Saturday, September 19, 2009

Case of Ephraim Ohana

Case of Ephraim Ohana
(AKA: Efraim Ohana)
Baltimore, MD
Ephraim Ohana - Alleged Sex Offender
Student - University of Baltimore School of Law - Batlimore, MD
IT Security Manager Children's National Medical Center - Washington, DC 

Efraim Ohana was born in Casablanca, Morocco.  He is the son of Yvonne and Rabbi Samuel Ohana - Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel, Sherman Oaks, CA.  In the past Efraim went to Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, Forest Hill, NY and Israel. He also attended the Kollel at Ner Israel, Baltimore, MD. He did NOT receive a rabbinic ordination.

On May 30, 2005, Judge Audrey Carrion found Efraim Ohana guilty of abuse, voluntarily impoverishing himself and infidelity.  On December 13, 2004, Judge Cox's finding's were that there was "clear and convincing evidence" that Ephraim Ohana committed acts of abuse and placed his wife in fear of imminent serious bodily harm.

Efraim Ohana impoverished himself so that he would not have to pay child support, yet he is currently a student at University of Baltimore School of Law. It is believed that his parents, Rabbi Shmuel (Samuel) and Yvonne Ohana are supporting Efraim's efforts of not providing his wife with a get.  They are also financially supporting their son, yet not his wife or their five grandchildren. Yvonne Ohana is the proprietor of "Fine Catering by Yvonne."

In the past Ohana has been placed under arrest for violating protective orders refraining him from going near his wife and some of their children. There are allegations that Efraim stole the family car, broken into the family home and has been refusing to give his wife a get (a Jewish divorce).

After three years of unsuccessful negotiating, the rabbinical council of Baltimore reached a unanimous decision to put Efraim Ohana in "cherem" (total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community).

On November 30, 2003, Efraim Ohana signed an arbitration agreement stating that he would go to bais din (Jewish religious court) to provide his wife with a get if she waits until after June 5, 2004. The date came and went, yet he still refused to go to bais din.

According to the customs of many orthodox Jewish communities, individuals are not allowed to go to the secular court system without permission of the bais din (Jewish religious court).

After a long wait, Rabbi Simcha Shafran of the Baltimore Bais Din granted Mrs. Ohana "permission" to proceed to obtain a civil divorce in secular court. According to Jewish law, even with a civil divorce a woman is not allowed to remarry until her husband grants her a get.

To date, Mr. Efraim Ohana has refused to go to Bais Din. Mrs. Ohana petitioned the Bais Din with over a dozen letters to send him a Hazmanah (a subpoena to appear). Efraim Ohana consistently refused to go claiming that all of the Baltimore rabbis were against him.

There are several Jewish organizations advocating for Mrs. Ohana and her children, including:

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. Vaad HaRabbonim Rabbinical Council of Greater Baltimore  (02/17/2006)
  2. Dear Friends of CHANA and all those interested in justice  (06/14/2006)
  3. CALL TO ACTION:  Attend a peaceful demonstration is scheduled in front of the home of Efraim Ohana on Sunday, June 18th at 10:30am  (06/14/2006)
  4. A woman's plea for closure  (09/18/2006)
  5. Couple's Divorce Not Recognized In Jewish Law (09/18/2006)
  6. Orthodox Jew fights for her right to divorce  (09/18/2006)  
  7. Jewish Divorce Case Grabs Public Eye   (10/06/2006)

Vaad HaRabbonim Rabbinical Council of Greater Baltimore 
19 Shevat, 5766 - February 17, 2006
To The Members of the Baltimore Jewish Community:We are writing regarding Mr. Efraim Ohana.  Mr. Ohana has conducted himself in a mannor that is unacceptable and that will not be tolerated within our community.

As such we declare Mr. Ohana persona-non-grata within our community and instruct the community to refuse him entry into our shuls and homes until he corrects this situation.

Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer

President, Vaad HaRabbonim

Signed on behalf of Vaad HaRabbonim

 The following comes from a source at Jewish Women International
Jewish Women International - June 14, 2006

Dear Friends of CHANA and all those interested in justice,

On Sunday June 18th at 10:30am your presence is needed in support of an abused woman.

