Satmar activist fears “ostracization” after taking dispute with brother to secular court

In a letter to the judge, Joel Friedman wrote that his children’s expulsion from school is “imminent,” unless the court intervenes

Joel Friedman with members of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office. Credit: Bergen County Sheriff’s Office/Facebook

Mar 11, 2024 1:00 PM


Prominent Satmar activist Joel Friedman said he will be ostracized from his community and his children will be imminently expelled from school unless a Kings County Supreme Court judge orders the speedy release of an agreement that he says will justify his use of secular courts. According to documents filed in court, Friedman has been summoned by his brother Abe to rabbinical court but has refused to cooperate. 

Friedman, a clergy liaison for the New York Police Department, sued his brother Abe Friedman in February, claiming that Abe reneged on payments he agreed to make after allegedly setting up a fake social media account and posted “defamatory” comments about Joel. Both men are well-connected politically, and in February, New York City Mayor Eric Adams attended the bar mitzvah of Joel Friedman’s son.

Joel is trying to get a copy of the brothers’ agreement, which has been kept in escrow with a rabbinic arbiter. That document, Joel says, will show that conditions have been met to allow Joel to take the matter to secular court — which Abe claims he is forbidden to do according to a rabbinic ruling. Seeking to convince the judge to order the agreement’s release, Joel’s attorney, Velvel “Devin” Freedman, made a startling argument given Joel’s prominence in the community: referring to Joel’s children, Freedman wrote, “Without the Settlement Agreement, expulsion from the school system is imminent.”

A poster against Joel Friedman, submitted in recent court filings

In the letter to Justice Francois Rivera, Freedman also argued that since “recourse to civil courts” is “verboten” in Joel and Abe’s “insular Orthodox Jewish community,” the letter itself should be sealed from the public. Publishing it, he argued, “would have immediate and disastrous consequences” for Joel’s minor children. Despite this request, the documents are publicly available as of this writing.

At many Haredi schools, stringent rules apply not only to students but also to their parents, and students can be expelled for their parents’ actions. In New Square, for example, mothers must agree not to use a smartphone, according to Lohud. In many Hasidic schools, parents must disclose whether they have internet access, either at home or their workplace, and if they do, which filtering technology they use. Neither Joel nor his attorney responded to emails from Shtetl asking, among other things, which schools Joel’s children attend and whether they have already faced retaliation.

A letter from rabbinical court Orech Mishor against Joel Friedman, submitted in recent court filings

Freedman said that Joel’s brother Abe is obstructing the case by “leveraging the religious community” in which the brothers live and to punish Joel for seeking relief from a secular court. He submitted to the court an open letter from Orech Mishor, a Borough Park rabbinical court, that chides Joel for “repeatedly evading” the summons to rabbinical court and for taking the dispute to secular court “without any dispensation from a rabbinical court whatsoever.” Freedman said also that Abe’s rabbinic legal adviser had sent that letter to Joel’s children’s school, and that Abe distributed a poster calling Joel a “hateful and wicked Haman” and warning the community to have “no association with this infamous evil man.” 

Reached by Shtetl, Abe’s attorney, Dov Medinets, refuted these assertions. Medinets said that Abe’s rabbinic legal adviser did not contact the head of Joel’s children’s school system, and that Abe “has no knowledge about” the poster spread against Joel. Medinets said he believes Joel has issued a similar poster against Abe.

In his letter to the judge, Freedman took issue with statements Medinets made to Shtetl in which Medinets accused Joel of jealousy and said the issue should be settled in rabbinical court. Freedman said Medinets was “disparaging” his client “to niche Jewish media outlets to further this improper religious pressure.”

In a February legal filing, Medinets strongly opposed the demand to release the settlement agreement, saying the arbiter of the agreement, Rabbi Moshe Yona Mandel, was only to release it if he were to deem it appropriate to do so.

“We continue to reject Abe Friedman’s invitation to try a private matter in the court of public opinion,” said Israel Appel, counsel for Joel, in a statement to Shtetl. “Our focus remains on seeking a fair and impartial resolution in the appropriate forum.”

Correction: an earlier version of this article misstated the month of Joel Friedman’s son’s bar mitzvah, which was attended by New York City Mayor Eric Adams. The bar mitzvah was in February, not January.

Read more in Shtetl:

Bitter feud between politically-connected Satmar brothers devolves into public legal contest

What it takes to attend a Haredi school: 11 rules families must follow in the new school year