By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

 

Pidyon shvuyim is a great mitzvah. It occupies one of the first areas in Shulchan Aruch, Hilchos Tzedakah. The Talmud (Bava Basra 8b) says that captivity is worse than starvation and death. The Rambam writes that anyone who ignores ransoming a captive is guilty of transgressing a number of Torah commandments, “You shall not harden your heart,” (Devarim 15:7); “Do not stand idly by the blood of your brother,” (Vayikra 19:16); and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (Vayikra 19:18) among others.

The following story is heart wrenching. Julie Goffstein married Peter Goffstein shortly after they graduated from college. He hailed from St. Louis, Missouri, and she came from Toledo, Ohio. They married and settled in Cincinnati, where Peter became a real estate developer. They became ba’alei teshuvah and had six sons. They were pillars of the community and helped build the dormitory and mesivta in Cincinnati. When guests came to visit in the community, they were housed in the Goffstein’s house.

In 2008 Peter had second thoughts about frumkeit. He asked Julie, now Batya, to join him on his path. She refused and filed for divorce. Julie Goffstein had been a stay-at-home mother while Peter Goffstein was the breadwinner. A judge initially gave her temporary physical custody.

“Wife is designated the residential parent and legal guardian of the minor children,” an order written by Magistrate Judge Greg Thiele on July 27, 2010, stated. “The above award is temporary only and creates no presumption in law.”

In Hamilton County, Ohio, where her divorce was heard, a decision is initially made by a magistrate, or junior judge, before a senior judge affirms or augments the decision.

Through the legal process, Batya went from having temporary custody of all of the boys to having custody of just the two older boys but having Peter have control over where the boys went to school. At first the judge allowed the boys to stay in yeshiva through eighth grade. However that was changed because Batya’s religious beliefs prevented her from enrolling the boys in public school. Her refusal eventually led to her losing custody and even going to jail for contempt of court. As of now she hasn’t seen the youngest children in four years.

Clearly, here is a case of pidyon shvuyim.

Is There A Limitation to Pidyon Shvuyim?

The community should assist to ensure that these children can come back to their Torah heritage. But is the expense too great? Is there a limit on the community’s responsibility?

There is a fascinating Gemara in Gittin (45a) that states, “One may not ransom captives for more than their value because of tikkun olam.” It seems that this is a special rabbinic enactment that was made in order to protect the community.

What does the term “more than their value” mean? The answer is that it is determined by the value that these captives would fetch on a slave market that existed during those times. In modern times, it would probably be translated to the current value of a salary for a long period of time.

The Gemara gives two explanations for this halacha. The first is “because of the [financial] burden on the community.” The second is so that more captives should not be seized. In other words, it would endanger Jews in the future because kidnappers would be encouraged to take Jewish souls.

The Maharam M’Rottenberg, who was held in captivity, was concerned about the burden that he would be placing upon the community and forbade anyone to redeem him for an excessive amount. He also did not wish other rabbinic figures to be subjected to kidnapping.

The Application To Our Case

In applying these two reasons to our case of children being raised without Torah and without their mother, the first reason may apply, but the second reason would not be applicable. Also, the Gemara does not paskin as to which view is normative halacha.

The sums needed here, however, are not astronomical. It is estimated that the mother’s legal fees would lie somewhere between $25,000 and $50,000. Thus, this would fit into “within their value” and would not be considered an undue stress upon the community.

Rav Yitzchok Yoseph, shlita, son of Rav Ovadya Yosef, zt’l, paskened that this is a true and complete case of pidyon shvuyim.

The husband subsequently married a non-Jew moved to Florida, and now there is a chance for us to right this horrible wrong. Batya has a good legal team set up to help her regain custody (and/or visitation) and take the children out of public school and bring them back to their birthright of Torah and Yiddishkeit. But she needs our help. Working as a secretary on a meager salary, she cannot afford the costs associated with a protracted legal battle.

A Dire Precedent

This is one of those situations where all Jews must come together to assist this woman in regaining her children. Dr. Fred Friedman, from Premium Health in Brooklyn, who knows her case well, says, “I can vouch for this remarkable woman. She cries herself to sleep every night at the loss of her children. She is completely balanced and has a heart of gold as well.”

We need leaders in the community to step up to the plate. Anyone who wishes to help out this situation can send a check made out to “Chabad Charity Fund” (Rabbi Wolowik’s fund for individuals) who graciously agreed to have the checks made out to them. Please indicate “Goffstein Fund” in the memo. The checks may be mailed to Chabad of the Five Towns, 74 Maple Avenue, Cedarhurst, NY 11516.

The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com

16 COMMENTS

    • Hi Peter,
      Glad you’re doing something ever so slightly more productive than posting shmutz on Facebook pages in which most support Julie. All money was indeed used to undo your years of court hearings.
      What’s your long term strategy? Your kids would like you if you let them see their mother. You know what, instead of posting let’s talk and come up with a solution that your kids will appreciate.