Under Jewish law, only a man can grant a divorce. When he refuses the woman lives her life as an agunah, literally chained to her past and her husband no matter how abusive or unfaithful he has been. She is not allowed to date or remarry and her children are often viewed as coming from an unhealthy situation and not a good choice for friendship or marriage.

CHANA has a client who has been in this untenable situation for quite some time. She has been granted a divorce by the state of Maryland. Several Protective Orders were granted by the District court due to abuse to her and her children by the ex-husband. The Circuit Court of Maryland found that the husband voluntarily impoverished himself (abandoned a $50,000 a year job) in order to avoid paying child support. He testified under oath that he had several sexual affairs while he was married.

Still, as a last bastion of control over this woman, he refuses to give her a get (Jewish divorce). The Vaad HaRabbonim (group of Orthodox Rabbis) of Baltimore have issued a statement that this gentleman is not complying with his obligations and until he does so, should not be welcomed into other Jewish homes, businesses or places of worship. Still the man refuses to give his ex-wife the freedom to move on with the rest of her life.


The object will be show this individual that his behavior is not acceptable and that the community wants her to be unchained from him and given the justice that everyone deserves.

The demonstration is being organized by Get Ora, an organization in New York that advocates for women in these situations. Information on the group can be found at

Please consider doing this mitzvah.


CALL TO ACTION:  Attend a peaceful demonstration is scheduled in front of the home of Efraim Ohana on Sunday, June 18th at 10:30am
Jewish Women International - June 14, 2006

The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, Inc. - June 14, 2006

Letter from the Vaad HaRabbonim of Greater Baltimore has been issued towards Mr. Efraim Ohana of 3600 Labyrinth Road Apt. J2,Baltimore, MD which states that he should be refused entry into all shuls and homes Mr. Ohana has refused to give his wife a Get. 

A peaceful demonstration is scheduled in front of his home on Sunday, June 18th at 10:30am

With the support of
Rav Yaakov Hopfer - President, Vaad HaRabbonim

Rav Shraga Neuberger - Magid Shiur, Ner Yisroel

Rav Moshe Hauer - Rav, Congregation Bnai Jacob ShaareiZion

Rav Hershel Schachter - Rosh Yeshiva,Yeshiva University

Please do everything within your power to attend the upcoming rally!!!

We hope and pray that Mr. Ohana will give the Get in a timely manner as required of him by Jewish Law.

A woman's plea for closure
Orthodox Jewish community rallies against husband who denied a religious divorce

By Liz F. Kay, Sun reporter
Baltimore Sun - September 19, 2006
Cynthia Ohana hasn't lived with her husband for three years, and she secured a civil divorce more than a year ago. 
But under Jewish law, the Park Heights woman remains trapped - an agunah, or "anchored down" in Hebrew - because Ephraim Ohana refuses to grant her a divorce agreement recognized by Orthodox Jewish law.

Without what's known as a get, Cynthia Ohana isn't permitted to date or remarry in the Orthodox community - even though the civil court found that her husband had abused her.

But the Orthodox community is supporting her. Yesterday, the campaign to secure a religious divorce for Cynthia Ohana moved to the University of Baltimore School of Law in the form of a rare public rally, where Jews sought to pressure Ephraim, a student there.

"I'm sorry we have to go out in the streets like this. ... We take Jewish law very seriously," said Mark Hart, a neighbor who carried a "Free Her Now" sign. "We just want to make sure there's closure, so the family can resume a normal life."

Ephraim Ohana did not return phone calls yesterday, but his former wife of 19 years said she needs to complete the religious portion of the divorce as well as the civil action.

"I feel like I've done my job. I've gotten away from an abuser, I've gotten my children away from an abuser," Cynthia Ohana, 40, said. "I need closure in order to come full circle."

"It's pretty powerful, and it's wrong that he has that kind of power," she said.

The mother was granted sole custody of their five children last year. "This is the only unsolved piece of the puzzle," said her lawyer, Larry J. Feldman.

Under Orthodox Jewish law, one member of the couple approaches the bais din, or rabbinical divorce, to seek a divorce, said Rabbi Barry Freundel, an Orthodox rabbi who teaches at Baltimore Hebrew University. The husband gives her the get, a document that nullifies the marriage bond and frees her to marry someone else, Freundel said. The wife can accept it, and there are mechanisms to strongly encourage her to agree to the divorce, the rabbi said.

