The man who is at the center of a controversy for refusing to grant his ex-wife a get, or a Jewish divorce, was allegedly assaulted two weeks ago in Bala Cynwyd after dropping his 4-year-old daughter at her grandmother's house.
At least one blogger has hinted that the alleged assailants may have been supporters of the victim's ex-wife, but a group that lobbies on behalf of agunot, or "chained women" who are denied divorces, says that's unlikely.
Aharon Friedman of Silver Spring, Md. has faced intensifying public preassure from much of the Orthodox community — he's reportedly been denied entry to synagogues in his area — to grant aget to Tamar Epstein of Lower Merion. Their civil divorce was finalized in 2010.
The alleged incident took place on a residential street at 6 p.m. on July 29, according to Tom Walsh, a spokesman for the Lower Merion Township. The police department does not release the names of victims, but Friedman told the Jewish Exponent that he was the one attacked.
"There were two or three people dressed in black who attacked me, at least one of whom was wearing a mask," Friedman said of the incident, which occurred on Tisha B'Av. "I had to go to the hospital afterwards. I was hit pretty hard. I was able to get away."
Walsh said there were "no weapons seen and the victim said there was no verbal communication." He added that no one has been arrested and an investigation remains ongoing.
Friedman said he believes the attack is connected to his dispute with his wife. "It seems to me it would be very strange if it wasn't targeted," he said.
Fredric Goldfein, Epstein's attorney, said neither he nor his client had a comment at this time. Epstein has received widespread support from local and national rabbinic circles, as well as the broader Orthodox community. Critics say Friedman is abusing Jewish law — and the ability to withhold a divorce — for his own ends.
In 2006, Epstein, a nurse practitioner from Lower Merion, married Friedman, who is now on the staff of U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
At one point there was an extensive Facebook and letter-writing campaign to get the House Ethics Committee to investigate Friedman for conduct unbecoming a House employee.
The couple separated in 2008.
Custody and visitation rights of the couple's daughter appears to be one of the central ongoing disputes between the two parties. Friedman declined to answer on the record why he is refusing to grant a get.
Rabbi David Eidensohn of Monsey, N.Y., who has spoken on behalf of Friedman, said the man has been shunned in the Orthodox establishment. His brother, Daniel Eidensohn, has blogged extensively about the alleged incident at daattorah.blogspot.com.
Friedman, he asserted, has been made into such a pariah that it served as an incitement to violence. "There shouldn't be violence and there shouldn't be coercion," Eidensohn said. "He is not giving the get because he is terrified that he will go into court and they will wipe him out. The only protection he has is not to give the get."
Rabbi Jeremy Stern, whose Organization for the Resolution of Agunot has organized several demonstrations on Epstein's behalf, said his group in no way advocates violence.
"ORA only condones halachically acceptable and civilly legal forms of pressure," he said, adding that he doubts Epstein's supporters were behind the attack. "We are really interested in seeing what the police report comes up with. I suspect they will show there is no correlation between what happened" and activism on Epstein's behalf.