Scholar in molestation case receives probation

January 11, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

A bitter domestic battle that has aroused passions in Orthodox Jewish communities from Northwest Baltimore to Jerusalem moved a step closer to resolution, as a self-proclaimed religious scholar charged with molesting his children received probation before judgment for assault.

Prosecutors dropped sexual child abuse charges against Aron Goldberger when he pleaded guilty to assault last week in Baltimore Circuit Court. Mr. Goldberger entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant declines to plead guilty but concedes that the evidence is against him.

The conviction was struck when Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe granted probation before judgment, prosecutor William J. Giuffre said.

Under the terms of his probation, Mr. Goldberger, 34, cannot have any contact with his six children and must receive psychiatric therapy, the prosecutor said.

Mr. Goldberger had been charged with sexually abusing three of his sons, ranging in ages from 2 to 5, in 1989.

Mr. Giuffre said a major reason he agreed to the plea bargain was that he feared that the children would be traumatized by testifying against their father.

The charges stemmed from a husband-wife battle played out in Maryland courtrooms but followed by Jewish leaders in three states as well as in England and Israel.

In May, a state Special Appeals Court affirmed a Circuit Court order granting the couple a divorce and giving custody of their six children to their mother, Esther Goldberger.

Ms. Goldberger's lawyer, Susan Carol Elgin, said that her client is still seeking child support payments from Mr. Goldberger, who she says has made no such payments.

Mr. Goldberger has said that he has not made child support payments because he does not have a paying job.

Mr. Goldberger said that his marriage contract called for his family to be supported by his in-laws and other members of the community while he was a full-time Talmudic scholar.

Allegations of molestation are not unheard of in custody fights.

But as Michael Rottenberg, a board member of a Lakewood, N.J., rabbinical college and one of Mr. Goldberger's key supporters, has noted, they are almost unheard of in an Orthodox Jewish society that prefers to mediate its disputes internally and not in the secular courts.

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