Rabbi revealed as key suspect in alleged baby trafficking ring

Court lifts gag order on naming Shmuel Puretz as involved in scheme said to take away newborn for adoption to ultra-Orthodox couple

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women push their baby strollers as they walk in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, on July 4, 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women push their baby strollers as they walk in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, on July 4, 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on Thursday partially lifted a media gag order on naming a key suspect in a two-year investigation into a suspected baby trafficking ring in the ultra-Orthodox community.

Rabbi Shmuel Puretz 44, a businessman who divides his time between New York and Jerusalem, is suspected of brokering a deal under which a heavily pregnant Israeli woman was flown to New York and her baby removed from her allegedly against her will, then given for adoption to a childless ultra-Orthodox couple who live in Israel.

The mother, who is identified in court documents as “Yael,” was at the time under the legal guardianship of another rabbi’s wife, Rivka Segal, who is also a suspect.

Many other details of the case are still restricted under a gag order.

Puretz was arrested earlier this year along with some of the other suspects including Segal, the attorney of the adopting parents, and the parents themselves, who have been raising the baby boy.

The suspects have all since been granted a conditional release from custody.

Segal denies arranging Yael’s trip to New York, as well as any involvement in the child’s adoption. Last week the Nazareth Family Court ordered Segal to pay NIS 500,000 ($144,000) in damages to Yael, Channel 13 television news reported.

Screen capture from video of Rivka Segal. (Ynet)

Puretz is also suspected of involvement in another baby trafficking case, the Walla website reported. In that case, newborn twin girls were allegedly taken from a mother who has three other children, in similar circumstances to those of Yael.

Both women claim that their babies were taken from them for adoption by means of trickery and mental pressure, Walla reported.

Yael told police that in 2016, when she was eight months pregnant, Segal persuaded her to travel to New York.

After arriving at an unnamed local hospital linked to the ultra-Orthodox community, Yael said her baby boy was delivered via cesarean section, and immediately afterwards she was pressured into signing documents she did not understand.

Yael said her son was taken away from her at the hospital and given to a childless ultra-Orthodox couple, who then returned to Israel. She says she has not seen her son since.

Following the birth, she said, she was held captive in a New York home for several months, her passport and papers taken from her. Eventually she was able to contact her partner in Israel and returned to the country.

Yedioth Ahronoth reported in 2017 that Yael’s traffickers charged a $100,000-$150,000 “handling fee” for each adoption they facilitated.

Police believe the human trafficking network has been operating in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community for some time.

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