Hasidic rabbi 'kidnapped boy'

DESPITE their rigid observance of religious rule, Brooklyn's Hasidic Jews rarely seem to be at peace with the world, or with one another. The Hasidim have been involved in ethnic strife with blacks in the New York borough, and in internal squabbles. Rabbis have been kidnapped; followers have had their black hats stolen or their long curly sideburns snipped in street brawls. But one of the strangest tales to come out of the community in several years has now reached the courtroom.

A Hasidic rabbi named Shlomo Helbrans and his wife, Malka, have been charged, together with a third Hasid, Mordechai Weisz, of kidnapping a 14-year-old Jewish boy. The three, who say they are innocent, face up to 25 years in jail.

The boy, Shai Fhima, disappeared 10 months ago while attending a yeshiva, a Jewish school, run by Rabbi Helbrans, where he was being prepared for his bar mitzvah. His father, Michael Reuven, who lives in Israel and is separated from the boy's mother, has been trying to track him down since last summer.

When Mr Reuven, who is not a Hasid, read in an Israeli newspaper that his son had gone missing after attending the yeshiva, he flew to New York. After meeting the rabbi, Mr Reuven became convinced Mr Helbrans had kidnapped his son in order to convert him to the rabbi's devout brand of Judaism - against the wishes of Mr Reuven and his former wife.

Mr Reuven told the police, who bugged a meeting at the yeshiva during which Rabbi Helbrans is said to have offered to pay dollars 10,000 ( pounds 6,900) to the father if he arranged for the rabbi to have custody of the boy. The tape is also said to contain threats against the father from the rabbi's bodyguard.

The charge against the rabbi further alleges that he offered Shai's mother, Hana Fhima, dollars 60,000 to give him custody of the boy. Mrs Fhima says she loves her son and wants him back. 'I hope the rabbi realises this is a serious charge; it's not a game,' she said.

The district attorney went to court clearly believing that Rabbi Helbrans, 30, arranged Shai's disappearance, but at the arraignment this week the rabbi's lawyer said Mr Helbrans 'absolutely' does not know where the boy is.

The rabbi accuses the boy's family of physically abusing the teenager, a charge the family denies. Rabbi Efroim Stein of the Central Rabbinical Congress, dismissed the charges against Rabbi Helbrans as ludicrous, adding: 'The only thing these people are guilty of is extending hospitality to someone in need.'

In the courtroom, Mr and Mrs Helbrans stood silently rocking back and forth in prayer while Mr Reuven ranted about his son being dead. 'Nobody cares,' he screamed at the rabbi. 'You shit, you shit. This is my son.' Then he turned white and collapsed and was taken to hospital where he was said to be in stable condition.

The Helbranses came to the United States from Israel during the Gulf war and are seeking political asylum. They are trying to establish their own yeshiva, and increase the following of the small Satmar sect the rabbi leads. Next month they will appear in court on the kidnapping charges, and also on the asylum petition.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform