Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Case of Aron Goldberger

Case of Aron Goldberger 
 Baltimore, MD; New Jersey; England and Israel

If you have materials related to this case, or full copies of the following newspaper articles or court decisions please forward to the Awareness Center. 

"Mrs. Esther Goldberger is the daughter of Rabbi Moses Eisemann, who is well known in American Orthodox Jewish circles. Under the terms of the 1980 marriage, Mr. Goldberger was to be a religious scholar and, following custom, the Eisemann family and the Orthodox community would support the couple and their family, according to court records."

If you or anyone you know were sexually victimized by Aron Goldberger and are looking for resources, please feel free to contact The Awareness Center and or your local rape crisis center.
  • Mrs. Esther Goldberger is the sister of Mrs. Eisgrau
  • Rabbi Moses Eiseman is a cousin to Rabbi Moshe Eiseman

Disclaimer: Inclusion in this website does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement. Individuals must decide for themselves if the resources meet their own personal needs.

Table of Contents:  
  1. Family Feud: The local, and international, Orthodox Jewish community is buzzing about a controversial child abduction and abuse case against a Torah scholar.  (10/02/1992)
  2. A family's nightmare touches 3 continents  (10/15/1992)
  3. Goldberger v. Goldberger  (05/28/1993)
  4. Talmudic scholar rejects abuse case plea bargain (06/08/1993)
  5. Scholar in molestation case receives probation (01/11/1994)
  6. Milestones From 5753 (09/10/1994)
  7. What steps have been taken to protect Aron Goldberger's present community?  (12/22/2004)
Other Related Cases:

  1. Case of Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau
  2. Case of Moshe Eisemann - Ner Israel, Baltimore, MD
  3. Case of Moshe Eisemann - Yeshiva of Vineland, NJ

Family Feud: The local, and international, Orthodox Jewish community is buzzing about a controversial child abduction and abuse case against a Torah scholar.
By Alan H. Feiler
Baltimore Jewish Times - October 23, 1992, Vol. 207; No. 9; Pg. 21,

A family's nightmare touches 3 continents
by Jay Apperson, Staff Writer
The Baltimore Sun - October 15, 1992

Allegations of child-snatching and molestation are not unheard of in custody fights. So why have Orthodox Jewish leaders in three states and on three continents become so deeply involved in the case of Goldberger vs. Goldberger, a husband-wife battle being played out in Baltimore courtrooms?
The answer, in one sense, is simple: Both husband and wife have roots in a New Jersey town that is home to the world's largest rabbinical college. And they lived in Israel and England before moving into Baltimore's close-knit Orthodox Jewish community.

But the reasons go deeper than that. Goldberger vs. Goldberger has aroused passions in Jewish communities from Northwest Baltimore to Jerusalem because it apparently violates two fundamental principles of Orthodox Jewish law. The law forbids one Jew from participating in the jailing of another and discourages Jews from airing disputes in public courts. That's what a Beth Din, or rabbinical court, is for.

In this bitter family conflict, Mr. Goldberger has been indicted on charges of kidnapping and molesting his children. He has countered with charges that his wife, who has pressed the case against him, is mentally ill.

"It's hard for anyone to know what was going on behind closed doors,'' said Eliyohu Krohn, speaking about the case before a recent prayer service at Congregation Machzekai Torah off Park Heights Avenue. Still, he said, ``There was no reason for anyone to take it out on the street. That's the pain here.''

Before Aron and (wife) Goldberger began trading public accusations their arranged marriage was as traditional as any within the Orthodox Jewish community. 

Mrs. Goldberger is the daughter of Rabbi Moses Eisemann (Vineland, NJ), who is well known in American Orthodox Jewish circles. Under the terms of the 1980 marriage, Mr. Goldberger was to be a religious scholar and, following custom, the Eisemann family and the Orthodox community would support the couple and their family, according to court records.

"She was and is a beautiful woman and I fell in love with her immediately,'' Mr. Goldberger wrote in 1990, when he still held out hope for a reconciliation.

The couple had two girls while living in New Jersey and three boys after moving to Jerusalem in 1983, court records show. With the couple expecting a sixth child in 1989, pediatricians examining the boys, ages 5, 4 and 2, discovered evidence of physical abuse and reported it to social service workers, said Mrs. Goldberger's lawyer, Susan Carol Elgin.

Mr. Goldberger, however, maintains that he is innocent and that it was members of the Eisemann family who called Social Services in October 1989, making public an allegation that he and others believe should have been kept within the Jewish community.

A month later, Mr. Goldberger and four of the children, including the boys, moved back to Israel. Although he says he left with his wife's blessing, he was later indicted on kidnapping charges.
Mrs. Goldberger paid private investigators to track her husband and children, who passed through Belgium and eventually landed in London. Word of case spreads

After Mrs. Goldberger moved to England, a Beth Din there gave her custody of the children in July 1990 and directed Mr. Goldberger to give his wife a divorce under Jewish law, an order he ignored. By then, the wife had filed for a civil divorce in Baltimore courts. The husband responded by seeking visitation rights and saying his wife was mentally ill.

Word of the case traveled in Orthodox circles, with the wife producing affidavits from rabbis and former classmates of Mr. Goldberger in New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Israel and Baltimore to back her claim that he used his religion as an excuse to avoid work.

"He strikes me as a stubborn and obstinate fanatic,'' Rabbi Yisroel Reznitsky, executive director of the Torah Institute of Baltimore, wrote in one affidavit. ``I have never known him to do an 'honest day's labor' and am not sure about his true religiosity which he purports.''

Claims that Mr. Goldberger is a religious fraud are "ill-founded,'' said William T. Kerr, who represents him in the civil proceedings. ``I don't mean to say he's not capable of being manipulative, but I think in his mind his pursuit of religiosity is genuine.''

