Sad, Tragic, Insane

I was apprised this morning of the following, circulated on the Internet, and cited in pertinent part:

     “There are unfortunate reasons that people have become hesitant to trust Batei Din. Rabbis throughout the United States have sought to expose fraudulent Batei Din and those that do not conform to halacha, but Steven Pruzansky is probably the worst example of such abuse of the Torah and its heritage at the hands of unscrupulous sadists who use the idea of a “Bais Din” to steal, rob and otherwise promote their own ego.
Steven Pruzansky was recently selected as a “dayan” in a case involving marital issues. Pruzansky showed his true colors:
– Although the husband agreed to go to Bais Din, Pruzansky threatened the husband, snarling that “(he) would make things very bad for him”
– Pruzansky arranged for someone who had previously tried to beat up the husband to sit within one foot of him throughout the proceedings.
– Pruzansky tried to physically accost the husband when he kept reading from a paper in his hand, in an attempt to rebut a friend of the beater who was called in as a “witness”
– Pruzansky threatened to display private emails between the husband and his wife for the purposes of intimidation, which is a felony
– Pruzansky only stopped his assault after the husband dialed the first two numbers of 9-1-1. …..”

I will be delighted to identify the miscreant who wrote this, but first the facts. Ordinarily, I would never discuss any litigation on which I have sat, but the time has long passed, and the Internet is much too pervasive, to allow even the ranting of a madman to define me in the public domain. The above is undoubtedly the work of the “husband,” as below, in whose delusional world the fictitious organization he created (Vaad l’something or other) actually exists.

I was asked to sit on an out of state  Din Torah this past January in a sensitive divorce case. The wife had claimed physical, verbal and emotional abuse, and had separated from her husband after he had struck her, been arrested and spent five days in jail. Since that time, beginning in November 2010, the wife had sought a Get and a civil divorce. The civil divorce was obtained in June 2011, but the husband still refused to appear before a Bet Din, any Bet Din, or give a Get to his ex-wife in any forum. He insisted he wanted to remain married to her, and that she really, really loves him, deep, deep down.

I became involved when the matter transformed into a zabla in which each side picks one dayan and the two dayanim choose a third. The husband herein had nixed several of his ex-wife’s selections as her dayan – even though Jewish law does not give him that right – and I was “approved” as the wife’s dayan. The other two dayanim were local Rabbis in that state. Check one above: husband resisted going to Bet Din, which took over six months to arrange. The suggestion that I “snarled” anything, especially that I “would make things bad for him” is ludicrous and false.

So too the suggestion that I “arranged” for anyone to sit anywhere, or even to attend altogether. I had one brief conversation with the wife over the telephone, and merely asked her to bring whatever witnesses and documentary evidence she had. In truth, I find the zabla format troubling, as it occasionally tends to turn dayanim into advocates for their “side,” and adjudication of any legal matter should not be prejudiced by any knowledge of the case. Aside from knowing that the wife wanted a Get, I indeed knew nothing else about the case, nor did I personally know any of the litigants, witnesses or Rabbis involved. Check two above.

Then began one of the most grueling ordeals that I had ever experienced. The ex-wife began her testimony, and within minutes, the husband was interrupting her with cries of “Shut up, shut up!” Having sat on dozens of Dinei Torah, it was the first time I had ever witnessed such a breach of decorum and simple decency. When I insisted the husband stop – he would have the right to respond when his turn to testify came – he unleashed his venom upon me: “Shut up, you pig! Shut up, you punk! Shut up, you fool!” He would then regularly, through the course of the proceedings, refer to the Bet Din as “clowns,” part of the “circus” to which he had been persuaded to attend.  I was told to “shut up!” at least 15 times by this individual. My mind was spinning with possible retorts (I’m originally from the Bronx after all) but I held my tongue.

I said nothing, except once responding, “If you think you can intimidate me with that language, you are wrong.” At one point, he tried to curry favor by informing me how much he agrees with my writings on Israel (almost leading me to question everything I had written in the past!). But the curses, the invective, and the tirades continued – for six hours. It was as if he was incapable of stopping his diatribes – as if he was even unaware that he was behaving improperly, abnormally, insanely.

The abuse I felt was palpable, tangible. I said nothing because I did not want to give this person a excuse to get up and walk out. (He threatened that at least once anyway.) The wife had labored for almost a year to put a Bet Din together. If he walked out before he testified, or before all the evidence had been adduced, it would be more difficult to justify a final decision even though it would have been possible. I, and to a lesser extent the other two rabbis, took one for the greater good of trying to help this woman who had been threatened for months by the husband that she would be an aguna  for the rest of her life. (She is in her mid-20s).

Unbeknownst to the husband, clearly mentally unbalanced, every time he opened his mouth he harmed his case. We, the dayanim, but especially myself, were recipients of a small dose of the more extensive abuse the wife had claimed she suffered for the several years of their marriage. All he wanted was mandated counseling (five sessions? Ten sessions?) that he thought would re-unite them. Those who listened with not only an open mind, but even just a functioning  mind, realized that those sessions would simply be further opportunities – mandated by Bet Din (!) – for him to berate, belittle and demean the wife, after which he would likely find another pretext not to give a Get. If Bet Din had ordered “counseling,” that itself would have been abuse on our part. Our decision was issued a week after the case, and we unanimously ordered him to give a Get within seven days. Almost immediately, he began with written threats of corruption, lawsuits, improprieties, etc. – all from a simple inability to recognize that his marriage is over and that his wife deserves a new beginning with a less “challenging” husband. Unable to intimidate anymore, he has been lashing out at the Bet Din that splashed the cold water of reality on his troubled face.

