Random Thoughts On The Torah Scroll Dispute

* Rita Pauker interview. Rabbi Samuel Ohana interview.

* In an offer attached as Exhibit B to R. Ohana’s first pleading filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court in this case, R. Ohana offered to give Rita Pauker all four sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) by delivering them to the RCC on condition that Rita Pauker sign a release and confidentiality agreement that she would:
1) Observe absolute confidentiality about the matter from that time on (with an agreed penalty for violation – standard for a confidentiality clause), and
2) Never sue R. Ohana over the condition of the four sifrei torah (none of which are currently kosher, two scrolls are reparable), because it would be logical for Rita Pauker to figure the lawsuit against R. Ohana for the cost of repairing the four scrolls was worth more than the scrolls themselves.

* Rita met Rabbi Norman Pauker when she worked as his secretary at Congregation Judea on Fairfax Blvd. When Rabbi Pauker left the shul, it folded into part of Bnai David.

After Rabbi Pauker left his first wife and got fired from Congregation Judea, he married Rita (circa 1969), they moved to the San Fernando Valley. Rabbi Pauker took over Rabbi Leder’s shul (Mishkan Israel) and Rabbi Leder retired and moved to Israel.

* Rita Pauker, to the best of my knowledge, has never been observant of Jewish law. She would drive to shul on Yom Kippur and the like. If she were observant, R. Ohana would not have had a problem in giving her the four Torah scrolls formerly in the custody of her late husband.

* Rabbi Sholom Tendler, the RCC dayan in this case, awarded the four Torah scrolls to an entity not a party in the dispute — the tax avoidance entity Mishkan Israel (controlled by Rita Pauker). There has been no Mishkan Israel shul since about 1994 when Rabbi Norman Pauker developed serious health problems.

The RCC arbitration agreement states that the case is between Rita Pauker and R. Samuel Ohana, who’s representing Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel.

* In his last years, Rabbi Norman Pauker tried to sell the four sifrei Torah, which is illegal. You can’t sell the property of a non-profit corporation and personally pocket the proceeds. The four sifrei Torah were not kosher (two can be made kosher).

* Three of the four sifrei Torah were definitely donated and dedicated (and one of the scrolls appears to have survived the Holocaust). When someone dedicates and donates a Torah scroll, they retain ownership of the Torah scroll. If Joe donates a Torah scroll to Beth Jacob, Joe and his heirs have the right to take the scroll with them if they move out of the community.

These four sifrei Torah were never owned by a congregation. They were donated to a congregation to be used in the memory of certain people. That is the reason why most sifrei Torah are written — in the memory of loved ones.

* One of the scrolls appear to have come from the Westminster Synagogue project.

* According to Rita Pauker, Norman Pauker came out from New York in the 1950s with the four sifrei Torah. Assuming they were all kosher, they would’ve been worth about $100,000 in today’s dollars. Few people could afford to own so many Torah scrolls. Usually sifrei Torah reside in a shul. People don’t normally keep them in a closet.

There were four sifrei Torah in Rabbi Leder’s shul Mishkan Israel that Rabbi Pauker took over circa 1970. Nobody knows if these four Torah scrolls in question are those four scrolls.

* Rabbi Sholom Tendler’s psak sounds correct by Jewish law in that if Mishkan Israel is a shul, it can ask for the Torah scrolls back (though for the last 15 years or so, Mishkan Israel has been but a tax deduction entity).

* Rabbis Nachum Sauer and Sholom Tendler are first-class Torah scholars but they don’t have much experience serving on a Bais Din (Jewish law court). They may not be temperamentally suited to such work.

* It is common for RCC judges to talk about cases in advance, often with each other. This just shows how incompetent and corrupt this organization is.

* All you are supposed to do as a judge when you read a brief is to acquaint yourself with the facts. You’re not supposed to form opinions and to discuss your opinions on the brief. If you have spoken publicly on a matter before you to judge, you have to recuse yourself.

* For the second Beit Din on this case, Rabbi Union ruled there were only five competent dayanim to sit in judgment (if rabbis Union, Bess, and Sauer are excerpted). There’s Rabbi Nissim Davidi, who’s not the brightest star in the firmament of Torah and a full-time employee of Rabbi Union as the RCC’s kashrut administrator. He’s never going to rule against Rabbi Union. Rabbi Asher Biron is another. He’s the gabbai in Rabbi Gershon Bess’s shul (Rabbi Bess is the main rabbi behind the RCC). Rabbi Yitzhock Adlerstein recused himself. He is R. Nachum Sauer’s chevrusa (study partner).

Then there’s Rabbi Berish Goldenberg who testified in a secular court on another case that the courts threw out an RCC decision. That was a child custody case. The mother was a teacher at Bais Yaakov who had flunked Rabbi Avrohom Union’s daughter. And R. Union says that won’t affect Rabbi Goldenberg’s perspective. He’ll be a dayan (judge) in the case.

Shockingly, the father was awarded sole custody and the mother only got monitored visitations with her baby boy.

