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Jewish Journal

Rabbi Refuses to Turn Torah Scrolls Over to Widow

by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

July 20, 2010 | 6:19 pm

Despite two rabbinic court rulings against him, a Sherman Oaks rabbi is refusing to turn over four Torah scrolls that a rabbi’s widow says belong to her.

In May, a beit din (rabbinic court) confirmed a previous rabbinic ruling that the scrolls belong to Rita Pauker, widow of Rabbi Norman Pauker, but Rabbi Samuel Ohana has so far refused to hand them over. Ohana, who sits on his own beit din, is using the scrolls in his synagogue, Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel.

Ohana says Rabbi Pauker gave him the scrolls when the latter retired in the mid-1990s from Valley Mishkan Israel Congregation.

Rita Pauker says the scrolls belong to the Pauker family and were merely lent to Ohana, and she wants them back to give to her nephews, who are pulpit rabbis in other cities. Pauker has been trying to get the scrolls back since her husband died in 2002.

The four scrolls, hand-inked on vellum, are valued at around $100,000.

Last week, Pauker, who has not been able to afford an attorney for the last several months, filed a petition with the Los Angeles Superior Court to confirm the arbitration award and compel Ohana to turn over the scrolls.

Ohana’s attorney declined to comment but confirmed that Ohana still has the scrolls.

In January 2009, the Rabbinical Council of California Beit Din — onto which both sides signed for arbitration — ordered Ohana to turn over the scrolls, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Zaven Sinanian vacated the beit din’s award in April, after Ohana’s lawyer successfully argued that Rabbi Nachum Sauer should be disqualified from that beit din because he was interviewed in a Daily News story about the case. Sauer said he had answered a general question about scroll ownership and didn’t know anything about the case.

Sinanian sent the case back to beit din, and the two sides agreed to a one-judge beit din, rather than the standard three.

Rabbi Shalom Tendler, dean of the boys high school Mesivta Birkas Yitzchak and a longtime judge on rabbinic courts, heard the case in January 2010 and on May 18 ruled that the scrolls must be returned to Pauker.

The scrolls have not yet been turned over.

“I keep winning the case but losing the Torahs,” Pauker said.

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