Did I “physically accost” him ? That is laughable. One witness had presented a “letter” from a named lawyer threatening the witness with a lawsuit if…whatever… is not done for the husband. The lawyer in question denied ever sending such a letter, and the husband let it slip (during my questioning) that he had forged and sent such a letter in that lawyer’s name. That is when I asked to see the letter, he refused to show it to me (even though it belonged to the other side). When I approached and asked to see the letter, he began threatening to dial 911 – at which point I said, “please do so.” He desisted. That was the assault he mentions. Checks three and five above.

And the “private e-mails”? In his delusional world, he once tried to induce his wife to return to him during their long separation by sending her a graphically nude photo of himself. She was willing to introduce it into evidence, but we declined to see it. It was embarrassing for him, although he seemed to take pride in his initiative. (By the way, she wasn’t impressed by anything she saw.) It was when he rambled on about his high moral level, and impugned that of his wife, that I asked him whether he wants to admit the photos in evidence. The response was unbridled rage and invective. It is hard to imagine, but this husband functioned as a “rabbi” of sorts, and even remains a “baal koreh” in some shul (albeit a “mediocre” one, according to the testimony of one witness). Check four above.

All this is an unpleasant reminder of an event that was physically and emotionally draining for me, and one that I would not have written about but for the personal attacks directed at me from this lunatic and his fictitious organization.

So I write really for one reason. It is not to defend my good name; anyone who knows me will intuit that the allegations are insane and false. It is rather to highlight a problem in the Rabbinate and the Jewish public. People often ask “what are rabbis doing to help agunot?” and the answer is, “much.” But the fact that these vicious attacks on my character are a consequence of getting involved in this sensitive area might (and does) inhibit some rabbis from getting involved. I had no real nexus to this case. I didn’t know any of the parties, and it was occurring more than 1100 miles from my home base. I didn’t have to get involved. There was nothing in it for me. But it does come at a price. It is well possible that more people will read the crazed indictment than this response. And some who read both will say, “hmmm… maybe there is truth on both sides.” This maniac will nourish some doubt in people’s minds about my character.

Yet, knowing what I know now, I would do it again, and so would many of my colleagues, only because it is the right thing to do. But the public is also on notice: don’t read everything, and don’t believe everything that you do read. Chazal’s admonition is well-taken, that one should not listen to lashon hara (disparaging talk) and should not believe the lashon hara that you do hear. It is almost impossible not to believe some of it – that is human nature – but it is still harmful.

Here’s where we stand now: the husband last year threatened suicide and was hospitalized, but it is possible that he used that as a tactic to avoid arrest for a violation of the restraining order the wife had against him. But I do not for a moment doubt that he might be dangerous. I even apprised the wife – after the proceedings – that there is a potential, G-d-forbid, for a murder-suicide (he, the ex-wife, and their children). She has notified all the appropriate authorities, but there is no absolute defense against someone bent on his own destruction.

The husband now has two weeks in which to give his wife a Get. After that, he has the possibility if he so chooses, of getting his life in order, making something of himself, and acting as a decent Jew, father and citizen. He even suggested that there are people in his community who want to set him up.

If he does, we can all move on and I will forgive the attacks on me, considering the source. But if he does not give his wife a Get in that time frame, I will gladly reveal his name to the public, and the scorn of the Jewish world can fall upon him. And deservedly so.



3 responses to “Sad, Tragic, Insane

  1. This is not so much a comment on the article itself, because anyone who knows Rabbi Pruzansky would know that the allegations are totally baseless, but just an observation from afar.
    In South Africa, a law was passed a number of years ago that provides for a civil divorce to be denied until such time as a get has been granted. This was largely motivated by the late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris and although intended to protect the Jewish community, also applies equally to all marriages entered into under Religious law.

  2. Daniel Schwartz

    Let all who read this be very clear, Rabbi Pruzansky’s honesty and integrity is nonpareil, never deviating from Torah. He is the quintessential eved Hashem, a Talmud Chochom and an amazing Rav. Unfortunately, one of the dangers of the internet is the inability to purge false, melicious and inciting diatribe by sick minded vengeful people who set out to destroy the character of honest people which can corrupt the thinking of the uninformed reader. Freedom of speech often comes with a heavy price in today’s world of unrestricted journalism with absolutley no method of censorship or verification of accurate reporting, whether that be through organizations such as Media Matters, newspapers such as the New York Times or internet blogs written by sick minded individuals. Anyone can fabricate a story or even scientific data and publish it to the world without critical review. This “reality show” like episode is living proof of the need for journalistic policing on the internet and in the news media. Once upon a time America censored such inflammatory and ficticious writings as with this apparently abusive man. It is embarrasing to Hashem and our people that such a man is allowed to call himself Frum. He’s not Orthodox, but rather, paradox.

  3. Rabbi, wonderful post. Now that the 2 weeks have come and gone can we please have this person’s name so that we can heap scorn upon him.

    Thanks you again for this post!