As word of the dispute spread, leaders in Baltimore's Orthodox community began taking sides. Last year, more than 20 rabbis signed a petition, hung in Baltimore synagogues, questioning the sincerity of Mr. Goldberger's religious beliefs.

The petition, printed in Hebrew, reads in part: ``It is also a commandment for each and everybody to distance him, and it is forbidden to befriend him, and nobody should have any business with him at all, except of those relatives after whom he has to mourn.''

Rabbi Tzvi Hershy Weinreb
Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of Congregation Shomrei Emunah said he signed the petition because Mr. Goldberger reflected poorly on the Jewish community. ``My own personal feeling is when the man was ordered to do something by a rabbinical court and the Circuit Court, he should do so or he'll have to face the consequences,'' the rabbi said.

Interest in the case extends half a world away. An Oct. 2 article in the weekly newspaper In Jerusalem notes that Mrs. Goldberger's father, Rabbi Eisemann, has incurred the wrath of some followers for taking a family squabble to the secular courts -- and for allegedly reporting his son-in-law to Baltimore Social Services workers.

``Wanted posters denouncing his action have been plastered throughout'' religious neighborhoods in Jerusalem, the article states.

Menachem Friedman, professor of sociology at Bar Ilan University in Jerusalem and an expert on the ultra-Orthodox, said the strong feelings surrounding the issue can be traced to ancient times. In those days, Jews kept their conflicts internal because going before a gentile court and swearing before a non-Jewish god was to recognize a gentile sovereignty.

The most amazing reflection of the widespread interest in the case, say the Baltimore lawyers in the custody fight, is the ability of two people who do not hold jobs to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to continue their legal battles.

(wife) Goldberger, 31, finds raising six children to be a full-time pursuit and apparently gets money for legal fees from her family, said Ms. Elgin.

Mr. Kerr said Mr. Goldberger, also 31, cannot easily find work because he has been ostracized in the Jewish community and because his customs and appearance would make it difficult for him to find work elsewhere. ``Aron has his black robes that he wears and they're all he owns. He's not your average member of the community,'' Mr. Kerr said.

Mr. Kerr and other lawyers for Mr. Goldberger are paid by his backers in England and New Jersey. It's money that could be better spent, argue Mrs. Goldberger's attorney and a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the six children.

``This man has raised over $150,000 in a year's time -- for what?'' said Ms. Elgin. ``His children need therapy for what they've gone through. He hasn't paid a dime for that. Yet he fights on. What's his cause?''

Fund-raising efforts for Mr. Goldberger's legal efforts are coordinated by Michael Rottenberg, a board member of Beth Medrash Govoha, the Lakewood, N.J., rabbinical college. "Unjustifiably humiliated'' 
"I really felt he was unjustifiably humiliated to the lowest level a human being can be,'' said Mr. Rottenberg, who said he did not know Mr. Goldberger before he was asked by both sides to mediate the dispute. He added, ``The children are not deprived. Whatever they had before, they have now, even more.''

He said the Orthodox Jewish community was largely on the wife's side when the matter first became known, but since then ``even the people who think he may have done something wrong feel he should not be in jail.''

Last month, Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward J. Angeletti sentenced Mr. Goldberger to three years for contempt of court for ignoring an order to pay more than $4,000 a month in child support. That sentence was stayed after Mr. Goldberger's lawyers filed an appeal, but he was locked up again when the child-abduction charges, which had been placed on the inactive docket in 1991, were reactivated by a prosecutor. Mr. Goldberger spent three weeks in jail before he was released on $50,000 bail -- just in time to observe Rosh Hashana. His kidnapping trial is scheduled for Oct. 26.

Mr. Goldberger was indicted Oct. 1 on sexual abuse charges, even as supporters in Baltimore and London negotiated with a rabbi in New York to try to find a way to settle the matter. He surrendered at the Baltimore police Central District last Thursday morning -- a day after he observed Yom Kippur by praying at Congregation Machzekai Torah.

After spending most of three days behind bars, Mr. Goldberger was released Saturday on $50,000 bail. He is scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 22 on the sexual child abuse charges.

Doug Struck of the Jerusalem Bureau contributed to this article.

Goldberger v. Goldberger

Filed: May 28, 1993.


APPEAL FROM THE Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Edward J. Angeletti, JUDGE
Argued Before Wilner, C.J., Bishop, and Levitz (Dana M., Specially Assigned), JJ.
Opinion by Levitz, J.

The odyssey of the young children of Aron and Esther Goldberger has led them from Lakewood, New Jersey, to Israel, to Belgium and England, and finally to Baltimore, Maryland. These children have been the subject of the attention of various courts including: The High Court of Justice, Family Division, London, England; the Ecclesiastical Court of the Chief Rabbi of London (Beth Din); and, finally, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

Prior to the trial of this matter before the Circuit Court, the parties and their children had been examined and evaluated by ten physicians or psychologists. When the trial began, Esther and Aron Goldberger were fighting only about the custody of their children and related matters of support and visitation. Allegations of sexual child abuse, kidnapping, insanity and unfitness were made by one or the other of the parents. Other extended family members were brought into the conflict and took an active part in it. Since both parties are devout Orthodox Jews, noted Rabbis in this country and in Europe and Israel were consulted by the parties for advice, guidance and support.

After resolving the pre-trial motions, participating in pre-trial conferences with the attorneys and the parties, and conducting a four day trial, the Court divorced the parties and determined that Esther Goldberger should be the custodian of the children: (NAME REMOVED), age 11; (NAME REMOVED), age 10; (NAME REMOVED), age 9; (NAME REMOVED), age 7, (NAME REMOVED), age 6; (NAME REMOVED), age 3. The Court further ordered that visitation with Mr. Goldberger take place only under supervised conditions in the presence of professionals. Further, in determining the issue of child support, the Court found that Mr. Goldberger had impoverished himself voluntarily and that his potential income was $60,000 per year. The Court ordered him to pay $4,066.00 per month in child support for the six children.

