Lebanese Muslim posed as ultra-Orthodox Jew, married Brooklyn woman — reports

Rabbi’s wife reportedly tried to question groom’s religious background ahead of wedding but was ignored; FBI, Homeland Security said probing matter after 3 passports found

Illustrative: A groom smashes the glass in a Jewish wedding, under the huppah (Mor Seban; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: A groom smashes the glass in a Jewish wedding, under the huppah (Mor Seban; iStock by Getty Images)

Two weeks after her Orthodox wedding, a Jewish newlywed woman from Brooklyn discovered that her husband is apparently a Lebanese Muslim, who may be a Palestinian, and had been posing as a Jew, according to US and Israeli media reports Monday.

The man reportedly spent several years learning in a yeshiva and convincingly presented himself as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, concealing details of his origins.

He was identified as Eliyah Hawila, according to a statement from a Texas Chabad rabbi who is familiar with the groom.

Photos published by media outlets showed him in traditional ultra-Orthodox garb during the various events leading up to and including the wedding. In other pictures, he was apparently seen alongside members of his Lebanese family who do not appear to be Jewish.

The bride is from the Brooklyn Sephardic Jewish community.

Documents discovered by her family show that he has a Lebanese passport under a different name. According to some reports, he had at least one other passport, also in a different name, and may be a Muslim Palestinian from Beirut.

A source familiar with the incident told the Kikar Hashabbat website that the only person who had doubts about the groom before the wedding was a rabbi’s wife who gave the bride lessons on Jewish matrimony laws ahead of the wedding.

The source said the woman tried several times to speak with rabbis about her concerns but her pleas fell on deaf ears.

The groom reportedly speaks fluent Hebrew and had spent five to seven years in a yeshiva. A video provided to Kikar Hashabbat, but not published by the website, taken during an engagement party, shows the groom speaking a style of speech common among those who learn in yeshivas, the website reported.

It was only after the wedding that someone told the father of the bride that he needs to look into the groom, the source said.

The bride’s brothers went to the newlyweds’ home and there found three passports with different names, all with photographs of the groom. Other photos showed the groom with people, apparently his family. Local rabbis then immediately arranged for the bride to leave the home and be taken to a safe location.

The FBI is involved in the matter, sources told the Yeshiva World Website, as is the US Department of Homeland Security, and the Israeli Consulate General has been updated on the case. Among other things, authorities are looking into whether Hawila was in the US legally.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community is working to determine if he has a Jewish mother, a circumstance that, under Orthodox Jewish law, would still render the marriage binding.

Hawila had reportedly given a convincing story as to why he was cut off from his family and had been affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitch branch in Texas for several years.

However, according to YWN, there were indications that his story didn’t fit, including a family tree he produced that was “riddled with glaring inaccuracies,” according to the report. Among the Ashkenazi names listed was a “Meir Lansky,” the name of a 1920s New York Jewish mobster.

Hawila had also claimed to be working for the National Security Agency.

The head of the Chabad house in Texas A&M University, who was at the wedding, released a statement explaining his acquaintance with “Eliyah Hawila” saying he first began visiting Chabad in 2018.

Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff said Hawila had met the women on a Jewish dating website and “falsely presented himself to her as observant.”

“When asked by the woman and her family, I informed them that his conduct did not reflect that of a fully observant Jew,” Lazaroff said.

He said that it is the responsibility of the officiating rabbi at a Jewish wedding to determine the Jewish status of the couple.

“When Rabbi Ezra Zafrani, a respected Syrian rabbi in Lakewood, NJ, asked me if Eliyah was Jewish, I explicitly informed him that I did not know and that whoever was officiating would need to… independently confirm his Jewish status,” the Lazaroff wrote.

He said he and his wife attended the wedding because they were invited. Lazaroff added they knew Hawila had no family who would be there and attended on the understanding that the officiating rabbis “had done their due diligence to confirm the groom’s Jewish status.”

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