Man denies marrying off minor daughter

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NEW YORK — A Brooklyn man who created a storm of controversy throughout the Orthodox Jewish world by marrying off his minor daughter is now saying he didn't do it.

In a sworn affidavit submitted to the New York State Supreme Court, Israel Goldstein has claimed that he never married off his young daughter in a ceremony known as kedusha ketana, or minor marriage.

He also compared his ex-wife, who is bringing suit against him, to Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who was recently convicted of drowning her two young sons.

Goldstein's claim in secular court contradicts what he has said earlier to a Jewish religious court and to the media, that he married off his then-10-year-old daughter to exact revenge against his wife, Gita Goldstein, for seeking a divorce in civil court.

He has refused to grant his ex-wife a Jewish divorce.

According to a Hebrew-language document signed by the three judges of the Tausig religious court in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, Goldstein walked into the court in September 1993 and announced that he had married his daughter "according to the laws of Moses and Israel."

Goldstein refused to divulge the names of the groom and the two witnesses required for any Jewish marriage. Nonetheless, the rabbinic judges accepted as fact that Goldstein had committed his daughter, Sarah Leah, to marriage in accordance with Jewish law.

Their document saying so was part of Gita Goldstein's original complaint against her ex-husband. She is suing him, and wants to sue for damages the groom as well as witnesses he previously said he used to marry off their daughter.

She has asked the court to award her and her daughter $30 million.

When asked by a reporter attending the preliminary court hearing Aug. 30 whether he did or did not in fact marry off his daughter, Israel Goldstein smiled briefly and said, "It will all come out in court."

It looks as if he may be right.

State Supreme Court Judge James Shaw ruled Sept. 7 that Gita Goldstein's case against her ex-husband will go forward, and that he is required to answer her attorney's questions before a judicial hearing officer in a session still to be scheduled.

Israel Goldstein appeared in court without an attorney and told the judge that he was representing himself.

He submitted a rambling affidavit in which he attacked his ex-wife as being "the equivalent of the murderess Susan Smith" for "taking away children from their father."

Because she went to a civil court to obtain a divorce from him, she is "neither pious, Torah-observant or Orthodox in any fashion. Gita Goldstein has spit on God and on his Torah law," he testified.

In the affidavit he also called her attorney, A. David Stern, "an asinine moron" and "primitive-minded."

At the end of the document Goldstein claimed never to have actually married off his daughter.

"Unfortunately for Mr. Stern and Mrs. Gita Goldstein, who commenced their litigation in the secular court and who have violated the Jewish law as prescribed by God in His Torah, I never married off my daughter or performed kedusha ketana," Goldstein said in the affidavit.

"Therefore there is no `groom' or witnesses for me to identify, and certainly no groom to come forward and offer a get," or Jewish divorce, he added.

"If Sara Leah is suffering emotionally, it is surely from all the childhood years she was deprived of her father," he testified.

Sara Leah lives with her mother and younger brother in Montreal, where her mother works as a teacher in an Orthodox nursery school.

In a recent interview, Gita Goldstein said her ex-husband harasses her and her relatives with threatening phone calls.

After the couple was separated several years ago, but before Gita had gone to the secular courts, Israel Goldstein allegedly kidnapped their son from a playground. He later failed to show up at a custody hearing and the courts awarded her sole custody, she said.

Shortly after the alleged minor marriage was made public in an article last May by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Orthodox rabbis ruled that Sarah Leah is not actually married because her father never named the groom or witnesses involved in the marriage.

Stern said, however, that he fears that the rabbinic ruling does not truly free the girl because Goldstein "could reveal the witnesses at any time. It's a sword of Damocles hanging over her [Sara Leah's] head until the entire issue is put to rest," he said.

The goal of suing Goldstein and ultimately, the groom and witnesses, is "to make sure that people who participate in this type of thing know that there is a price to pay," he said.

According to Stern, Goldstein's new testimony that he did not marry off Sara Leah doesn't necessarily derail his case.