  1. Rabbi Hoffman, it is appalling that you put a picture of minor children who are the subjects of a custody battle on the front page of the FTJT. As worthy or as compelling as you think the situation may be, it is never ok to exploit children. Interesting that the mother is wearing sun glasses but the children are fully visible. Children are innocent victims of divorce. They should not have to undergo further humiliation by being made into a public chessed case.

    • The pictures that go with stories are chosen mostly by editors, not writers. That being said, the only photo with this article online was of the Halachic Musings logo. Thank you for comment!

  2. S G. Pollack, you’re comment is almost not worthy of a response.
    J, Shapiro , neither is yours other than try to
    have some compassion rather than criticize

  3. S.G. Pollack, I know this woman personally and every word she says is absolutely and irrefutably true. She and her children, who have been prevented from seeing each other because of a corrupt judge whose palms were greased by her rich ex husband. To do this to a mother and her children is completely inexcusable!

  4. I must correct Marcy. Its not the e-edition that features the picture but the front page of the Newspaper itself which can also be found online, features a large picture of the woman wearing sun glasses with her two older sons who are in full view. This has nothing to do with compassion or how worthy the cause may be. Whomever submitted this at 5TJT, please reconsider doing this in the future. The story is compelling enough without a picture. It is unnecessary to exploit the kids in full view of the entire community. As someone in social services, I do not take this lightly. The children have been through enough and don’t need to be exposed that way. While being compassionate for the plight of this family, we cannot lose sight of protecting children.

  5. J Shapiro. The one boy in the picture is now 18 and the other boy Aaron , he is 16. He in particular is very vocal about wanting to return home and has been interviewed in an article in AMi magazine. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Until you have experienced the destruction ad trauma this family has experienced, I would caution you to be careful about making judgements. Thank you. Be well.

  6. Julie Goffstein is an excellent mother who is the victim of one of the greatest legal travesties on record in family court. I have been involved since her millionaire husband had her arrested for failing to pay his legal fees. The judge who did this, the same one who awarded custody to the father, reversed himself and released her before the Ohio Supreme Court could rule.

    She’s an excellent mother and singly raises her two older boys. This is a human rights case.

    Thank you Five Town news and rabbonim for helping her.

  7. I know this mother personally, and what has been illegally created by her ex is disgraceful! Shame on him and the system! These boys love their mother and should be immediately returned, along with her stolen asset’s. This was nothing but greed, severe control and child abuse.

  8. I was the Goffstein’s housekeeper from 2007-2012. When the split happened I became housekeeper and nanny. This period was very hard on the children; from one day Peter being a follower of the Torah to the next day smacking the kids kippas off of their heads. The children were so confused! Then the screaming, crying and hiding that came about when Peter picked them up to go with him. None of the boys willingly went with Peter. Levi, which was 4-5 at the time of the split was so traumatized by it all that he began defacating his pants again. Levi opened up to me about Peter and what the Torah says to do and Peter not wanting to follow it. The confusion and ability to understand what was going on through a small child’s eye was one of the most painful things I have ever heard first hand. The whole thing was heart wrenching. Batya has handled more trauma than I think any Mother could handle. (Not to mention the bruises she showed me on her neck, back and arms from Peter, but this article is about custody and not spousal abuse. Although if Peter can leave huge bruises on the mother of his children, then what kind of physical harm can he do to children.) I hope everyone finds in their hearts to help reunite this wonderful mother and her Children. We have the power to help make this a happy ending.

  9. I’ve read about this family before and it is a tragedy, especially for the children. There’s a lot online that shows there is plenty of fault on both parents. The court record shows mother got in a lot of trouble over and over again with the judge for trying to alienate the boys from the father, not because of being a Yid. Would have been best if they could find a better way.

  10. Donny Dolkot before making such a strong accusation I would suggest you fully familiarize yourself with the facts of the case. (Not just with court decisions but with transcripts of the entire case ( which I do have in full). From a common sense point of veiw it would be pretty difficult for me to ” alienate the children” from their father when I have seen and spoken to them only a handful of times in over 5 years.

  11. I used to clean Julie’s house before the divorce. I cleaned her house when she was a stay-at-home mother with all six kids. I watched firsthand how devoted and loving and nurturing she was with these children. I watched firsthand have these children loved their mother and more happy with their mother. I have seen emails from her sons saying they want to see their mother missing their mother. I have seen emails from her ex severely degrading her. I actually received an email from an anonymous name assuming it was from her ex since the details in that email could only be from Peter. Very degrading very degrading. These children need and deserve to be with their loving mother. This is criminal in my opinion how these children have been stolen from their mothers presents and from the two older siblings. Not only that how is she fit to keep two children but not the other four? Not allowed to speak to their mother or see their mother have any connection with their mother. The mother has no history of drug abuse alcohol abuse mental illness anything yet they’ve taken these children from her. I hope everyone that reads this article gives whatever they can.

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