The termination of the marriage must be a voluntary action, said Rabbi Daniel Lerner of Beth Tfiloh Congregation .

Because her husband would not cooperate, the rabbinical council gave Cynthia Ohana permission to seek a civil divorce.

"She can't, in terms of her faith, date or be remarried and provide a home that is economically more sound and a healthy relationship for her to enjoy but also to model for the kids," said Nancy F. Aiken, director of CHANA, which helps victims of domestic violence in the Jewish community.

So over the past eight months, the community has rallied around her, applying increasing social pressure.

Since February, Ephraim Ohana has been banned from Orthodox synagogues, known as shuls, and homes by order of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Baltimore, an organization of Orthodox rabbis. About 100 people also rallied in front of Ephraim Ohana's Park Heights apartment in June, Aiken said.

"The support is very validating," said Cynthia Ohana. "The exposure is very intimidating, though ... I feel safer with everybody's support."

Baltimore attorney Bruce M. Luchansky, who led the demonstration yesterday, thanked those who had gathered "for offering your actions as a tefillah, as a prayer" before leading a chant: "Ephraim Ohana, unchain your wife."

"The tool of control, of abuse is a tool that uses religious law," Rabbi Moshe Hauer of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation told the group.

"The community has tried to work with him, to convince him, to cajole him, and he has refused," Hauer said in an interview. "I hope that he will do the right thing, and we will be happy to welcome him back."

Protesters said they believe that Ephraim Ohana's refusal needs to be called out in public until he relents.

"This is obviously behavior that the Jewish community and the Torah tradition frowns upon," said Ayda Rottman, 25, of Pikesville, over the shouts of demonstrators.

Aiken said she hopes that men within the community will decide they do not want things to escalate to this point, and that women in abusive relationships will realize they would receive similar support if they find themselves in difficult situations.

"It's been used really as a weapon of intimidation the entire time," Aiken said. "As [Cynthia Ohana] had secured different civil and criminal remedies, it's been held over her head. It's the one thing that is in his power and control now."

Lerner said during the rally that the legal systems in most jurisdictions - aside from the state of New York and Israel - offer little help for women in this situation.

In 1999, the Maryland legislature considered a bill that would have required people seeking a civil divorce to remove all religious barriers to remarrying. But news reports from the time say the proposal was dropped after some lawmakers expressed concern about potential intrusion on religious practice.

Couple's Divorce Not Recognized In Jewish Law
By Derek Valcourt
WJZ -TV - September 18, 2006
(video footage on this site) 

(WJZ) Baltimore, MD A personal battle between one Baltimore couple is drawing attention from the Jewish community.

Cynthia Ohana recently got a divorce from her ex-husband Ephraim but as WJZ's Derek Valcourt reports, in orthodox Jewish law, Ohana cannot get a Jewish divorce from her husband unless he agrees.

Ephraim Ohana has refused to grant his ex-wife a Jewish divorce, and now Cynthia Ohana is reaching out for help. Demonstrators gathered Monday outside the University of Baltimore School of Law to voice concerns about the bitter divorce.

Dr. Joshua Karlip of Baltimore Hebrew University says Jewish law clearly states a man must be the one to grant the woman a divorce. She cannot date, re-marry, or have children until the divorce is granted.

"In the majority of cases the man gives the woman a divorce however in rare cases the man is recalcitrant," says Karlip, adding "he uses this technicality in the law, that he has to initiate the divorce, as a way to punish the woman."

This means wives like Cynthia who want a divorce are only left with the power of public persuasion, hoping she can embarass him into granting her a Jewish divorce.

To curb the problem an increasing number of conservative and orhtodox rabbi's are requiring couples to sign a legally binding pre-nuptial agreement that mandates the man grant a woman a divorce if it is finalized in a court of law.


Orthodox Jew fights for her right to divorce
by Kelsey Volkmann, The Examiner
Baltimore Examiner - September 18, 2006

Cynthia Ohana
BALTIMORE - More than one year has passed since Cynthia Ohana divorced her husband, who was convicted of abusing her, but she still cannot date, remarry or move on with her life.

