2 Rabbis, 4 Torahs: Religious Dispute Heads to Court

LOS ANGELES -- A rancorous fight over the ownership of four Torahs has spilled from religious to civil courts in Los Angeles, with the widow of one Orthodox rabbi accusing another of stealing scrolls lent to him by her deceased husband, it was reported Tuesday.

Once confined to an obscure Jewish legal system, the case of Pauker vs. Ohana is scheduled to go before a Superior Court judge next month, the Los Angeles Times reported.

One attorney is trying to disqualify his opposing counsel for allegedly violating professional rules of conduct, The Times reported. The parties also are squabbling over whether the civil case should proceed while a religious court in Israel considers an appeal filed after a Jewish court in Los Angeles ruled in the case.

Jewish legal scholars called the public airing of the case highly unusual, according to The Times.

Now in its seventh year, the tug-of-war pits the widow of Norman Pauker, an Orthodox rabbi from North Hollywood who once owned the sacred scrolls, against his former assistant, Rabbi Samuel Ohana, The Times reported.

Rita Pauker insists that a handwritten agreement between her husband and Ohana proves that the Torahs -- parchment scrolls containing the first five books of the Bible -- were lent to Ohana for just two years.

She has been seeking the return of the Torahs since her husband died in 2002. Last year, she took the matter to the religious court in Los Angeles, known in Hebrew as a beit din, or house of judgment. Both sides signed an agreement to abide by the court's decision.

In January, the judges ruled in Pauker's favor, ordering the Torahs returned within 30 days. Ohana has yet to comply. Instead, he has appealed to the higher religious court in Jerusalem, sparking a dispute over that panel's authority in the matter, The Times reported.

Pauker's attorney, Baruch Cohen, has turned to the U.S. civil system, asking a Superior Court judge to confirm the rabbinical court's judgment -- a rare development in a religious legal system whose rulings are generally honored, according to The Times.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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