In a bizarre twist, the victim of an alleged assault and kidnapping this week appears to be an Orthodox Jew on the lam from Israel's high rabbinical court for refusing to divorce his wife, according to Israeli news reports.
Yisrael Briskman, 36, who police say was kidnapped, beaten and robbed last Saturday by a local Orthodox couple, was the subject of a religious ruling two years ago that called on all observant Jews to shun him, Ynetnews, the Israeli English-language news website, reported.
"The High Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem calls on the Israeli communities and the judges and rabbis of Israel wherever they may be to implement these rules of alienation and refuse the "divorce refuser' Israel Meir Briskman any financial, physical or legal aid until he carries out his sentence and grants his wife an unconditional, immediate divorce," a bulletin circulated by a rabbinical judge stated, according to the news site.
Ynetnews stated in a September 2008 article that Briskman fled Israel, despite a hold-departure filed against him, and that he was believed to be in the United States.
While there is no mention of violence, the court order calls into question for some people the motive behind this week's alleged attack against Briskman.
Lakewood police said they see no connection between the rabbinical court ruling and the attack on Briskman. They said the motive was money.
David Wax and his wife, Judy, lured Briskman to their home, where they handcuffed him and put him in a room before beating him and ordering that he call his family for money, according to Lt. William Addison. Briskman's Palm Pilot, thumb drive, hat, coat and up to $300 in cash were stolen.
"We have a good solid kidnapping case," said Addison, who identified Briskman's photo from the Israeli news article. "We don't have any other motives on the table."
According to Addison, no one has approached police with information contradicting that view. And even if a connection to an Israeli order did exist, he said, it would have no bearing on secular law. Addison did say others were "probably" involved.
No one answered the door Friday at the Waxes large brick home on Somerset Avenue, in an upscale neighborhood just north of Kennedy Boulevard, where a white fence circles the backyard and neatly trimmed shrubs line the walkway.
Judy Wax, 46, was released from jail on $400,000 bail, according to an Ocean County corrections officer. Her husband, David, 48, was still being held on $750,000 bail. They appeared in court for the first time Wednesday but offered no plea.
Police say Briskman was eventually dropped off in New York the evening of the assault and treated at a hospital for a broken nose, black eyes and several cuts to his head. He had been staying in Lakewood and was seeking employment with the Waxes. Efforts to reach Briskman, who is reportedly in Brooklyn, were unsuccessful.
An e-mail sent to the Directorate of the Israeli Rabbinical Courts seeking information about the Briskman case was not returned.
According to Ynetnews, the religious tribunal instructed Jews not to associate with Briskman, to allow him to join a congregation or to provide him lodging. One Israeli blogsite, The Muqata, posted his picture among others with the headline: "Israel Most Wanted."
The issue of divorce has been a contentious one recently in Orthodox circles.
Last week, a couple of New Yorkers used a megaphone on a Lakewood street corner to protest loosened religious divorce laws.
Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg, an Orthodox leader in Lakewood, said the rabbinical courts work closely with secular courts in Israel. He has no knowledge of the Briskman case, but said, in general, that someone who refuses a divorce order can face a range of penalties, from the loss of a driver's license to jail.
"They take it very seriously," Weisberg said, adding that it's why people sometimes flee — "to escape jurisdiction."