Mr. Goldberger appeals. Interestingly, he does not directly allege that the Chancellor erred in determining that it would be harmful to these children to be in his custody. Nor does he challenge directly the necessity for any visitation to be closely supervised. Instead, he raises two questions in his appeal to this Court:

(1) Did the trial court err in attributing $60,000 earning potential to Appellant, based solely upon the ability of others to raise funds to finance his custody litigation?

(2) Whether the trial court's refusal to recuse itself was clearly erroneous where trial court manifested clear prejudice to Appellant prior to trial, or in the alternative, violated Appellant's rights to due process of law?

Were this Court to agree that the Chancellor abused his discretion in not granting appellant's recusal motion made on the first day of trial, the entire decision of the Chancellor would have to be set aside and a new trial ordered. Accordingly, we shall address this issue first.

The Court of Appeals has recently reiterated that judges are impartial participants in the legal process, whose duty to preside when qualified is as strong as their duty to refrain from presiding when not qualified. Barry Jefferson El v. State, Md. (1993); citing Boyd v. State, 321 Md. 69, 581 A.2d 1 (1990); Doering v. Fader, 316 Md. 351, 558 A.2d 733 (1989). A fair and impartial trial is a judicial process by which a court hears before it decides; by which it conducts a dispassionate inquiry and renders judgment only after receiving evidence. Spence v. State, 296 Md. 416, 463 A.2d 808 (1983). Unquestionably, cases involving innocent children who are caught up in ugly and divisive disputes between their parents are some of the most difficult that trial judges are called upon to decide. These cases sometimes require extraordinary effort to remain dispassionate, particularly when it becomes clear that a party has acted unreasonably to the detriment of the children.

Recusal is a discretionary matter, and the judge's decision denying recusal should not be overturned unless clearly wrong. Surratt v. Prince George's County, 320 Md. 439, 578 A.2d 745 (1990); In re Turney, 311 Md. 246, 533 A.2d 916 (1987). In the case sub judice there is no question that it was up to the trial judge to decide the recusal motion. No allegations of bias derived from an extrajudicial source are alleged. Nor were there any allegations of personal misconduct such as those alleged in the Surratt or Turney cases.

The appellant argues that "the content of the pre-trial proceedings in this case permanently tainted and polluted the remainder of the case." Where the bias of a trial judge against a party is alleged as the basis for recusal, the bias must have derived from a "personal," rather than judicial source. Boyd v. State, 321 Md. 69, 581 A.2d 1 (1990). Where knowledge is acquired in a judicial setting, or an opinion expressing bias is formed on the basis of information acquired from evidence presented in the course of a judicial proceeding before that judge, neither that knowledge nor that opinion qualifies as "personal." Boyd v. State, at 77; Doering v. Fader, 316 Md. 351, 356, 558 A.2d 733, 736 (1989).

The trial judge's first contact with this case came in the first week of March, 1992. Having just rotated into the domestic assignment,*fn1 the court noted that a four day trial was scheduled for this case to begin the end of the month. The court reviewed the file and noted that seven other judges of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City (nearly 30% of the Bench) had been involved in this case. To assure consistency, the trial judge requested the Administrative Judge to assign the case to one judge for all pending motions and trial. Based on that entirely proper request, the case was assigned to the trial judge to handle all further matters.
A pre-trial conference was scheduled on March 4, 1992. Subsequent pre-trial conferences were held on March 5, 9, 11 and 13. It was at one of the pre-trial conferences that the court was made aware of the fact that appellant had failed to pay any child support in spite of agreeing to pay same. He was $3,000 in arrears. Also, appellant had failed to pay one-half of the fee of Dr. Lehne, the court-appointed mental health expert, or one-half of the fee of counsel for the children. Also, the court learned that appellant had avoided the effect of a previous court order to surrender his passport to counsel by applying for a duplicate passport, falsely claiming that the previous passport was lost.

At the first pre-trial conference, the court requested that the parties submit a list of proposed witnesses and a summary of their testimony. At the pre-trial conference of March 11, 1992, the court indicated that it would not permit either side to call any of the numerous witnesses the parties proposed because it appeared from the summaries that those witnesses, other than the experts, could provide only anecdotal information that would be of little assistance to the court. This ruling was reversed on March 13, 1992. On that day, the court told the parties at a chambers conference that each party would be permitted to call any and all witnesses he or she desired and that no witnesses were being precluded from testifying. Also at this conference, it was agreed that the court-appointed experts, Dr. Gregory Lehne and Dr. P. Gayle O'Callaghan, would be called by counsel for the children. At the trial, which began on March 31, 1992, the court permitted the parties to call the witnesses they desired.
Undeniably, some of the statements the trial judge made during the various pre-trial conferences clearly revealed the court's displeasure with the conduct of appellant. Also obvious is the fact that the trial judge was attempting to encourage the parties to settle their dispute for two compelling reasons: first, because the unanimous opinions of all of the experts were that custody must be awarded to the appellee; and second, because of the sensitive and potentially embarrassing nature of likely trial testimony. Although experienced trial judges know the value to the parties of settlements in domestic cases, the fact is that some litigants need their day in court. That they are entitled to it cannot be denied. Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 102 S. Ct. 1388, 71 L. Ed. 2d 599 (1982); Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 92 S. Ct. 1208, 31 L. Ed. 2d 551 (1972).
Some of the comments of the trial judge regarding appellant were injudicious. Statements regarding appellant's possible (but uncharged and unadjudicated) perjury in his passport application and his disqualification as a witness were unnecessarily harsh.*fn2 More egregious were the court's pre-trial comments indicating that no witnesses would be heard other than the parties.*fn3 The trial court's function is to hear witnesses. Spence v. State, 296 Md. 416, 463 A.2d 808 (1983). While appellant's failure to pay child support and fees of the experts and counsel for his children, to which he had agreed, was inexcusable, the court's threatening comments regarding leg irons and handcuffs were improper.
The Court of Appeals in Jefferson-El v. State, Md. (1993), recognized that recusal may be required not only when the trial judge has an actual personal bias against a party, but also when the trial judge creates a situation in which it would appear that he could not, with impartiality, preside at the subsequent trial. It is the appearance of impropriety that requires the judge to be recused.

At the hearing on the recusal motion, heard at the beginning of the first day of trial, the court commenced on the allegations made by appellant regarding the court's personal animosity and misconduct. "I'm kind of amused by that because the only thing I haven't been accused of is prejudging the major issue before the court. The major issue before the court is the best interest of these children."
In his concluding comments regarding the recusal motion, the trial judge stated,
The critical issue in the case is the best interest of the children and Mr. Goldberger has not been denied a single right to present evidence on that issue. And the court has not made a ruling on that issue because I haven't heard the case. . . . Whatever the truth is, hopefully, it will come out during the course of this hearing. The motion to recuse is denied.
As we observed earlier, no complaint is made about the conduct of the trial or the judge's demeanor during the trial. Nor does appellant suggest that the evidence was in any way insufficient to sustain the court's custody decision, or that the decision was based on anything other than the evidence. The fact of the matter is that, in light of the evidence presented, no reasonable fact finder could have resolved the question of custody differently than the Chancellor did in this case.*fn4 All of the expert witnesses, including those consulted by appellant and called by him to testify, agreed that appellant was a troubled man with serious personality disorders. All experts, including those consulted by appellant and the Court, agreed that it would be harmful to these children if appellant were awarded their custody. We are not prepared to say that, given the unique facts of this case, the Chancellor's refusal to recuse himself constituted an abuse of discretion or prejudiced appellant.
Child Support
In the case sub judice, the evidence revealed that appellant was 32 years old and healthy, with many years of higher education. It was undisputed that appellant had earned no actual income, as he had never worked at any income-producing vocation. Appellant planned his life to be a permanent Torah/Talmudic student.*fn5 He was a student before he was married and before any of his children were born. Appellant testified that he studies "for the sake of studying, which is a positive commandment to study the Torah for the sake of studying it." Further, appellant testified that it was his intention to continue his life of study forever: ". . . I should continue to study the rest of my life, to always be in studying . . ." Throughout his life appellant has been supported by others, first, his parents, thereafter, his father-in-law, and most recently, friends in the Orthodox community. Nevertheless, appellant fathered six children whom he has refused to support, arguing that he has no means to support and never will have the means to provide support.*fn6
A life devoted to study is viewed by many in the Orthodox community as a true luxury that very few can enjoy.*fn7 Unfortunately for the appellant's children, permanent Torah/Talmudic students must depend on the charity of others to provide the necessities of life. Those who support a Torah student have no legal obligation to continue such support in either duration or amount.
Nevertheless, through a network of family and Orthodox communities in Europe and the United States, approximately $180,000 had been contributed to appellant over a three year period to enable him to pursue his custody claim. Approximately $3,000 of that sum was once used to purge appellant of contempt for failing to pay child support.
Based on these facts, the court determined (1) that appellant had voluntarily impoverished himself, and (2) that his potential income was equivalent to the money that had been contributed by others to his cause. It therefore regarded his income, for purposes of paying child support as $60,000 per year and ordered that he pay $4,066 per month for the support of his six children. Appellant challenges both the finding of voluntary impoverishment and the calculation of potential income.
The obligation of parents to support their minor children has been consistently upheld by the Court of Appeals of Maryland. Middleton v. Middleton, 329 Md. 627, 620 A.2d 1363, (1993), Carroll County v. Edelman, 320 Md. 150, 170, 577 A.2d 14, 23 (1990), Knill v. Knill, 306 Md. 527, 531, 510 A.2d 546, 548 (1986); Bledsoe v. Bledsoe, 294 Md. 183, 193, 448 A.2d 353, 358 (1982); Kerr v. Kerr, 287 Md. 363, 367, 412 A.2d 1001, 1004 (1980); Brown v. Brown, 287 Md. 273, 281, 412 A.2d 396, 400 (1980); Rand v. Rand, 280 Md. 508, 510, 374 A.2d 900, 902 (1977); Speckler v. Speckler, 256 Md. 635, 637, 261 A.2d 466, 467; Johnson v. Johnson, 241 Md. 416, 419, 216 A.2d 914, 916 (1966); Bradford v. Futrell, 225 Md. 512, 518, 171 A.2d 493, 496 (1961); McCabe v. McCabe, 210 Md. 308, 314, 123 A.2d 447, 450 (1956); Kriedo v. Kriedo, 159 Md. 229, 231, 150 A 720, 721 (1930); Blades v. Szatai, 151 Md. 644, 647, 135 A 841, 842 (1927). In Carroll County v. Edelman, supra, the Court stated,
Parenthood is both a biological and a legal status. By nature and by law, it confers rights and imposes duties. One of the most basic of these is the obligation of the parent to support the child until the law determines that he is able to care for himself . . . the duty of parents to provide for the maintenance of their children is a principle of natural law; an obligation . . . laid on them not only by nature herself, but by their own proper act, in bringing them into the world . . .
The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the obligation of parents to support their children. In Dunbar v. Dunbar, 190 U.S. 340, 351, 23 S. Ct. 757, 761, 47 L.Ed. 1084, 1092 (1903), the Court stated, "At common law, a father is bound to support his legitimate children and the obligation continues during their minority . . ." See also Wetmore v. Markoe, 196 U.S. 68, 76, 25 S. Ct. 172, 175, 49 L.Ed. 390, 393 (1904); Audabon v. Shufeldt, 181 U.S. 575, 21 S. Ct. 735, 45 L.Ed. 1009 (1901).
The legislature of Maryland has made it a crime for parents to fail to support their minor children. Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law ? 10-203 (1991).
As the Court of Appeals recently said in Middleton v. Middleton, supra, this obligation to provide support is not perfunctory, to be performed only at the voluntary pleasure or whimsical desire of the parent. Citing Palmer v. State, 223 Md. 341, 351, 164 A.2d 467, 473 (1960).
In view of the above authorities, there can be no question that appellant has a legal obligation to financially support his children until they reach the age of legal majority. The more difficult question is how to calculate the proper amount of that support. Fortunately, that question has been answered by the Legislature of Maryland. Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law ? 12-202(a)(1) (1991) states, "In any proceeding to establish or modify child support, whether pendente lite or permanent, the court shall use the child support guidelines set forth in this subtitle." In order to use the guidelines as required by ? 12-202(a)(1), it is necessary to calculate the income of the parents. "Income" is defined in ? 12-201(b) of the Family Law Article as:
(1) actual income of a parent, if the parent is employed to full capacity; or
(2) potential income of a parent, if the parent is voluntarily impoverished.
