Rabbi in New Jersey charged as accomplice in wifes death

PHILADELPHIA — Rabbi Fred Neulander has been arrested on charges of complicity in the brutal 1994 bludgeoning death of his wife, Carol.

The 57-year-old Neulander, founder and former longtime senior rabbi of Congregation M'kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, N.J., was taken into custody by police on Thursday of last week and arraigned on charges of accomplice murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Lee Solomon, prosecutor for New Jersey's Camden County, called the circumstantial evidence of Neulander's involvement in arranging for his wife's homicide "compelling and overwhelming." Bail was set at $400,000.

Neulander's arrest marked the beginning of one more chapter in a story of alleged murder, marital infidelity and disgrace that has been unfolding since the night of Nov. 1, 1994, when the 52-year-old Carol Neulander was found lying in a pool of blood in the family's home in Cherry Hill.

At the time, Edward F. Borden Jr., who was then Camden County prosecutor, refused to rule out the rabbi as a suspect in the case. The ensuing investigation into the homicide brought to light Neulander's involvement in a number of extramarital affairs. The scandal led to the rabbi's resignation from his pulpit in March 1995.

Since Neulander's resignation from M'kor Shalom, the rabbi has occasionally conducted weddings, b'nai mitzvah and funerals.

Citing his marital infidelities, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the body of about 1,750 North American Reform rabbis, moved in April 1996 to suspend Neulander's membership. The CCAR, however, cannot take away a rabbi's ordination.

Then in September 1997, the Camden County prosecutor called on an investigative grand jury to probe more deeply into the murder. The case remained in limbo until last week, however, when the prosecutor sought and gained a warrant for the rabbi's arrest.

Asked about the timing of the arrest on the eve of the Jewish High Holy Days, Solomon said, "I am mindful of the issues you want to raise. I also have a responsibility as prosecutor to act at the time most appropriate in the interests of justice and the state of New Jersey."

During last week's arraignment, a sober-faced Neulander shook his head, knitted his brows, looked down and sighed. From time to time, he leaned forward to adjust his glasses with his manacled hands.

Neulander's attorney, Jeffrey Zucker, entered Neulander's plea of not guilty.

"We think the prosecutor's case is as weak as it's always been," Zucker said.

The judge acknowledged that no eyewitnesses to the homicide exist and that the case against Neulander was circumstantial. But the judge added, "I do not believe it is a weak circumstantial case."

At no time during the proceedings was Neulander referred to as "rabbi." In an interview before the arraignment, Zucker said Neulander had not expected the arrest.

"I think he was hopeful they'd find the real person responsible," Zucker said. "But the truth is, they never looked anywhere else but in his direction.

M'kor Shalom has issued a formal statement which read in part, "We must all remember that our system of justice requires that all persons are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Rabbi Neulander is certainly entitled to this presumption, not only from Congregation M'kor Shalom, but from the press and public.

"It is our prayer and hope that when the process is concluded, justice will be served."