Interim chief rabbi of France denies extortion charges

An interim chief rabbi of France denied allegations that he helped extort $120,000 from a woman who needed his signature to obtain a religious divorce.

The family of the 28-year-old woman, who was not identified, filed a deposition March 18 against Rabbi Michel Gugenheim and two members of his rabbinical court, L’Express weekly reported last week.

The family had made a secret video recording of their appearance at a Paris rabbinical court presided over by Gugenheim, one of two interim chief rabbis of France, L’Express reported. In the recording, Gugenheim endorsed the ex-husband’s demand that the woman pay him a little over $40,000, according to L’Express, and was heard saying, “This is the price of her freedom.”

One rabbinical judge, or dayan, asked the woman’s family to write a check for $120,000 as a donation to the Sinai religious institution, L’Express reported. According to the arrangement, Sinai would transfer $41,310 to the husband and keep the remaining amount.

Contacted by L’Express, Gugenheim denied any wrongdoing. Gugenheim, who is also the chief rabbi of Paris, and Olivier Kaufmann have been sharing the duties of the country’s chief rabbi since April 2013, when Rabbi Gilles Bernheim resigned amid revelations that he had used an academic title that he did not really possess. — jta