The Zaddik: The Battle for a Boy's Soul


A thirteen-year-old Brooklyn boy is kidnapped and hidden for years in Europe and Canada. Incredibly, the abductors are a Hasidic rabbi and his zealous followers backed by top-dollar lawyers. Against these forces the boy's immigrant Israeli mother stands alone, ignored by an indifferent district attorney who, rumor has it, needs the Hasidic vote for his upcoming reelection. What are the motives of this sinister Hasidic underground? To her urgent queries the mother receives only a bizarre, cryptic response: The ...

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A thirteen-year-old Brooklyn boy is kidnapped and hidden for years in Europe and Canada. Incredibly, the abductors are a Hasidic rabbi and his zealous followers backed by top-dollar lawyers. Against these forces the boy's immigrant Israeli mother stands alone, ignored by an indifferent district attorney who, rumor has it, needs the Hasidic vote for his upcoming reelection. What are the motives of this sinister Hasidic underground? To her urgent queries the mother receives only a bizarre, cryptic response: The rabbi has detected in the boy "a special light" that has predestined the child to become a Zaddik, a man so righteous he will be privy to the will of God and be an inspirational leader to the Jewish people. But to fulfill this destiny the boy must be sequestered, removed from all outside influence including his mother's, to receive the special training that only this ultra-orthodox Hasidic community can provide.

If this book were not based on actual events, the plot of Elaine Grudin Denholtz's gripping suspense story might seem preposterous. But her tale is all the more shocking because it is true. With a gift for realistic dialogue and sharply drawn characters, Denholtz creates a dramatic portrait of religious fanatics who arrogantly defy the law.

Reported on Israeli television as well as in newspapers from the New York Times and Newsday to Israel's Maariv and Yediot Ahronot, the facts of this story have dramatic tension that keeps the reader both fascinated and horrified: false passports, hideouts in France, the boy's father wired by the New York police, a bloody knife fight outside a yeshiva, the brainwashed son testifying against his mother, two courageous lawyers who battle the system for four years pro bono, and a riveting jury trial.

The Zaddik is more than a tale of kidnapping and the battle for a boy's soul. It invites us to ask ourselves, Where does religious devotion end and evil begin?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1992, 13-year-old Shai Fhima was living with his Israeli mother, Hana, in Ramsey, N.J. Under pressure from more religious relatives, Hana, a Reform Jew, agreed to send her son to a Brooklyn yeshiva run by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, the leader of a Hasidic sect, to study for his bar mitzvah. Helbrans and his wife told Hana that her son had a special "light" and would become a zaddik, an inspirational leader, and urged her to let them raise him. When she refused, Shai disappeared and Hana did not see him for two years. For several years in total, the boy was hidden away by the rabbi and his followers in Israel, France and the U.S. Denholtz, a journalist (Balancing Work and Love), competently details the labyrinthine, headline-making legal maneuvers that ensued. Hana and her Israeli ex-husband were supported by two attorneys who worked pro bono for four years, as kidnapping charges were brought against Rabbi Helbrans. According to the author, who clearly sympathizes with Hana, there is no doubt that Shai was brainwashed during his time with Helbrans. He gave hostile courtroom testimony in support of Helbrans that broke his mother's heart, and accused her of physical abuse. The case was complicated by the fact that the Brooklyn D.A. did not want to alienate Hasidic voters. Although Denholtz strives for clarity and bases her account on research and interviews with principals (though Helbrans refused to meet with her), the complexity of the story is sometimes overwhelming. Rabbi Helbrans was convicted of kidnapping and served time in jail. Shai eventually reconciled with his parents. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573929202
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/2001
  • Pages: 377
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Elaine Grudin Denholtz is an award-winning journalist, playwright, screenwriter, and the author of Having It Both Ways: A Report on Married Women with Lovers and Balancing Work and Love: Jewish Women Facing the Family/Career Challenge, among other books. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and The New Jersey Literary Hall of Fame, she teaches at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2003

    Even simple facts are incorrect

    It was obvious from the back cover of this book's referral to 'cults' that you're in for a biased look at the events. This is true irregardless of whether this were fiction or non fiction. How can an author from New Jersey have neglected to look at a map of Brooklyn and observe that Brooklyn has several geographically separate Hassidic communities, not the one she refers to on page 30 as 'the Boro Park section of Williamsburg Brooklyn'. Apparently, she never even got into her car to check out the locations herself. If she couldn't get that right, certainly she couldn't be trusted to get the more crucial data right. One star is for the humor of all her errors (such as that the Hassidim are a sect of Satmar), that they speak Hebrew colloquilly (sic), her imaginary pigeon english dialogues (complete with 4 letter words). However, ultimately, there is little humor in a Jewish woman who is so obviously self-hating. It would appear that if this were the time of the Exodus from Egypt, she would have stayed behind.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2003

    Not Quite the Truth

    The back cover of this book quotes a authority on cults, who notes that this story ¿dramatically illustrates the tragic effects of deception, manipulation, and mind control that cultic groups typically employ....¿ The same can also be said of authors. And I can¿t remember an author who better illustrates deception based on half-truths and the manipulation of the truth to controls the readers¿ mind than Elaine Grudin Denholtz. Indeed, Ms Denholtz, who counts such intellectually-provoking plays as, ¿The Dungmen are Coming,¿ ¿Love Games¿ and ¿Doggy Bag¿ and books like How to Save Your Teeth and Your Money and Having It Both Ways: A Report on Married Women with Lovers among her literary achievements probably thought that she picked a winning topic this time: a ¿true¿ story about a ¿Hasidic rabbi and his frenzied followers,¿ corrupt political and legal systems, an international conspiracy and a woman alone, battling them all for her child and the truth. Oh, if it were only true. In her Foreword, the author indicates that she presented the story ¿to the best of my knowledge,¿ and warns the reader that, certain quotations ¿represent substantially what I believe [from] sources I believe reliable.¿ And, yes, ¿I recreated what I believed likely.¿ So, with those caveats this intrepid reporter weaves a tale more suited to a tabloid than serious discussion of the issue. Any reader who is honestly concerned with the facts should avoid this book; its appeal rests on stereotypes and the most sordid of biases. Denholtz is obviously an irreligious Jew who appears neither to understand the Hassidic way of life nor cares to learn. But, because it is a ¿fundamentalism¿ that offends her and that she rejects, it¿s fair game. So she read a few newspaper cllippings, talked to a few member of the cast, padded it with her hatred and imagination and, boom, filled 360 pages. Who am I to be so critical? Simply put, I was there as the story unfolded and played-out and I know the truth. Although not a follower of Rabbi Helbrans, frenzied or otherwise, I do know him, have met Shai Fhima and know his story and motivations, attended sessions of the trial and read the complete transcript, and know many of the principals. And to this day I find it difficult to believe that such a miscarriage of justice occurred in this country. Perhaps the most telling part of this book is the last sentence of the last page of the story. She quotes Shia Fhima who maintains to this day that, although he leads a less religious lifestyle, he wasn¿t kidnapped. And, typically, the author¿s inclusion of that one telling quote from the ¿victim,¿ himself, appears almost as an afterthought that might be dismissed in light of the truth as she wishes the reader to believe it. The very least she might have done was attribute the quote¿s source rather than lead the reader to believe that she may have actually gotten it through a direct interview. For the record, it was taken with only slight modification from the April 1, 2001 NY Times article, ¿Following Up: Overcoming Tug of War of His Family and Rabbi,¿ by Joseph Fried. So much for integrity. This review of her book is just my opinion.

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