Ephraim Ohana, a student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, has refused to grant Cynthia Ohana, of Baltimore, a Jewish divorce, or a "get," which, according to Orthodox Jews, is required to terminate the marriage.

"It's a life sentence," Cynthia Ohana said in a telephone interview with The Examiner on Sunday.

"It's a continuation of abuse, the last bastion of abuse, where he's got control."

Cynthia Ohana and other Jewish community members will demonstrate today outside of the law school to call for Ephraim Ohana's consent to a Jewish divorce after 18 years of marriage.
This is the second rally within the Orthodox Jewish community, which women advocates have criticized as being too insular when dealing with abuse against women. The first rally occurred in June outside of Ephraim Ohana's Baltimore residence.

Baltimore City Circuit Judge Audrey Carrion found Ephraim Ohana guilty of abuse, voluntarily quitting his job to avoid paying child support, and infidelity in May 2005, according to the Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault in Baltimore.

"One of the things that happens to someone who is an observant Orthodox woman is that until she gets a get, while he can remarry without giving it, what happens to these women is that they are held in a limbo state," said Vicki Polin, executive director of the coalition's Awareness Center.

If you go
What: Demonstration calling for a Baltimore man to grant a Jewish divorce
When: 4:30 today
Where: Maryland and Mount Royal avenues, Baltimore

Jewish Divorce Case Grabs Public Eye
Laura Berg Baltimore Jewish Times - OCTOBER 06, 2006

 Cynthia Ohana says she plans to do whatever it takes to obtain a get, the divorce document required under traditional Jewish law, from her ex-husband, Ephraim Ohana.
"I've learned to be my own best advocate," said Mrs. Ohana, who secured a civil divorce from Mr. Ohana in May 2005 after 19 years of marriage. "I'm not going away."

Mrs. Ohana, 40, has recently received a good deal of local print and broadcast media attention, and the resulting buzz, as part of a community push to free her from remaining an agunah, "anchored down" in Hebrew. Until she receives a get, Mrs. Ohana is prohibited by Jewish law from remarrying.

"I would like to be in a healthy relationship for me and for my children," said Mrs. Ohana, who has sole custody of her five children. Mr. Ohana does have visitation rights and spends time with his children, several of whom still live in the area.

On Sept. 18, a rally attended by a few dozen people was held outside the University of Baltimore School of Law, where Mr. Ohana is a student.

"It was very important to do it right before the holidays, hoping that maybe it would appeal to [Mr. Ohana's] conscience," said Mrs. Ohana.

The rally, initiated by Mrs. Ohana and sponsored by the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot Inc. (ORA) in New York City, was the community's third public attempt to pressure Mr. Ohana, 44, into granting a religious divorce.

Two other rallies were held in June and July, both outside of Mr. Ohana's home in Upper Park Heights.

The case also has gained attention in the Reform community, which does not make Jewish religious divorce decrees mandatory.

Rabbi Rex D. Perlmeter, of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, attended one of the rallies outside of Mr. Ohana's home. He said the case cuts across denominational lines because "this is not just an Orthodox issue. This is an issue of Jewish justice."

Although Mr. Ohana gave a lengthy, detailed interview to the Baltimore Jewish Times last week regarding all accusations against him, he decided to retract his comments, per a previous agreement with the Jewish Times. Instead, he issued a statement (see sidebar). Mr. Ohana's civil divorce attorney, Roanne Handler, also declined to comment.

Mrs. Ohana disputed her husband's statement, saying that she sent 13 letters to Rabbi Simcha Shafran, secretary of the Baltimore Bais Din, to request a hearing date. She said that she received permission from Rabbi Shafran to sue in secular court when Mr. Ohana refused to come.

Mr. Ohana's father, Rabbi Samuel Ohana, of Beth Midrash Mishkan Israel in Los Angeles, and a dayan (judge) recognized by the chief rabbinate in Israel, said he is still hopeful that Mrs. Ohana will receive a get.

"I have recommended to my son that he give the get," said Rabbi Ohana. "However, I was disappointed how the Jewish community has acted in a selective way," referring to his belief that other situations were handled quietly.