The legislature's purpose in including potential income was to implement state and federal policy of requiring adequate support by precluding parents from avoiding their obligation by deliberately not earning what they could earn. John O. v. Jane O., 90 Md. App. 406, 420 n.5, 601 A.2d 149, 156 n.5 (1992).
While the Code does not define the term "voluntarily impoverished," in John O. v. Jane O., supra, we had occasion to address the meaning of that term. We noted that neither the Legislature nor the Courts in existing case law had defined what "voluntarily impoverished" meant. We noted that no clear definition was found in any Maryland resource materials. Accordingly, we looked to the dictionary definitions of the words "voluntarily" and "impoverished." We noted that "voluntarily" means "done by design or intention; proceeding from the free and unrestrained will of the person; produced in or by act of choice. . . ." "Impoverished" means "to make poor, reduce to poverty or to deprive . . . of resources, etc."
The Court of Appeals has often stated that when construing a statute, "the Court considers its language in its natural and ordinary signification." Baltimore County v. White, 235 Md. 212, 217, 201 A.2d 358; 360 (1963); citing Height v. State, 225 Md. 251, 170 A.2d 212 (1961). Also, when language is plain and unambiguous it should be given effect in accordance with the plain meaning of the words; there is no need to look beyond the language of the statute. Koyce v. State Central Collection Unit, 289 Md. 134, 140, 422 A.2d 1017, 1020 (1980); Lowenthal v. Rome, 294 Md. 277, 282, 449 A.2d 411, 413 (1982).
It is clear that the plain meaning rule does not require the courts to read legislative enactments in rote fashion and in isolation. Further, in construing the meaning of a statute the courts must look to the legislative purpose in passing the enactment. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals has stated in a leading case on statutory construction, Kaczorowski v. City of Baltimore, 309 Md. 505, 515, 525 A.2d 628, 633 (1987) that, "Sometimes the language in question will be so clearly consistent with the apparent purpose (and not productive of any absurd result) that further research will be unnecessary," citing Taylor v. Dept. of Employment and Training, 308 Md. 468, 472, 520 A.2d 379, 381 (1987).
The issue of voluntary impoverishment most often arises in the context of a parent who reduces his or her level of income to avoid paying support by quitting, retiring or changing jobs. The intent of the parent in those cases is often important in determining whether there has been voluntary impoverishment. Was the job changed for the purpose of avoiding the support obligation and, therefore, voluntary, or was it for reasons beyond the control of the parent and thus involuntary?
In defining the term "voluntarily impoverished" in John O. v. Jane O., 90 Md. App. 406, 421, 601 A.2d 149, 156 (1992), we never intended to limit the obligation of a spouse who is voluntarily impoverished for any reason, to pay child support. A parent who chooses a life of poverty before having children and makes a deliberate choice not to alter that status after having children is also "voluntarily impoverished." Whether the voluntary impoverishment is for the purpose of avoiding child support or because the parent simply has chosen a frugal lifestyle for another reason, doesn't affect that parent's obligation to the child. Although the parent can choose to live in poverty, that parent cannot obligate the child to go without the necessities of life. A parent who brings a child into this world must support that child, if he has or reasonably could obtain, the means to do so. Carroll County v. Edelman, 320 Md. 150, 577 A.2d 14 (1990). The law requires that parent to alter his or her previously chosen lifestyle if necessary to enable the parent to meet his or her support obligation.
Accordingly, we now hold that, for purposes of the child support guidelines, a parent shall be considered "voluntarily impoverished" whenever the parent has made the free and conscious choice, not compelled by factors beyond his or her control, to render himself or herself without adequate resources. To determine whether a parent has freely been made poor or deprived of resources the trial court should look to the factors enunciated in John O. v. Jane O., 90 Md. App. 406, at 422:
1. his or her current physical condition;
2. his or her respective level of education;
3. the timing of any change in employment or financial circumstances relative to the divorce proceedings;
4. the relationship of the parties prior to the divorce proceedings;
5. his or her efforts to find and retain employment;
6. his or her efforts to secure retraining if that is needed;
7. whether he or she has ever withheld support;
8. his or her past work history;
9. the area in which the parties live and the status of the job market there; and
10. any other considerations presented by either party.
Based on a review of the evidence before the circuit court, there was no error in finding that appellant was "voluntarily impoverished."
Once a court determines that a parent is voluntarily impoverished, the court must then determine the amount of potential income to attribute to that parent in order to calculate the support dictated by the guidelines. Some of the factors the court should consider in determining the amount of potential income include:
1. age
2. mental and physical condition
3. assets
4. educational background, special training or skills
5. prior earnings
6. efforts to find and retain employment
7. the status of the job market in the area where the parent lives
8. actual income from any source
9. any other factor bearing on the parent's ability to obtain funds for child support.
After the court determines the amount of potential income to attribute to the parent, the court should calculate the amount of support by using the standardized worksheet authorized in Family Law ? 12-203(a) and the schedule listed in Family Law ? 12-204(e). Once the guideline support figure is determined, the court must then determine whether the presumptive correctness of the guideline support figure has been overcome by evidence that application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate. Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law ? 12-202(a)(2) (1991).
Unfortunately, the court below erred in determining that appellant's potential income was $60,000 per year, based solely on the his ability to raise funds to support and carry on this litigation. Although the court may consider the ability of appellant to persuade others to provide him with funds to pay child support in the future, the court cannot assume this will occur merely because appellant has been able to convince others to support this litigation up until now. The court needs to hear testimony and make findings regarding the factors relating to potential income previously enunciated. No such findings were made in this case. After calculating the guidelines using appellant's realistic potential income, the court must decide whether the presumptive correctness of the guidelines has been overcome. Accordingly, this matter must be remanded to the trial court for such determinations.
In conclusion, we leave undisturbed the trial court's decision granting the parties a divorce, awarding custody of their six children to the appellee, and establishing conditions for visitation. We vacate the court's child support order and remand the matter to the trial court to recalculate the appellant's child support obligation in light of this opinion.
Affirmed in part; vacated in part. Remanded for further proceedings.

