In an attempt to override the Baltimore Beis Din, on May 12, 2010, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky wrote a public letter purporting to rule that Tamar is an agunah, and urging the public to pressure Aharon.  It has been reported in both the secular and mainstream media that Rabbi Kamenetsky has longstanding financial and personal ties to Tamar’s family.  [  “Dr. Epstein [Tamar’s father] was an active supporter of Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, a religious school for Orthodox Jewish boys and young men in Overbrook. He volunteered his medical services to the school and was on call to care for the students 24/7, said a close friend, Rick Goldfein [Tamar’s lawyer].”  Rabbi Kamenetsky is founder and dean of the school. "Dr. Dovid Epstein, z’l," Yated Ne’eman, May 4, 21012 (noting how close Dr. Epstein was to Rabbi Kamenetsky and featuring a picture of the two, and Dr. Epstein’s involvement in the Philadelphia Orthodox community). The letter was written on the letterhead of the Philadelphia yeshiva of which Rabbi Kametesky serves as rosh yeshiva. 

This letter by Rabbi Kamenetsky was an outrageous attack on the legitimacy of Beis Din.  The letter by Rabbi Kamenetsky was a clear declaration that very wealthy families who are significant financial contributors to yeshivos and other community organizations have a right to get the rabbis to whom the wealthy families contribute money to override any Beis Din decision if the wealthy family doesn’t like the way that the Beis Din rules.

In June 2010, the Washington Beis Din sent another hazmana [summons] to Aharon, claiming that because Tamar had shown them a copy of a civil divorce decree and court ordered financial settlements and custody arrangements [making most of C’s time with Aharon impossible because of Shabbos] that the Washington Beis Din claimed “seem prima facie to be in line with common divorce settlements” thus indicating that the “court has settled all issues” and that Aharon had refused to give a get, the Washington Beis Din would be “forced to publicize [Aharon’s] wrongdoing” unless Aharon appears before the Washington Beis Din and proves (1) the court documents to be invalid, (2) that a get was given or (3) a “grievously extraordinary reason” that would justify Aharon’s action.   The letter was signed by Rabbis Winter and Klavan.

In August 2010, Rabbi Kamenetsky wrote another letter purporting to rule that Tamar is an agunah and urging the public to put pressure against not only Aharon, but also his family.  The letter was written on the letterhead of the Philadelphia yeshiva.

In August 2010 the ORA organization, of which Rabbi Hershel Schachter serves as posek, publicly denounced Aharon, even before trying to contact him to obtain his side of the story – contrary to ORA’s claim that it attempts to obtain information from both sides before publicly intervening against one party.  ORA publicly distributed defamatory letters with Aharon’s picture and that of his mother and uncle.  They demonstrated against Aharon’s mother, his uncle, and the shul of which Aharon’s uncle is rav.  The demonstrations continued for several years, and included a physical assault against a family member of Aharon.  These attacks against Aharon and his family directly contradict statements by ORA and Rabbi Schachter that action can only be taken with regard to a get pursuant to a ruling of a beis din.

In August 2010, Rabbi Dovid Rosenbaum, who became rabbi of the Young Israel of Greater Washington upon the passing of Rabbi Gedaliah Anemer, told Aharon that he was forbidden from getting an aliyah in shul.

In September 2010, the Washington Beis Din ruled that it had no right to get involved in the case, as Aharon had argued to the Washington Beis Din.

On November 18, 2010, Tamar filed a contempt motion against Aharon in Court, demanding that C’s relationship with Aharon be limited to “supervised visits” – that is, C could not be alone with Aharon.  Tamar alleged that she had used tracking devices [hidden, amongst other places, in C’s diaper wipes and stuffed teddy bear] to prove that Aharon and C were outside the vicinity of her house. Aharon then filed a contempt motion alleging that Tamar had repeatedly refused to let C be with him during times they were to be together under the Order and asking that the Order be modified to remove the vicinity restriction. Aharon argued that Tamar and her family had made the Philadelphia area dangerous for Aharon and C to spend time in.  Tamar argued that the vicinity restriction should stay in place, and denied that there was any danger to Aharon or C.

On December 9, 2010, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky wrote another public letter attacking Aharon and claiming that Aharon is “mechuyav” [obligated] to give a get, and also noting with approval a public demonstration against Aharon, scheduled for December 19, 2010.  The letter was written on the letterhead of the Philadelphia yeshiva.  Rabbi Schachter added his signature to this letter.

On December 17, 2010, the Washington Vaad released a public letter: “We, the members of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington, are fully cognizant and aware of the communal concern and polarization of opinions surrounding the dissolution of the marriage of Tamar Epstein and Aharon Friedman. While we truly empathize and understand the feelings on both sides we must follow the objectivity of Torah values and halakhic principles as our guide if we are not simply to react to the powerful emotions of the moment. These emotions, though legitimate, may or may not lead us in the proper direction, while halakhah can always serve as our roadmap in times of trouble.” The letter acknowledged that “First, at this time there is no Bet Din order for Mr. Friedman to give a get. Second, there is no Bet Din statement indicating a refusal to comply with a Bet Din’s order to give a get (a siruv) that exists at this time. …” 

Later that afternoon, a group deeming itself “Concerned Members of the Greater Washington Jewish Community,” including the leaders of the Orthodox Union’s Washington D.C. office, responded to the Washington Vaad’s letter by supporting the ORA rally, and demanding that the Washington Vaad backtrack from its position and pressure Aharon to immediately give a get.

