Yoel Roth by the Forward

A rabbi is under investigation for arranging child marriages. But one of his teen couples just got married.

Image by Molly Boigon

In January of 2020, a boy celebrated his bar mitzvah. On Monday, he got married.

The rabbi who made it happen is a Williamsburg-based Hasidic leader who’s already under investigation over arranging child marriages.

Investigated over child marriages, this yeshiva is still hosting them

Videos and text messages viewed by the Forward show that the yeshiva run by Rabbi Yoel Roth, Heichel Hakodesh Breslev, hosted the wedding festivities of an underage boy and girl, believed to be, respectively, 15 and 17 at the time of their March engagement.

That was also when the Forward reported that both Roth and the yeshiva, which is also known as Yeshiva Tiferes HaTorah, were being investigated by the New York Police Department and the Administration for Children’s Services for performing child marriages.

Investigated over child marriages, this yeshiva is still hosting them

Oren Yaniv, communications director for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, said investigations into the marriages were ongoing but that the department had not received any evidence that enabled it to pursue a criminal case.

Under New York State law, people must be 18 to legally marry. But performing a religious wedding ceremony for an underage couple — even with a ketubah — would not by itself constitute a crime under the law, which was signed this July by former Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Roth, who is not visible in the video clip of Monday’s celebration, did not respond to messages left at the school this week.

Not long before the Forward reported that Roth was under investigation, a photo of a boy and girl at their engagement celebration was circulated on social media by Frimet Goldberger, a writer familiar with the community.

“A 15-year-old Hasidic boy, a cherub holding his father’s hand, got engaged to a 17-year-old girl,” Goldberger wrote in March. The photo also included their surnames: Schnitzler and Zelkowitz. The Forward was not able to confirm the bride’s surname.

At the time, Roth’s secretary, Shaul Indig, did not dispute the engaged couple’s ages, but told the Forward that Roth would not marry them until they were of legal age.

“They are going to be engaged for three years,” Indig said then. “If they were secular, they would just be friends for three years.”

But on Monday night, texts about the Schnitzler wedding began circulating on WhatsApp. And wedding videos appear to depict the same boy in Goldberger’s engagement photo and in a video of Schnitzler’s post-bar mitzvah siyum — a celebration that follows a cycle of Talmud study, posted to YouTube in 2020 — dancing with a few dozen men in traditional Hasidic garb.

One person who shared the video above captioned it, “The wedding of the wunderkind of Breslov took place last night.” (The yeshiva affiliates itself with the Breslov movement.)

Roth inherited the faction of Hasidic Jews he now leads, which one person familiar with the group estimated at about 60 to 100 families and about 1,000 people total, from Rabbi Eliezer Shlomo Schick, who was arrested in 2011 for performing child marriages. Schick died in 2015.

Since then, Roth has developed a reputation for arranging underage marriages. One Hasidic teenager told the Forward that the rabbi talked to him about getting married when he was 16.

“Wow, you’re so cute. You’re going to find a girl fast,” the student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, recalled the rabbi saying.

Another person described the faction as “a real cult.”

Pursuing a statutory rape case usually requires the cooperation of the victims or their families, with a statute of limitations of at least 10 years, depending on the nature of the alleged crime. Child endangerment cases similarly require witnesses to or demonstrable proof of harm.

“This entire episode is just tragic and heartbreaking,” said Shulim Leifer, a Hasidic activist, in a message to the Forward Wednesday. “In most cases we’re talking about parents that are themselves manipulated by a power hungry cult leader, who — no matter what he wants to say about how pure his motives are — is behaving in ways that are considered extreme and anti-social, even by Chasidish standards.”

Investigated over child marriages, this yeshiva is still hosting them

Investigated over child marriages, this yeshiva is still hosting them

Author

Louis Keene

Louis Keene

Louis Keene is a staff reporter at the Forward. He can be reached at keene@forward.com or on Twitter @thislouis.

Child Marriage Persists At Breslov Hasidic Yeshiva

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A rabbi is under investigation for arranging child marriages. But one of his teen couples just got married.

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