Talmudic scholar rejects abuse case plea bargain
Fall trial date set; new charges likely
The Baltimore Sun - June 8, 1993
Edition: FINAL, Section: NEWS, Page: 3B
By Jay Apperson

A custody battle that has aroused passions in Orthodox Jewish communities from Northwest Baltimore to Jerusalem took yet another turn yesterday when a self-described religious scholar charged with molesting his children rejected a plea bargain that would have allowed him to avoid jail. 
``I have nothing to hide,'' Aron Goldberger said after turning down an offer that the presiding judge described as one step from an outright dismissal of kidnapping and child abuse charges. A Sept. 13 trial date in Baltimore Circuit Court was set, and the prosecutor promptly said he would likely file additional abuse charges against Mr. Goldberger.

The charges stem from a husband-wife battle being played out in Maryland courtrooms but being followed by Jewish leaders in three states as well as England and Israel.

Allegations of child-snatching and molestation are not unheard of in custody fights. But as Michael Rottenberg, a board member of a Lakewood, N.J., rabbinical college and one of Mr. Goldberger's key supporters, noted yesterday, they are almost unheard of in an Orthodox Jewish society that prefers to mediate its disputes internally and not in the secular courts.

Also yesterday, Mr. Goldberger's lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Patrick O'Guinn, filed a motion to allow into evidence polygraph test results showing Mr. Goldberger was truthful when he denied sexually abusing any of his sons.

Yesterday's actions came 10 days after a state Special Appeals Court affirmed a Circuit Court order granting the couple a divorce and giving custody of their six children to (wife) Goldberger. 
In September 1992, Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward J. Angeletti had ordered Mr. Goldberger to pay more than $4,000 a month in child support. In the May 28 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals overturned the support order, ruling that Judge Angeletti erred in calculating support payments based on the amount Mr. Goldberger was able to raise for his legal battles.

Mr. Goldberger has explained his never having held a paying job by saying his marriage contract called for his family to be supported by his in-laws and other members of the community while he was a full-time Talmudic scholar.

In ordering the Circuit Court to determine a new amount of support, the Appeals Court agreed Mr. Goldberger had ``voluntarily impoverished'' himself despite his obligation to financially support his children.
The opinion quoted from the musical "Fiddler on the Roof,'' saying the fictional lead character Teveya recognizes that a life of study is a luxury when he sings, "If I were a rich man, . . . Wouldn't have to work hard, . . . I'd discuss the holy books with the learned men seven hours every day.''
Mr. Goldberger, 33, had been scheduled to stand trial for kidnapping and child abuse last week, but lawyers reported they were close to reaching a plea agreement.

To an assault charge Mr. Goldberger would be allowed to enter an ``Alford'' plea, in which a defendant acknowledges the existence of sufficient evidence to convict and pleads guilty but is allowed to maintain his innocence.

In return, he would have received probation before judgment, meaning he would have no criminal record if he successfully completed three years of probation, and other charges would have been dropped.

Given the weekend to ponder the offer, Mr. Goldberger turned it down.

Afterward, prosecutor William Guiffre testily accused Mr. Goldberger of ``playing games,'' an accusation seconded by Susan Carol Elgin, lawyer for (wife) Goldberger.

Ms. Elgin said the offer had the endorsement of Mr. Goldberger's former wife. ``As long as the children are protected, she has no desire to see him in jail,'' Ms. Elgin said. ``We would like to see him out, employed, furnishing some financial assistance to the children.''

Ms. Elgin said Mrs. Goldberger and the children live in Baltimore and receive public assistance.

Scholar in molestation case receives probation
By Jay Apperson, Staff Writer
January 11, 1994
Edition: FINAL, Section: NEWS, Page: 3B

A bitter domestic battle that has aroused passions in Orthodox Jewish communities from Northwest Baltimore to Jerusalem moved a step closer to resolution, as a self-proclaimed religious scholar charged with molesting his children received probation before judgment for assault. 

Prosecutors dropped sexual child abuse charges against Aron Goldberger when he pleaded guilty to assault last week in Baltimore Circuit Court. Mr. Goldberger entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant declines to plead guilty but concedes that the evidence is against him.

The conviction was struck when Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe granted probation before judgment, prosecutor William J. Giuffre said.

Under the terms of his probation, Mr. Goldberger, 34, cannot have any contact with his six children and must receive psychiatric therapy, the prosecutor said.

Mr. Goldberger had been charged with sexually abusing three of his sons, ranging in ages from 2 to 5, in 1989.

Mr. Giuffre said a major reason he agreed to the plea bargain was that he feared that the children would be traumatized by testifying against their father.

