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Open Letter to House Ethics Committee: Time to Launch Investigation into Rep. Camp Staffer Re. Aharon Friedman

Posted: Updated:

March 2, 2012

Representative Jo Bonner, Chairman
House Committee on Ethics
1015 Longworth House Office Building (LHOB)
Washington, DC 20515

Re: Investigation into Aharon Friedman, Staff Member for Rep. Dave Camp

Dear Chairman Bonner:

My name is Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld. I am the Rabbi of Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue ("OSTNS"), located at 1600 Jonquil Street, NW, Washington, D.C. OSTNS was founded in 1886 during the administration of President Grover Cleveland, and is one of the largest Orthodox synagogues in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

For the reasons set forth below, I request that the House Committee on Ethics promptly open an investigation into whether Mr. Aharon Friedman, a staff member of Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), is acting in violation of Rule XXIII(1) of the House of Representatives (Code of Official Conduct).

As a staff member for Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Mr. Friedman is obligated by Rule of the House of Representatives XXIII, subsection (1) to "behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House." Mr. Friedman has violated the House Rules and harmed the reputation of the House of Representatives by continuing to abuse his ex-wife, Ms. Tamar Epstein. The reputation of the House of Representatives is suffering because of Mr. Friedman's continuing refusal to grant Ms. Epstein a "get," a behavior that is no less a form of spousal abuse than striking one's wife. Just as the House would not tolerate a senior staffer who is an adjudicated wife beater, it should take steps to investigate and discipline Mr. Friedman for his abuse of Ms. Epstein.

Mr. Friedman and his ex-wife, Ms. Tamar Epstein, were granted a civil divorce by a Maryland court in April, 2010. Mr. Friedman, however, continues to refuse to grant Ms. Epstein a religious divorce known as a "get." Under Jewish law, a wife is prevented from re-marrying until her husband provides her with a get. A woman in this position is referred to as an "agunah" or chained woman. By refusing to grant Tamar Epstein a get, Mr. Friedman is preventing Ms. Epstein from ever being able to remarry (or even to date) because, under Jewish law, she remains married to Mr. Friedman.

The public has spoken out against Mr. Friedman's actions and has begun to associate Mr. Friedman's actions with those of Rep. Camp and the House. As reported by Politico, in its February 26, 2012 edition, a group of nearly 1,500 individuals has started a social-media campaign to encourage Rep. Camp into taking action on this issue. This growing group of people has made it clear that Mr. Friedman's continuing wrongful actions now reflect poorly on Rep. Camp and the House as a whole.

Mr. Friedman's refusal to provide Ms. Epstein with a get has been widely recognized as abusive. Several individuals and organizations within the Jewish community have spoken out against Mr. Friedman's actions. For example, the rabbi at the synagogue where Mr. Friedman used to worship (he is now barred from worshipping there) has condemned Mr. Friedman's actions by encouraging his congregation to shun Mr. Friedman. A D.C. rabbinical court has issued a non-binding directive requiring Mr. Friedman to provide Ms. Epstein with a get. The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, a nationally-respected organization with 3,000 members, has spoken out against Mr. Friedman, stating that "get-refusal is not just a religious matter, but an issue of domestic abuse. [Mr. Friedman] continues to cruelly control [Ms. Epstein's] life and constrict her freedom."

Nor has criticism of Jewish husbands who refuse to give their wives a get been limited to the religious sphere. State legislatures and secular courts have repeatedly recognized the ethical and moral failings of a husband who withholds a get from his wife. The New York State Legislature has recognized that a husband withholding a get from his wife is contrary to public policy. In an effort to address this issue, New York enacted two laws -- New York Domestic Relations Law 253 and 236(B)(5)(h) -- with the goal of preventing husbands from abusing the Jewish get process. Upon enactment of the first New York get law, New York Domestic Relations Law 253, then Governor Mario Cuomo acknowledged that it was necessary to address this issue "because it deals with a tragically unfair condition that is almost universally acknowledged." In a 2000 decision, Judge Gartenstein of the Supreme Court, Queens County stated that "The State of New York has made painfully clear that it will not tolerate perversion of the Jewish get process into an unconscionable instrument of coercion by husbands who have the sole power to cause delivery thereof, a situation putting wives at the mercy of unscrupulous, often sadistic husbands." Giahn v. Giahn, 223 N.Y.L.J. 25 (2000) vacated on other grounds by Giahn v. Giahn, 290 A.D.2d 483 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. 2002).

I urge the House Committee on Ethics to initiate an investigation into Mr. Friedman's actions - actions that have had the effect of lowering the reputation of the House of Representatives in the eyes of the American public.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld
Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue