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Australian Rabbi Could Be Arrested As Brother-in Law Fight Gets Uglier

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A Sydney rabbi has been warned he will be arrested if he persists in publishing an excommunication order made by a Tel Aviv rabbinical court against his brother-in-law.

Rabbi Pinchus Feldman lost a case in Sydney’s Supreme Court last month when he attempted to stop his wife’s brother, Rabbi Joseph Gutnick, from selling properties owned by the Sydney Yeshiva, which Feldman heads.

The properties, which include the yeshiva’s synagogue, a boys’ school and a rabbinical college, are the subjects of mortgages held by Gutnick as security for a $3.25 million loan he made to the yeshiva in 1997. At that time, Feldman’s yeshiva was in debt to Australia’s Commonwealth Bank for $15.6 million.

Gutnick’s loan was matched by Sydney businessman Richard Scheinberg, and the bank accepted their $6.5 million as full payment, writing off the remainder.

Feldman had claimed that money from Gutnick was a gift and that charging interest is a violation of Jewish law. The judge found otherwise.

When Feldman lost his case, he appealed to the Tel Aviv Beit Din, or rabbinical court, which issued an excommunication order against Gutnick.

They ordered him to agree to have the matter settled by a rabbinical court and “to issue a freeze on all decisions and proceedings” within 48 hours or be excommunicated.

Gutnick had originally suggested that the matter be heard by a rabbinical court in Australia. He has plans to appeal the Tel Aviv decision in Jerusalem’s rabbinical court in September.

Gutnick is a major supporter of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

When a Jew is excommunicated, the Jewish community is warned against approaching him or including him in a minyan. They are not to bury his dead or to perform a circumcision on his children. His wife and children may be expelled from synagogues and schools.

Supreme Court Judge Peter Young also accepted Gutnick’s claim for additional money, including promissory notes and interest.

He gave Feldman until Aug. 11 to pay the money or the properties would be handed over to Gutnick.

Last week, Gutnick and Feldman continued their court battle, with Gutnick claiming that the Tel Aviv excommunication order was in contempt of the Sydney court.

Young, who heard the matter in Sydney’s Supreme Court, agreed, stating that the Tel Aviv order “questioned the dignity of the Supreme Court.”

He advised Feldman, who was represented in court by his wife, Pnina, to desist from publishing the excommunication orders or face an immediate warrant. Feldman had sent media outlets copies of the Tel Aviv order together with a backup letter from Bnei Brak’s rabbinical court.

At a meeting chaired last week by Sydney’s ruling communal body, the Board of Deputies, a decision was made to appoint an administrator for the yeshiva, currently run by Feldman and his family.

But a spokesman for the yeshiva told JTA, “We are confident we can run things by ourselves.”

No administrator has been appointed.

Feldman and Gutnick are apparently not on speaking terms, but it is understood that two of their sons are now trying to negotiate a compromise

Gutnick said, “Life for me goes on as normal. No one is distancing themselves from me. But I have no choice to push for this excommunication to be lifted and for the intimidation to stop.”

Young set Aug. 25 as the trial date for the contempt-of-court matter.

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