Congressman gets chained to a messy Jewish divorce

Dave Camp, powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is taking heat for the ‘recalcitrant husband’ on his staff

Congressman Dave Camp (photo credit: AP/Harry Hamburg)
Congressman Dave Camp (photo credit: AP/Harry Hamburg)

An affluent, leafy suburb of Washington, DC, boasting one of the area’s largest concentrations of Orthodox Jews is an unusual place to see sign-wielding protesters shouting slogans into bullhorns. Yet, about a year ago, the Kemp Mill neighborhood in Silver Spring, Maryland, was the site of about 200 demonstrators carrying placards and chanting, in unison, “Aharon Friedman, give Tamar a get!”

The source of their ire is a 35-year-old tax specialist and Capitol Hill staffer whose boss, Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI), is chairman of the powerful tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

Since his civil divorce from Tamar Epstein, 28, in April 2010, Aharon Friedman has refused to grant Epstein a Jewish writ of divorce, known as a get. According to Jewish law, a husband must agree to give his wife a get before she can remarry within the faith, have additional children, or uncover her hair. In the meantime, she is known as an aguna, literally, a “chained” woman.

The tortuous saga of Friedman and Epstein — which includes a nasty custody battle over their four-year-old daughter — has been playing out predominantly within the Jewish community for the better part of two years. However, a social media offensive launched last week by Epstein’s supporters is taking aim at Rep. Camp, urging the Roman Catholic lawmaker to pressure his employee to grant a get.

‘It is a pity to be known as the congressman who employs and encourages abuse of women’

After a torrent of comments were posted on the Michigan Congressman’s Facebook page urging him to intercede with Friedman, Rep. Camp disabled public comments on the site. Meanwhile, an online petition urging Camp to intervene was launched last week and has attracted more than 3,000 signatories.

“It is a pity to be known as the congressman who employs and encourages abuse of women,” it reads. “We aren’t asking Dave Camp to fire Aharon Friedman. All we want is for Camp to require that Friedman stop abusing his wife.”

The digital blitz is getting noticed in the Capitol and among reporters who cover the Hill. Politico called the campaign “awkward for Camp because it is rare that the personal lives of congressional staffers become political issues for members of Congress.”

‘It is rare that the personal lives of congressional staffers become political issues for members of Congress’

“But the influential committee chairman is being dragged into the highly unusual situation now that Friedman’s opponents have decided to thrust it into the public sphere,” said the article.

Friedman and Rep. Camp’s office are refusing to discuss the situation publicly. Details of the case were reported last year in the New York Times, which said, “Like most marriages that end badly, this one began hopefully.” It continued:

On April 23, 2006, Aharon Friedman of Brooklyn married Tamar Epstein, seven years his junior, of suburban Philadelphia. The next year, they had a daughter.

According to court records and interviews with Ms. Epstein, her lawyer and Mr. Friedman, who refused to be quoted publicly, Ms. Epstein said in March 2008 that she wanted a divorce. Her husband said he hoped to reconcile but the next month, she moved with their daughter to her parents’ home in suburban Philadelphia.

Both parties wanted their divorce resolved by a beit din, a Jewish court. But both also availed themselves of civil court: Mr. Friedman to get an emergency order to have his daughter returned to Maryland (it was denied), and Ms. Epstein, thereafter, in a countersuit for divorce. Both have since filed numerous other civil motions in a messy case.

Following last year’s demonstration outside Friedman’s Kemp Mill apartment building, the Washington Jewish Week ran an editorial headlined, “Unchain this Woman.”

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, an influential Orthodox rabbi who leads a popular Washington, DC, synagogue, is a strong supporter of Epstein. In a letter to the Republican staff director of the House Ways and Means Committee, the rabbi accused Friedman of “psychological terrorism.”

“I don’t think the Messiah can come as long as there is one aguna in the world,” Herzfeld told the New York Times.

According to a recent study, there have been 462 agunot over the last five years in the US and Canada.

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