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Los Angeles, CA - Court Confirmes Bais Din Ruling: Widow of Rabbi Gets 4 Torahs

Published on: September 1, 2010 11:52 PM
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Los Angeles, CA - The widow of a North Hollywood rabbi who has fought for years to regain four Torahs that once belonged to her late husband won another battle when a civil court ruled in her favor.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge confirmed an earlier ruling by a rabbinic court that Rita Pauker should get back four Torahs that had been in her husband’s family for decades, but are now being used for prayers at a Sherman Oaks synagogue.

But with appeals planned, the four sacred texts won’t be exchanging hands anytime soon.

The late Rabbi Norman Pauker had given the Torahs - valued at anywhere from $29,000 to $80,000 but priceless in sentimental value - to Rabbi Samuel Ohana, now of Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel, in the late 1990s after closing his own temple.

But whether that act was intended as a loan or a permanent gift remains at the center of a bitter dispute between Rita Pauker and Ohana.

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“I’m emotionally exhausted,” Rita Pauker said. “Considering I’ve been chasing them for seven years, it’s about time.”

Rabbi Pauker died in 2002, years after he closed his own synagogue and gave the Torahs to Ohana. Although Ohana has been using the Torahs for prayers at Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel in Sherman Oaks, Pauker believes the scrolls were on loan and wants to reclaim them to give to her nephews, who are rabbis in Long Beach, New York and Florida.

Ohana, who was Rabbi Pauker’s assistant, said his former colleague

gifted the scrolls to his congregation and called Pauker’s claims “ridiculous.”

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“It’s unheard of,” Ohana said. “The Torah are always donated either in the memory of loved ones or in honor of somebody else. Therefore, when the rabbi closed the synagogue and he died, these Torah were not the property of the rabbi so he could bequeath them to his wife or his children. It goes from one congregation to another.

“What’s the purpose to fight and give it to another chabad?” Ohana said. “This is the congregation where her husband used to come and gave to in memory of his loved ones.”

Pauker maintains that her late husband only meant to lend the texts to Ohana for two years, as evidenced by a handwritten contract signed by Ohana. But the agreement was only meant for insurance purposes, according to Ohana.

Ohana already plans to appeal the judgment, which will require the Torahs be returned to the Paukers’ organization, the Valley Mishkan Israel Congregation.

“It’s not a shock,” Pauker said. “If it doesn’t work this time, they’re going to do it again.”

Tuesday’s hearing marked the third time that a court has ruled in Pauker’s favor.

“The court got it right,” said Baruch Cohen, Pauker’s lawyer in previous trials in the case. “The courts ruled, enough is enough, return the Torahs.”

The appeal is based on the fact that the beit din - rabbinic court - awarded the scrolls to the Paukers’ congregation and not directly to Pauker, said G. Scott Sobel, Ohana’s attorney.

“Under the law, when party A sues party B, no arbitrator, judge or jury has the right to declare that party C is the winner,” Sobel said.

The hand-inked Torahs were donated decades ago by Rabbi Pauker’s sister to a Bronx synagogue, and were given to the rabbi when it closed. Pauker has estimated their total value to be $80,000 while a defense expert valued them at about $29,000.

One of the Torahs survived the Holocaust and was later found in a Nazi warehouse in Germany.

Two of the texts were originally owned by families in Los Angeles, according to engravings on the wooden scrolls, while a third is on permanent loan to Jewish communities worldwide from Manchester, England.

When Rabbi Pauker retired in 1994, most of his synagogue’s assets were given to Ohana, including prayer shawls, religious books and an ark


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Read Comments (14)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Sep 02, 2010 at 12:12 AM Anonymous Says:

Its disgusting to see sifrei torah fought over like a bunch of shmatas or paintings. This rebbitzen wants to give them away to her mishpacha for her own vanity. for shame.

2

 Sep 02, 2010 at 12:28 AM Observer Says:

No, it's disgusting to see a rabbi who would claim that a signed document was "only for insurance purposes", thereby proclaiming his own dishonesty.

3

 Sep 02, 2010 at 12:31 AM ThatEli Says:

#1, how do you know? Maybe the truth is as she says- they were only given to the new shul as a loan. It sounds like no one is disputing that her husband was the original rightful owner, and there's a contract that says it was a 2 year loan. Furthermore, acc. to the article, not only did the civil court agree with her, bes din ruled in her favor. You can still be dan l'kaf z'chus on Rabbi Ohana's behalf, but I don't see how you come off accusing her of taking them for her own vanity. Should she be forced to donate 120k-320k (depending on the per Torah estimates in the article) to a different shul, when her own family can use them?

4

 Sep 02, 2010 at 04:32 AM anon1 Says:

Please Dan Likaf Zechus I know Rabbi Ohana and his intentions are Lishem Shamayim (while you might not agree, but for the vast majority of you, your opinions of him are solely from this article) as evidenced by his quote “What’s the purpose to fight and give it to another chabad?” Ohana said. “This is the congregation where her husband used to come and gave to in memory of his loved ones.” He knew Rabbi Pauker would want his Torahs to go where they get maximum usage and appreciation.
While other reasons and they could be as valid (admittedly as found by bais Din and courts) the Torahs as claimed by Rebbetzin Paulker should go to her nephews.
My point being this is not about Rabbi Ohana wanting the Torahs because of their monetary value. BTW poster #3 the total values of the Torahs (all 4) are between 29-80 thousand not each one there is a max claim 80 thousand not 320 . I have dealt with Sifrie Torah and old used ones like these are worth anywhere between 8-20 thousand each.Rabbi Ohana has enough congregants and connections to get a sefer Torah or two for his Shule if he needed. He feels Rabbi Pauker wanted the Torahs by him, just like the donated Aron&Siddurim;

5

 Sep 02, 2010 at 05:44 AM Normal Says:

No-one with four sifrei torah is going to let them sit in the lounge room - of course you let a shule use them. If the Rabbi was happy to sign a false document and lie once, then why not twice? Whichever way it is a big Chillul Hashem.

