Lebanese Muslim who posed as ultra-Orthodox Jew denies link to terror groups

Eliyah Hawila reportedly confirms to law enforcement he is not Jewish, says he married Haredi woman to join the community

Eliyah Hawila, born to a Shiite Muslim family in Lebanon, posed as an Orthodox Jew to marry an ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn woman, seen here speaking in an interview with Israel's Kan public broadcaster (Screencapture/Kan)
Eliyah Hawila, born to a Shiite Muslim family in Lebanon, posed as an Orthodox Jew to marry an ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn woman, seen here speaking in an interview with Israel's Kan public broadcaster (Screencapture/Kan)

A Lebanese Muslim man who posed as an ultra-Orthodox Jew for a number of years told police this week he is not antisemitic and is not affiliated with any terror groups, according to media reports Thursday.

On Monday it was reported that a Jewish newlywed woman from Brooklyn discovered two weeks after her Orthodox wedding that her husband, Eliyah Hawila, is not Jewish.

Hawila confirmed to law enforcement that he is not Jewish, saying that he just wanted to join the Jewish community, and the wedding was another step in the process, Israel’s Channel 12 news reported on Thursday.

He denied being affiliated with a terror group, and stressed that he is not antisemitic, the network said. According to reports, Hawila is not considered by New York authorities to pose a security threat to the local community.

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

Photos published by media outlets showed him in traditional ultra-Orthodox garb during 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. Reports on Thursday said he also carried a US passport, but law enforcement found nothing unusual and said both passports were valid.

Channel 12 reported that authorities will now have to consider whether to file an indictment against him for impersonation.

Hawila was also asked why he did not contact local rabbis and pursue a proper conversion to Judaism, to which he replied that he tried to do so but it did not work out, the network reported.

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.

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 in 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.

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 the Yeshiva World News site, there were indications that his story didn’t add up, including a family tree he produced that was “riddled with glaring inaccuracies,” according to the report. Among the Ashkenazi names listed was “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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