"He is not an abuser and has been a good husband and a good provider," Rabbi Ohana added. "This is a man who went to work as a plumber in the winter to provide for his family."

The Counseling, Helpline & Aid Network for Abused Women (CHANA), a program of the Women's Department of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore became involved when Mrs. Ohana became a client in September 2003.

In a final protective order, dated Dec. 21, 2004, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Sylvester B. Cox found that on Dec. 13, 2004, Mr. Ohana put Mrs. Ohana "in fear of imminent serious bodily harm."

Additionally, on May 31, 2005, as part of the divorce judgment, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Audrey S. Carrion found Mr. Ohana "voluntarily impoverished himself." Judge Carrion ordered him to pay future monthly child support as well as outstanding child support and alimony.

Mrs. Ohana's complaint to the court for divorce included that Mr. Ohana engaged in several adulterous affairs, according to Larry Feldman, an attorney for Mrs. Ohana who said he is working pro bono on the case.

For the past eight months, the Rabbinic Council of Greater Baltimore, also known as the Vaad HaRabbonim, has banned Mr. Ohana from area synagogues and Jewish homes. In a letter posted in area synagogues dated Feb. 17, 2006, Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, president of the Rabbinic Council, wrote, "Mr. Ohana has conducted himself in a manner that is unacceptable and that will not be tolerated within our community. As such, we declare Mr. Ohana persona-non-grata within our community."

Rabbi Moshe Hauer of B'nai Jacob Shaarei Zion, and a member of the Rabbinic Council, added, "We're trying every which way to bring across to Ephraim that granting the get is the right and appropriate thing to do. Once he does that, we look forward to welcoming him back to the community and we will offer him every opportunity to appear before a Bais Din."

Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz, of Woodside Synagogue in Silver Spring and a professor of law at University of Maryland Baltimore, also sympathizes with Mrs. Ohana.

"Unfortunately, there are people who use the get to victimize, and this is a very repulsive and repugnant thing to do," said Rabbi Breitowitz. "Even if there are disagreements, a get should not be used as blackmail or a bargaining chip."

But it has not just been Baltimore's religious Jewish community that is supporting Mrs. Ohana. The Awareness Center, Inc., the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse in Rockville, Jewish Women International in Washington, D.C., and CHANA are some of the agencies involved.

"At the rallies, I was surrounded by Jews, non-Jews, women working for the House of Ruth, as well as rabbis from each denomination of Judaism, because after hearing Cynthia's story, people in the community want to go out and support her," said Nancy F. Aiken, director of CHANA.

Such public pressure is often seen as a step of last resort.

Yehoshua Zev, director of ORA, said the non-profit group organizes rallies for agunot throughout the country. Over the past two years, more than 15 rallies also have been held in support of Sarah Rosenbloom, whose husband, Sam Rosenbloom of Gaithersburg, still refuses to give her a get, even though a civil divorce was finalized in 1999, Mr. Zev said.

Mrs. Ohana said she hopes her case will dissuade other husbands who refuse to grant gets to their ex-wives.

"It's validating to have the community's support," she said. "The exposure is terrifying. But I know there's another guy out there who is going to try and pull this same stunt, and I hope instead he thinks, ‘No, I don't want it be like what happened with Ohana.'"

The following statement was provided to the Baltimore Jewish Times by Ephraim Ohana:
I have not been vocal about the tragic difficulties in this divorce because I feel it is very detrimental to my children's wellbeing. While it would be too involved to address all the issues, I would like to highlight one.

A Jewish divorce is most often worked out in a Bais Din, and usually as a legally binding arbitration. Cynthia and I signed two agreements to enter into arbitration through the Baltimore Bais Din. She continuously breached these agreements and chose to address issues in other arenas, which included false allegations and malicious abuse of the judicial system.

Over the past year-and-a-half, my attorney has sent several letters to the Bais Din and met with its representatives in an effort to pressure her to abide by those agreements. She refused and the Bais Din remained silent. I have also made many attempts to offer to resolve our differences through negotiation asking only that she cease the hostilities she continues to instigate. She has refused all of these attempts. More recently, Judge Kathleen Sweeney recommended that we enter into mediation. She again refused.

There are still many outstanding issues that need resolution, including the get, and my offer to resolve them still stands


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