Rabbinic Court Detains Messianic Minor

Monday, September 15, 2014 |  David Lazarus

A Messianic Israeli mother is calling for help to rescue her 13-year-old daughter who is being held against her will in Israel by the religious Rabbinic Court. 

When young Amber Layman arrived from the USA at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel with her mother, Danielle Layman, and three younger siblings, her delighted grandfather innocently snapped some quick pictures and uploaded them on Facebook. 

Little did anyone know that among those following the family’s Facebook posts was Amber’s estranged biological father, Shahar Abecassis.

When Abecassis, who had been convicted of domestic violence by a civil Israeli court and divorced from Amber’s mother, saw the picture of his biological child in Israel, he filed a complaint with the Rabbinic Court in Ashdod, claiming that his daughter had been “kidnapped and taken to America.” 

Legally, however, Abecassis is no longer the Amber’s father. According to adoption papers issued by a US court and obtained by Israel Today, Jeremy Layman, who married Amber’s mother, is now her legal father and guardian.  

At least that’s what an American District Court determined, and it is a view shared by the Ministry of Interior in Israel, which removed Abecassis’ name from Amber’s Israeli ID and listed Jeremy Layman as her father. Even Amber’s American and Israeli passports register Jeremy as her father. 

In his complaint to the Rabbinic Court, Abecassis noted that the “Layman family are Christians,” and expressed “fears they will raise his daughter as a gentile.” The Rabbinic Court, which has jurisdiction over marital matters, responded by issuing a warrant restricting Amber from departing Israel with her family and returning to the USA. 

Amber’s mother Danielle Layman recalled some of this ongoing saga’s backstory:

"I became a believer in Jesus while living in Beersheva. We started a small home group for new believers with some of my friends. Amber’s biological father was abusive from the very beginning of our marriage. The court ordered a restraining order to keep him away. I eventually had no choice, so I divorced him."

Layman eventually moved to the USA, where she met and married Jeremy Layman, a National Guard Platoon Sergeant currently serving in Afghanistan. The family attends a local Baptist church in Kansas. 

In Israel, once a complaint is filed in a Rabbinical court regarding domestic matters such as visitation rights or child custody, the family could find itself facing rulings rooted in Halakha (Jewish religious law) rather than secular civil law. In such cases, it is highly possible that they may lose some of the protections provided by Israeli civil law.

The case of 13-year-old Amber presents yet another challenge amidst mounting tensions between Israel’s religious and secular societies. Will the Rabbinic Court recognize Amber’s legal American adoption?  Or will it determine that, according to Halakha, the biological father still has rights? 

Amber’s mother is writing to US senators and congressmen asking them to put pressure on the Israeli government to intervene on behalf of her daughter. But do the rabbis in Israel pay any heed to American political pressure? Will the secular Israeli government and courts get involved?

A Rabbinic Court hearing regarding Amber’s case is scheduled for October 2. Ignoring completely Amber’s legal adoption, the rabbinical authorities are forbidding Jeremy Layman from attending the proceedings.

Israel Today will continue covering the case and report on any further developments, especially after the October 2 hearing. Stay informed and pray informed with Israel Today.

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