Originally Published in the NYPost April 2, 2010
The son of the head of the city’s powerful Chabad Jewish organization is an unemployed deadbeat dad who refuses to give his wife a divorce or pay child support, court papers reveal.
Velvel Butman — whose father, Shmuel Butman, lights the giant menorah in Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza, Times Square each year during Hanukkah — has been battling the court, and his own community, since he first refused to give his long-suffering wife a divorce five years ago, documents and sources say.
Velvel, a 49-year-old dad of eight, once worked for his father as an emissary of the Hasidic movement in Westchester County.
But Velvel was booted as a rabbi after a rabbinic court of Chabad Lubavitch ordered him to give his wife a Jewish divorce, called a get, and he refused.
“He strongly believes that a rabbi’s not supposed to get divorced. Yet he’s no longer technically a rabbi because he’s been defrocked,” said a rabbi who feared reprisal if his name were published.
A Brooklyn judge last week held Velvel in contempt for failing since 2013 to pay child support for his children. Six of them still live with his estranged wife, Rachel, who treks from their home in Crown Heights to her job at a day-care facility in Westchester to pay the bills.
Velvel has been on the hook for $2,000 a month in child support for the past four years but has paid only the first two months, court documents show.
Yet instead of working, he has been gallivanting to Israel and Uzbekistan, allegedly telling the court at one point, “I would have needed to get permission from a rabbinic panel if someone of my stature should be seen [working] in a Starbucks.’’
His father, Shmuel Butman, 73, heads New York’s Chabad Lubavitch.
The judge said Velvel has 60 days to pay $78,400 or he’ll be thrown in jail.
His wife is so desperate to be free of him that she even offered to forgive the child-support debt if he would just sign the divorce papers, sources said.
“[Velvel] has publicly stated that he would rather sit in jail than give his wife the money, and would rather sit in jail than give his wife the get,’’ a rabbinical source said.
Velvel lives with his 73-year-old dad.
“[Shmuel] is supporting his son financially, while his son claims that, given his father’s status, it is below his dignity to work here or there,” the source said.
But Rabbi Butman insisted on Sunday that his son has done no wrong.
“I’m his father, and he’s going to pay,” Shmuel Butman said, though he declined to say whether he would be footing the bill.
Velvel did not return a message. His lawyer declined comment.
Rachel Butman’s lawyer, Joel Yacoob, also declined to comment.
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