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Tale of romance, fallout roils Israeli rabbinic family

Religious official's kin tied to beating

JERUSALEM -- The story reads like pulp fiction: The wayward son of a powerful rabbinic family kidnaps and violently abuses his teenage sister's would-be suitor to prevent an affair that violates the family's strict religious codes.

Last week, Meir Amar, 31, the estranged son of Shlomo Amar, Israel's Sephardic chief rabbi, as well as the rabbi's wife and daughter and two alleged Bedouin accomplices were arrested in the abduction and assault of a 17-year-old, ultra-Orthodox boy.

According to reports, the family members objected to the boy's relationship with the rabbi's 18-year-old daughter, Ayala, whom the boy met in an Internet chat room. ''They cut off his side locks, ripped his skullcap, beat him, spat at him, humiliated him, and set the dogs on him," chief police investigator Alon Grossman told Israel Army Radio yesterday.

But another of the rabbi's sons denied any family plot, saying his brother had acted alone and was alienated from the family and its values.

Israeli media reported yesterday that Shlomo Amar, who was in Thailand, would be questioned by police on his return. Amar serves as Sephardi chief rabbi for Jews who originated in North Africa and Spain. Israel also has an Ashkenazi chief rabbi who guides Jews of European extraction.

In ultra-Orthodox Jewish society, contact between unmarried men and women is frowned upon. But in a twist, the main suspect in the case is the rabbi's estranged son, who abandoned his religious upbringing and has been living a secular life with little contact with his family.

Police said Ayala Amar lured the youth, who was not identified, to a car where Meir Amar grabbed him at knifepoint and took him to the nearby Arab town of Kalansua, to a house belonging to the two Bedouin suspects.

Grossman said they also had evidence that the rabbi's wife, Mazal, was involved, although he refused to confirm media reports that she was the one who initiated the kidnapping. ''We know the mother was in the Amar family house when they brought the kidnapped [youth] there after Kalansua. There, they continued to beat him while the mother was in the house," Grossman told the radio.

Grossman did not specify when the arrests were made but said the investigation began 10 days ago when the youth was brought to a Tel Aviv area hospital.

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