On December 22, 2010, the Baltimore Beis Din stated in the Washington Jewish Week: ”Currently, the Epstein-Friedman case remains open but dormant, as “neither party has approached” the Baltimore beit din, requesting that it reconvene, according to Rabbi Mordechai Shuchatowitz, a rabbi on the court. “Right now,” he said, “the ball is in [Epstein’s] court” because, as the party seeking the get, she is responsible for reinitiating proceedings. Since the court has yet officially to order a get, Shuchatowitz said, it’s “a bit premature” to be holding rallies and other events meant “to pressure [Friedman] because he’s not been given his day in court.” After all, “you can’t disobey something you’ve not been told to do.”

The Baltimore Beis Din made this statement based on its understanding of the case at the time.  This was even though Tamar’s to’ain Goldfein had repeatedly and successfully lied to the Baltimore Beis Din and fooled them about the circumstances under which Tamar had violated the Beis Din’s order regarding dismissing the case from civil court.  The Baltimore Beis Din would later issue a letter apologizing to Aharon regarding the Baltimore Beis Din’s misunderstanding regarding what happened in civil court.  But it is important to note that even with that misunderstanding, the Baltimore Beis Din’s position all along was that it was wrong to demonstrate against Aharon and that the ball was in Tamar’s court if she wanted a get.

On December 23, 2010, ORA responded by circulating a letter written by its posek, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, claiming that because Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky had purported to rule that Tamar was an agunah and that Aharon was obligated to give a get, the fact that no beis din had issued any such ruling was irrelevant.  Rabbi Schachter wrote that Aharon must be pressured to give a get because Rabbi Kamenetsky had said so.  Rabbi Schachter explained that the basis of his ruling to follow Rabbi Kamenetsky was “sod hashem le’ruv” and “kvar horah zaken,” essentially meaning that Rabbi Kamenetsky’s word must be treated as the word of G-d.  Rabbi Schachter wrote that Aharon's situation is the same as "a slave whose master provides for him a Canaanite maidservant, that until now it is has been permissible, and now it is forbidden" who should be beaten until death. Furthermore, Rabbi Schachter specifically wrote that any person can take the law into his own hands to beat Aharon to death. 

Rabbi Schachter's actions in the case so directly contradict his earlier statement on the halachic aspects of these matters that it almost appears as if his earlier statement was specifically intended to protest against the very actions in which Rabbi Schachter himself and ORA would later engage.

“What is important to keep in mind is that whoever is chalashing for [wants]... a get must consult with rabbonim... with respect to issues of pressuring the other to give the get. You have to go to batai dinim and everything has to be done with a legitimate beis din. Sometimes people will go to criminals. Unfortunately there are criminals in every field. There are rabbis that are criminals also. Unfortunately, the husband or the wife will go to a Beis Din that has an awful reputation, and they will recommend things that are against halacha. You have to go to a reputable Beis Din and the Beis Din should give proper advice....

The Batai Dinim have a special obligation, the role of the Beis Din b'zman haze, is to maintain law and order. That people shouldn’t skin each other alive and that people should act decently towards each other.”

This letter from Rabbi Schachter and intense intimidation from the Kamenetskys and others was successful in silencing the Baltimore Beis Din.  For many years, they were too afraid to again publicly defend Aharon even though their position was that demonstrations against him were wrong.  The Baltimore Beis Din explained that the Kamenetskys and the other rabbis attacking Aharon were in another league, and that therefore the Beis Din would not publicly contest them.

However, to their great credit the Baltimore Beis Din refused to be bullied by the Kamenetskys into issuing any ruling of any sort against Aharon that the Beis Din knew would be without any halachic basis whatsoever, such as ordering that a get be given.

As Tamar, her family, Frederic Goldfein and the Kametnetskys could not bully either the Baltimore Beis Din or the Washington Beis Din to do as they demanded, that is issue a ruling against Aharon that would have been without any basis, they shopped around for yet another beis din to intervene.  In January 2011, Tamar asked the Beis Din of America (BDA) to issue a hazmana [summons] to Aharon.  Rabbi Weissmann, the administrator of the BDA called the Baltimore BD, which told Rabbi Weissmann that the parties had signed a shtar beirurim with the Baltimore BD.  The BDA concluded that it had no right to intervene in the case and refused to issue a hazmana to Aharon.

It is not known how many other batai din Tamar, Goldfein and the Kamenetskys shopped around. 

In February 2011, Tamar’s lawyer and to’ain, Frederic Goldfein asked the criminal Rabbi Mordechai Martin Wolmark to get involved in the case – according to Goldfein’s testimony at the Mendel Epstein trial in Federal district court in Trenton.  Goldfein was forced to testify when he was given immunity.  The United States Justice Department had declared in a court affidavit that if Goldfein was not given immunity he would likely invoke his Fifth Amendment right against seld-incrimination and refuse to testify.

According to Goldfein’s testimony, Goldfein and Cheryl Epstein (Tamar’s mother) met with Wolmark in February 2011.  According to Goldfein’s testimony, Goldfein and Wolmark exchanged dozens of emails.

According to Goldfein’s testimony, in June 2011, Wolmark arranged for a criminal enterprise, known as the Agudas Harabanim,  to issue a so-called hasra’a achrona [final warning] to Aharon, ruling that Tamar was an agunah.

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