The charges stemmed from a husband-wife battle played out in Maryland courtrooms but followed by Jewish leaders in three states as well as in England and Israel.

In May, a state Special Appeals Court affirmed a Circuit Court order granting the couple a divorce and giving custody of their six children to their mother, (wife) Goldberger.

Ms. Goldberger's lawyer, Susan Carol Elgin, said that her client is still seeking child support payments from Mr. Goldberger, who she says has made no such payments.

Mr. Goldberger has said that he has not made child support payments because he does not have a paying job.

Mr. Goldberger said that his marriage contract called for his family to be supported by his in-laws and other members of the community while he was a full-time Talmudic scholar.

Allegations of molestation are not unheard of in custody fights.

But as Michael Rottenberg, a board member of a Lakewood, N.J., rabbinical college and one of Mr. Goldberger's key supporters, has noted, they are almost unheard of in an Orthodox Jewish society that prefers to mediate its disputes internally and not in the secular courts.

Milestones From 5753:
A look back at the politics, quotes, good deeds and not-so-good deeds that made it a year to remember. 
By Arthur J. Magida
Baltimore Jewish Times - September 10, 1993, Vol. 213; No. 2; Pg. 64,1093BJLR 025 000078

What steps have been taken to protect Aron Goldberger's present community?
Protocols - November 22, 2004

What steps have been taken to protect Aron Goldberger's present community?

The answer is not to shift the problem. Not to use batei din. Not to fight clergy mandated reporting laws.
The answer is support:
  1. Requiring laws to report suspicions of abuse.
  2. Respecting such laws.
  3. Allowing professionals trained in investigate such cases to investigate such cases without interference.
  4. Co-operating with the police and child family services.
  5. Supporting jailtime for our sexual predators instead of a plane ticket to Israel or probation.
Family Feud: The local, and international, Orthodox Jewish community is buzzing about a controversial child abduction and abuse case against a Torah scholar.

by Alan H. Feiler, Baltimore Jewish Times. Baltimore: Oct 23, 1992.Vol.207, Issue 9; p. 21
The local, and international, Orthodox Jewish community is buzzing about a controversial child abduction and abuse case against a Torah scholar.

Baltimore's observant Jewish community is still reeling from the dizzying charges and political intrigues resulting from a bitter child custody, abduction and sexual abuse case being played out in local courts.

"I think you could easily write a novel about this," said one member of the Orthodox community. "There are so many twists and turns in the context of this passion play. Everybody just went overboard. I've never seen anything this extensive."

The case of Goldberger vs. Goldberger is being closely watched on several levels: the disintegration of a prominent family; the inability of the insular observant community to deal with its problems without allowing them to spill over to the secular world; the involvement of various factions of world Orthodox Jewry; and rivalries between old and new guards of Baltimore's observant community.
The case centers around Aron and (Name Removed) Goldberger, who married in August 1980, have six children and lived in Israel from 1983 to 1988. Mrs. Goldberger is the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Eisemann, a leader of the Beth Medrash Govoha Yeshivah in Lakewood, N.J., the world's largest rabbinical college. Aron Goldberger, 33, is a Torah scholar from Monsey, N.Y., who is well-connected with Rabbi Shlomo Auerbach, one of Israel's ultra-Orthodox leaders.

According to court records and local Orthodox Jews familiar with the case, the couple's pre-arranged marriage stipulated that Mrs. Goldberger's family promised that Mr. Goldberger would be financially supported to study Torah indefinitely in a kollel, or graduate program, in yeshivahs in the United States and Israel.

Details on what led to their breakup appear sketchy -- with both sides claiming the other spouse was mentally unstable -- but it seems that while staying with Mrs. Goldberger's sister in Baltimore in November 1989, (Name Removed) Goldberger decided to part ways with her husband, Aron. Some say that Mrs. Goldberger's reluctance to move back to Israel -- her husband's desire -- was the final bone of contention.

She left a farewell note for him saying she was taking their youngest son and asked that their four other children be left with her sister or with Mr. Goldberger's cousins who live in Baltimore. Mr. Goldberger searched for his wife for a week and on instructions from his rabbinical mentor, a rabbi in Belgium, decided to take his children to Israel. Pointing out that Mrs. Goldberger, by her own accounts, moved six times between November 1989 and July 1990, attorneys for Mr. Goldberger claim he was unable to know where to return the children to her.

Only a month earlier, while the Goldbergers were expecting their sixth child, court records show Mrs. Goldberger's sister noticed "inappropriate behavioral responses" from their three young sons. She had a local pediatrician examine the boys. The pediatrician found evidence of sexual abuse.

After consulting with a local Beit Din, or Orthodox rabbinical court, the pediatrician was advised to report his findings to the Maryland Department of Social Services. Mr. Goldberger was scheduled to be arraigned on child abuse charges Oct. 22 at Baltimore City Felony Arraignment Court. His attorney, Phillip G. Dantes, said Mr. Goldberger "vehemently" denies the child abduction and sexual abuse allegations.
When Mr. Goldberger returned to Israel with four of his children, he said he had received his wife's blessings, as well as his rabbi's. But he was later indicted on abduction charges that are scheduled to be heard Oct. 26 in Baltimore City Criminal Court.

What is unique in this case is the attention it has received in Orthodox circles around the world and the large sums of money that have been raised for legal fees on behalf of a couple with no income.
Mr. Goldberger has been imprisoned and bailed out of jail twice by supporters from around the world who have allegedly contributed over $150,000 for the Torah scholar's legal fees and other expenses.
Mrs. Goldberger and her family reportedly have paid $70,000 of their $100,000 bill for legal and psychiatric fees.

The domestic fight is now pending before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, and Mrs. Goldberger's lawyers claim she and her six children are living on public assistance. Mr. Goldberger is unemployed and living with a relative in Baltimore.