6

 Sep 02, 2010 at 06:42 AM RMS613 Says:

Since we arent there, we dont know the facts. Perhaps though Rabbi ohana is worried because he doesn't have any other Sifrei Torah.
OTOH The Rebbtzin wants to give them to her children. How many does she have? If she has exactly 4 with their own congregation, this suggestion wont help, but if she has any other number here is an idea:

Let the shul where they currently reside keep one- even if it was originally supposed to be a loan, it has become part of the congregation and they may need it. The other 3 can be given to her childrens shuls.

If everyone would agree on this plan, it is the one that takes the most peoples needs/wishes/feeling into account. If not, then oh well!!!

7

 Sep 02, 2010 at 06:58 AM Anonymous Says:

The sefer torah my grandfather wrote in his lifetime is now being used in our family. In fact, my grandfather moved to a different neighborhood and took the torah with him. Sifrei torah are not the property of any shul but rather the property of the people who commission them to do as they see fit.

8

 Sep 02, 2010 at 07:44 AM Anonymous Says:

It appears that the third one does not belong to Rabbi Pauker but to the Manchester, England community. That one at least should remain with Rabbi Ohana

9

 Sep 02, 2010 at 08:52 AM Anonymous Says:

anon1 Says:

Please Dan Likaf Zechus

do you take us for fools he admitted in court and beis din that he is willing to commit fraud.

or as I see over and over fraud is not an avira or a bad thing by the frum it is a way of life

10

 Sep 02, 2010 at 09:33 AM kollelfaker Says:

many of the torahs that are given are really on loan and yes it is for insurance reasons just as many owners of fine art loan them to museums but they can reclaim them at any time

11

 Sep 02, 2010 at 09:55 AM HESHY Says:

In this weeks parsha it clearly states that it is a mitzvah for every jew to write a sefer torah. Generaly when a person writes a sefer torah , he doesn't have a place in his house to keep it . He therefore loans it to a schule so it should be in a mokom kodosh, but the torah belongs to the person who loans it to the schule.

12

 Sep 02, 2010 at 01:28 PM clear-thinker Says:

Where is the outrage? I know nothing about the case, but if both a beit din and courts have ruled the same way why are people coming up with excuses? Are you the same people who always say yidden should go to a beit din?

13

 Jun 12, 2011 at 11:35 AM ScottEsqinLA Says:

Wish I'd seen this last year. I'm Rabbi Ohana's attorney, I'm Orthodox. I have a few other credentials - check on line. News stories are not always accuracte and as some have correctly suggested, we should always be 'dan le chaf schut.'
- Mrs. Ohana took this from the Beit Din to Superior Court.
- The initial psak din was vacated by the judge for "the appearance of judicial impropriety" at Beit Din.
- When we presented an expert evaluation/appraisal of the 4 Sifrei Torah at the 2nd Beit Din trial, including the origin of them and COMBINED value of $29,000, Mrs. Pauker abandoned the false claim that her husband's family ever owned them in the Bronx.
- The judgment in her favor is currently on appeal to the California Court of Appeal.
- Recently there was a break in at the shul. 4 Sifrei Torah were stolen -2 of the disputed ones; 2 owned by Rabbi Ohana. 2 disputed Sifrei Torah were left in the shul.
- She has admitted employing "repo men" and that they are in her possession (or soon will be from the repo men).
- There is now a pending criminal investigation into the theft and a potential civil action concerning the theft by repo men and Mrs. Ohana.
G. Scott Sobel, Esq.

14

 Jun 12, 2011 at 12:37 PM ScottEsqinLA Says:

I forgot to mention above:

Rabbi Pauker (OBM) allowed Rabbi Ohana to use the 4 Torah scrolls for Yom Tov services for 2 years after Pauker closed his shul & before Ohana opened his shul. That's when Ohana signed an agreement to insure them. After Ohana opened the new shul, there was no written agreement or insurance condition - further evidence they were a gift, NOT a loan!

Rita Pauker's initial claim was that she wished to sell the 4 scrolls to fund her retirement. Ohana offered to fund a pension for her - she rejected the offer.

In order to stop motzie shem ra, lashon hara & rechilut (all forms of evil talk) & Chilul Ha Shem (denigration of G-d and the Jewish people), Rabbi Ohana, through my office, offered in writing to give up the 4 Sifrei Torah to Mrs. Pauker on 2 conditions:
1) that the entire matter be ended with a full mutual release of liability (no further claims/suits), and
2) Confidentiality (no further reports to the news or in the community).
The offer was flatly rejected.

The Holocaust rescued Sefer Torah is on permanent loan. The other 4 were donated locally in memory of local loved ones - should they move to NY or Florida?

G. Scott Sobel, Esq.

15

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