Child’s Best Interests and a Trip to Israel

From Katz v. Katz, 2013 WL 150262 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Kings Cty. Jan. 11):

This is a dispute between two (2) parents, who have until now been able to recognize and resolve any differences relating to the child, who is seven (7) years old. The mother wishes to travel with the child to Israel to attend, on January 23, 2013, the wedding of Moshe Labin, the child’s maternal uncle, to Miriam Yitty Teitelbaum. The mother described this wedding as a significant event within the Satmar community because Miriam Yitty Teitelbaum is “the daughter of a very famous and influential rabbi and this wedding will be a most momentous event in Israel.” …

The father’s counsel annexed the affirmation of Rabbi Chaskel Teitelbaum dated December 31, 2013, to his responsive papers. In Rabbi Chaskel Teitelbaum’s affirmation dated December 31, 2013, he states:

1. I am a Rabbi of the Synagogue for the Synagogue for the Congregation Yetev Lev D’Satmar Inc., located at 165 Clymer Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211. Our Synagogue observes the religious beliefs of the Ultra–Orthodox Satmar Community and follows the teachings of our leader, the father of pure Judaism in America Grand Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the founder of the Ultra–Orthodox Satmar Community in the U.S. (the “Grand Rabbi”).

2. I am familiar with [the child] because he attends my Synagogue on Clymer Street in Brooklyn, has been raised as Ultra–Orthodox Satmar (“Satmar Hasidism”) and taught to follow the teachings of the Grand Rabbi.

3. At the core of Grand Rabbi’s teachings is his belief that the State of Israel (the “State”) and the Zionist idea upon which the State is built on, constitutes an absolute denial of all the central tenets of our faith in G-d and the Holy Torah. Observers of Satmar Hasidism belive as the Holy Torah says that Jews are nation, that G-d, the G-d of Israel is the King and we are His servants, His chosen nation, He took us out of Egypt, He gave us the land of Israel and then He exiled us amongst the nations because of our sins, and only He shall redeem us and gather us back to Israel through the Messianic King.

4. In Stark contrast, Zionism denies those teachings in the Torah and declares that Jewish people are like all other nations. Jews too have power to arm themselves to wage war, demand rights, and to free themselves from the exile through building the State of Israel.

5. As a result, our great Grand Rabbi opposed any travel to the State of Israel because of the spiritual influence and impression that a visit to the State would create by seeing the glory and splendor of institutions that do not follow the views of our great Grand Rabbi.

… Rabbi Chasekel Teitelbaum [who is the father's uncle] states that it is clear that “an impressionable child being raised as Ultra–Orthodox Satmar should not be traveling to the State of Israel” because the “child is at risk of having his religious beliefs undermined by the splendor of the State, the splendor of those communities that do not follow the Grand Rabbi’s approach.” Rabbi Chssekel Teitelbaum states that travel to Israel would confuse the child and “would be against [the child's] best interests because he is too young to understand the differences that he will be exposed to in Israel, which oppose the foundations of his faith and the education that the Child has received until now”….

The mother posits that the wedding is a significant event in their community and that it is important that she and the child travel to Israel. The mother notes that the father himself has traveled to Israel. The father acknowledges that he has traveled to Israel on three (3) occasions, and as recently as within the last 12 months, but that each time he traveled to Israel it was in his adult life, not as a child.

The judge’s ruling:

Whether the [parties'] agreement is valid and thereby the parties have joint custody but cannot reach an agreement on the limited issue of this child’s travel to Israel or the agreement is not valid and the issue is before this court de novo, under these particular facts and circumstances, the applicable standard is the best interest of the child….

The attorney for the child, who met with his client on one (1) occasion with the assistance of a Yiddish interpreter supplied by the mother, has taken the position, on behalf of his client, that his client would miss the mother if she were to travel to Israel, but that he was experiencing serious and significant confusion and concerns about a child of his community being in Israel.

The Court need not at this juncture examine whether or not the concerns were based upon fact or not, or where the child obtained information which has led to serious confusion. Certainly, those issues can be explored during a trial after forensic evaluations of the parties and the child and an in camera interview of the child. At this juncture, it is not in this child’s best interest to require him to travel to Israel for a celebration; the emotional risk to him outweighs any benefit that conceivably would be derived from the experience. Furthermore, the mother did not demonstrate any serious adverse affects that would be contrary to the child’s best interests if he were to stay with the father during the time that the mother traveled to Israel for her brother’s wedding from January 19, 2013 to January 30, 2013. The mother has failed to meet her burden that a temporary order of custody for the purpose of travel would be in the child’s best interest.

The Court notes that the parties had chosen not to litigate the issue in a civil proceeding until now [the initial application was filed Dec. 5, 2012 -EV], that delay and the decision not to commence a civil lawsuit places them both in a position of first having to commence the custody issue in its present context. Parties are permitted to chart their own course when deciding to commence a civil divorce proceeding, but there are necessary delays that may ensue if that decision to litigate has been delayed by their action[.]