According to court records, Mr. Goldberger moved the children around from Israel to France, Belgium and England, sometimes staying with some of Mrs. Goldberger's relatives. With the help of private investigators, Mrs. Goldberger tracked down her husband and children in London in the summer of 1990. She and her husband asked a Beit Din there to rule on a divorce and child custody case.

In November 1990, the London Beit Din gave Mrs. Goldberger custody of the children, and ruled that her husband must give his wife a get, or Jewish divorce, and only visit the children while under supervision. The Beit Din also ruled that Mrs. Goldberger did not have to move with her children to Israel, as her husband insisted. Mr. Goldberger refused to adhere to the rulings of the Beit Din.

In December 1990, according to court records, Mr. Goldberger and some of his friends were arrested by British police when they allegedly broke into a London house where his wife and children were staying and tried to re-kidnap his offspring. They were held in custody until his wife and children returned to the United States a few days later.

Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer
After Mrs. Goldberger and their children returned to Baltimore, to be followed by her husband, the family approached a Beit Din here consisting of rabbis Yaakov Hopfer of Shearith Israel, Moshe Heinemann of Agudath Israel and Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of Shomrei Emunah.

According to Rabbi Weinreb, the Baltimore Beit Din supported the findings of the London Bet Din. He said that when Mr. Goldberger still refused to comply with the rulings of the Beit Dins, the Baltimore group passed around a notice in August 1991 declaring him "persona non grata" in local synagogues, meaning that he was not welcome to worship in Orthodox congregations. Six months ago, when Mr. Goldberger finally agreed to comply with the rulings, Rabbi Weinreb said most of the 20 rabbis who originally signed the document removed their names.

While many Orthodox Jews in the community view the document as a cherim, or excommunication, Rabbi Weinreb said it is only a demonstration of unity among rabbis to "shun" a tainted member of the community. Rabbi Weinreb said this is the first "shunning" that he has been involved in since coming to Baltimore a number of years ago.

"A lot of disputes of this kind are better handled at a community level," he said. "We're in a better position to determine the truth."

But some Orthodox Jews here are highly critical of the Baltimore and London Beit Din decisions, claiming that charges against Mr. Goldberger were trumped up by his wife and family to gain custody of the children. And in the Beit Din documents they say rabbis forbade members of the religious community from housing, feeding, transporting or employing Mr. Goldberger, thereby making it impossible for him to live in a manner suitable for an observant Jew.

In September, Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward J. Angeletti, who has described Mr. Goldberger in the past as "duplicitous and very devious," sentenced him to three years in prison for contempt of court for ignoring orders to pay over $4,000 a month in child support. The sentence was stayed after Mr. Goldberger's attorneys filed an appeal.

But prior to Rosh Hashanah, Mr. Goldberger spent three weeks in jail on child abduction charges until his supporters were able to post $5,000 of his $50,000 bail. He was also indicted on Oct. 1 on child sexual abuse charges and imprisoned the day after Yom Kippur, spending three days in jail until he was released on $50,000 bail.

While opinions vary on the case, some local Orthodox Jews condemn Mr. Goldberger's jailing and believe powers outside of Baltimore are "out to get him."

Many people in the community are also upset that the case is now in State courts. For one thing, they say, it violates a Jewish law forbidding one Jew from participating in the jailing of another. "When I saw this bearded man in shackles from head to foot, I was more convinced than ever that he shouldn't be in jail," said a member of the community with legal expertise.

This source believes the Goldberger case has become part of a power struggle between several of the newer Orthodox rabbis in town who maintain strong ties with the Lakewood yeshivah, and rabbis here aligned with Baltimore's Ner Israel Rabbinical College, which by comparison is more liberal in that, for example, it allows its students to attend secular college.

Some of the Lakewood-affiliated rabbis are said to be sympathetic to Mrs. Goldberger in the dispute out of respect for her father, a leading scholar at the Lakewood yeshiva.

Mr. Goldberger's supporters say they want a trial to expose some of the "dirty tricks" that have been used to pressure him into complying with the rabbinical, and court, rulings.

They also say Mrs. Goldberger's side is scrambling to get the State to drop charges now that the matter has become an international crisis, with posters of Rabbi Eisemann in yeshivahs in Israel and the United States charging that he took the issue outside of the Jewish community.

But Susan C. Elgin, Mrs. Goldberger's attorney, said it was Mr. Goldberger's filing of an emergency motion for unsupervised visitation rights of his children in circuit court in early 1991 that brought the case to the secular world. And while noting that the case is now a State matter that cannot be dropped by the family, she said it has been Mr. Goldberger's refusal to pay any child support that has led to his recent problems with the law.

"Mr. Goldberger, by his own psychiatric report, has a personality disorder," Ms. Elgin said. "The people supporting him are doing him no favor. He needs help."

Mr. Goldberger alleges that his wife suffers from mental illness and sever depression.

Some observers suggest that this case, however unique, is indicative of potential problems that can result from arranged marriages where the husband and wife do not know each other well, compounded by the longstanding tradition of having the wife's family agree to support the husband's scholarship. Large families and little income can lead to conflict, experts note.

But for now, the focus is on bringing this particular case to resolution.

Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, Rosh Yeshiva (dean) of the local Ner Israel Rabbinical College, blames the case's entrance into secular courts to "partisanship" between factions in the Orthodox world.

"It's a disgrace to the community and people involved in the case that it's anywhere but in the rabbinical courts," he said. "Obviously both sides are wrong. But the whole thing should have been settled justly in the Beit Din. What we have to do now is try to find some peace for these people."

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Last Updated:  03/27/2005 

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know the Goldberger family and good friends of Reb Aron. I believe the accusations of child molestations are false and whoever is mekabel is over on the avierah of believing Loshon Horah. I think there was a lot of family involvement and things that went on that many don't know that caused this family tradgedy and Chillul Hashem.