Rabbi Union was certified to serve as a dayan by Rabbi Zalman Nechamiah Goldberg (on the Bais Din HaGadol). When Rabbi Goldberg found out about this particularly case, he wrote a letter to the secular court entered into evidence that the RCC psak (ruling) should be void because the dayan is prejudiced.

In his testimony, Rabbi Berish Goldenberg said that he did not look at anything, he just signed whatever R. Union wanted him to sign.

* RCC‘s Rabbi Avrohom Union fears and hates Rabbi Samuel Ohana. Rabbi Union attacks every other Beit Din in the city and many people have listened to him, but no matter how hard Rabbi Union tries, he can’t discredit the conversions and divorces and other work that Rabbi Ohana does. Rabbi Ohana’s conversions and the like are accepted everywhere. Rabbi Ohana is a far more learned man in Torah than Rabbi Union. This is an oozing sore in Rabbi Union’s psyche.

Because of Rabbi Ohana’s credentials, Rabbi Union can not attack him directly. It would be like an ant using a pea shooter against an elephant. Instead, Rabbi Union uses indirect attacks like the Rita Pauker case to try to demolish Rabbi Ohana.

When Rabbi Shlomo Amar is out of office in three years, Rabbi Union might go on direct attack against Rabbi Ohana.

Rabbi Amar is not a heavyweight and the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Yona Metzger, is a nothing. What these two have ruled can be overturned overnight if their successors have learning and gravitas.

It does not matter to Rabbi Union that Rabbi Ohana only does a few conversions a year. The threat is that there is someone out there doing what the RCC does. Rabbi Union would be happy to do no conversions to Judaism. He makes the process as difficult as possible and will expel people for every reason under the sun (including a truly righteous man such as myself in 2001).

Rabbi Elazar Muskin at YICC is happy to have a shul with no converts and no baalei teshuva (with few exceptions). When a would-be convert comes to Rabbi Muskin, he ships them to the RCC who then drums them out of the process within a few months (99% of the time) and these rabbis no longer have to be bothered by icky converts.

The RCC doesn’t want to do conversions, but more importantly, they want to stop anyone else in the Western United States from doing conversions.

Conversions are not Rabbi Union’s primary objection to Rabbi Ohana. The big issue is gitten (divorces).

The late Rabbi Shmuel Katz used to do about 15 divorces a week for the Los Angeles Beit Din (now run by Rabbi David Rue), charging about $300 each. Most of those divorces came from the non-Orthodox world and everyone accepted Rabbi Katz’s divorces.

The RCC believes it alone should have this business. That’s why Rabbi Union sends out hundreds of faxes to non-Orthodox synagogues telling them that only the RCC‘s divorces are guaranteed to give Jews a divorce accepted everywhere in the Jewish world. In these faxes, Rabbi Union states that the gittin (divorces) of the Los Angeles Beit Din and the Beverly Hills Beit Din are not acceptable.

Rabbi Katz worked hard at maintaining good relationships with Reform and Conservative rabbis so that they were comfortable sending him their people for a divorce document (get).

When you have the attitude and manner of Rabbi Union, you’re not going to have Reform and Conservative rabbis sending you anything. When Rabbi Union yells and screams that nobody else is acceptable, it discourages non-Orthodox rabbis from sending their people to any Orthodox rabbi for a divorce.

The Los Angeles Beit Din (Rabbi Rue) and the RCC now do about a divorce a week. Rabbi Ohana does more. Rabbi Teichman does about 20 a year. Rabbi Gavriel Cohen does about 200 a year. Rabbi Cohen was close to the former Chief Rabbi Mordecai Eliyahu. The Israeli consulate would send Israelis to him for a divorce.

Rabbi Avraham Teichman charges $1,000 for a get. The RCC charges about $550 for a standard get (divorce document). The Los Angeles Beit Din charges $400.

A competent rabbi will need 90 minutes to draw up a get.

If you get a conversion or a divorce through the Los Angeles Beit Din, you will have problems with certain Orthodox rabbis in Israel and you will not have problems with other Orthodox rabbis in Israel.

Rabbi Union and many of his RCC colleagues want to live in a ghetto where they can ignore secular law. That’s why so many RCC rulings are overturned in secular court.

* Steve Friedman, an attorney for Rabbi Samuel Ohana, is one of the top 50 attorneys in the state of California. He learned with the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rav Yosef Baer Soloveitchik. He bills at over $1,000 an hour.

* The RCC is the only major Beit Din in the United States that declares in its arbitration agreements that it does not have to explain its decisions and also provides for no avenues of appeal. That’s why so many of its rulings are challenged and overturned in secular courts.

* In Igrot Moshe, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein often disagrees with a Beit Din decision. He does not use the language of “appellate court” but he acts as an appellate court.

* Pulpit rabbis don’t want the tsures of going up against the RCC, but they rarely send arbitrations to the RCC. Not even Rabbi Muskin. They don’t want their congregants coming back yelling at them. For a major Beit Din, the RCC does little arbitration work.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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