Brooklyn rabbi under investigation for role in underage marriages

New York Post/April 3, 2021

By Melissa Klein and Isabel Vincent

Inside a Brooklyn yeshiva, more than 100 people gathered last month to dance and celebrate a marriage — of a 15-year-old bride.

The groom was either 21 or 22, according to someone who was in attendance.

Now Joel Roth, the Hasidic rabbi who heads the Williamsburg yeshiva called Mosdos Heichel Hakodesh Breslev, is under investigation by the NYPD and city Administration for Children’s Services for his role in arranging and performing unofficial underage marriages, according to a report in The Forward.

A spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office confirmed it was aware of an investigation “into marriages [Roth] performed.”

The legal age for a civil marriage in New York is 18, with 17-year-olds allowed to wed with parental and court permission.

While Roth’s weddings are only religious ceremonies — the couples are not old enough to get a city marriage license — the unions could run afoul of state laws.

“These are not legal marriages in New York State. I am sure there is a big fancy wedding, but it’s not like anyone at that wedding is asking to see the marriage license,” said Fraidy Reiss, the founder of Unchained at Last which advocates against forced marriages. “What it means is a lifetime of rape.”

Frimet Goldberger, a writer who used to belong to the Satmar Hasidic sect, posted a photo on Twitter last month of a baby-faced boy she said was 15 and newly engaged to a 17-year-old girl.

She alleged in a tweet that this “new trend” was started by Roth.

Goldberger told The Post that numerous parents have since contacted her saying Roth influenced their children to become his followers. She said she’s heard Roth’s teachings forbid any kind of birth control, or divorce.

“You get married at 15, you have a child at 16 or 17 and then that’s it for life,” she said.

When asked about the investigation, the NYPD responded that it “takes sexual assault and rape cases extremely seriously, and urges anyone who has been a victim to file a police report so we can perform a comprehensive investigation, and offer support and services to survivors.”

An ACS spokeswoman said she could not comment whether there was an investigation into Roth, only saying “child marriage is illegal in New York and we take allegations of child marriage and child sexual abuse very seriously.”

The young couples introduced and married by Roth live together. He says in one video that if the groom doesn’t have a job, “we’ll pay someone and they’ll give him a job,” according to a translation of the Yiddish provided to The Post.

An older sister of the 15-year-old married last month was wed last year at 16 and already has a child, the wedding attendee said.

Roth, 39, who is also known as Yoel, is described by some in the ultra Orthodox community as a charismatic figure popular among adolescent boys and girls.

He is also known for alienating the youngsters from their parents.

“He’s a bona fide cult leader who’s basically making minced meat out of parents,” said one community insider.

Roth is reportedly an adherent of a philosophy that dictates in order to save young boys from sexual “sin” they should be married off young.

He is the grandson of Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, a noted Jewish legal scholar who died last month at 86 and whose Brooklyn funeral attracted large crowds.

Roth veered off into a different Hasidic sect called Breslev and started the non-profit Camp Breslev in 2016.

The organization’s mission is to “conduct a House of Worship for the Jewish Religion” as well as “help poor grooms and brides to have a decent wedding and everything they need to start on their own,” state documents show.

Roth did not respond to a request for comment.

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