A man claiming to be Eliyah Hawila pretended to be a strictly observant Jew before marrying wife
During the course of our lives we often read of cases of mistaken identities and veteran imposters who spend their entire lives posing as other people. The latest case that has hit the headlines is so shocking that it rocks our collective soul to the core.
According to a report on the Yeshiva World News web site, on Sunday it came to light that a Sephardic Jewish woman from Brooklyn who had just gotten married has now learned that her new husband may possibly be a Palestinian Muslim from Lebanon and not an observant Jew as he had insisted he was during the courtship period.
The husband, who goes by the name Eliyah Hawila, according to his Twitter page, has presented himself as a strictly observant Jew, speaking fluent Hebrew, and fraudulently claiming to have both Sephardic and Ashkenazic antecedents.
According to a report on Israel’s Channel 13, Hawila’s real name is Ali Hassan and sources close to the woman’s family have said that his passport indicates that he is from Lebanon.
The sources revealed that subsequent to marrying the man a few weeks ago, the woman became suspicious because his command of the Arabic language was too perfect. When the woman’s brothers went to his home to further investigate this matter, it was then that they discovered his Lebanese passport with the name Ali Hassan in it.
The case has been reported to the FBI and now fearing for her life, the woman is currently living in a safe house.
The woman in question who has chosen to remain anonymous for obvious reasons had known that her intended was from Lebanon when they were dating but because he appeared to be a devoutly Orthodox Jew in practice, she never doubted that he was halachically Jewish. Eliyah told the woman that he was estranged from his family and the story he offered her sounded quite convincing. The fact that he spoke Hebrew fluently also helped to buttress his spurious claims.
In addition, the woman learned that Eliyah was affiliated with Chabad-Lubavitch of Texas for approximately six to seven years.
The report also indicated that Eliyah learned Hebrew and seriously engaged in Torah learning during the time he spent in Texas with Chabad. After he has mastered his Hebrew language skills and projected the image of someone who was immersed in Torah did he marry this woman.
A senior member of the Chabad community in the US told the publication Be’Chadrei Chareidim that “Chabad did not convert this Shiite Lebanese imposter and did not perform the wedding or get involved in any way in the identity of the man.”
The member added: “This is an unfortunate case of a confused youth who struck up a virtual relationship with a member of the Syrian Jewish community who was mortified to discover after her marriage that he was not Jewish. A Chabad rabbi in Texas was asked by the officiating rabbi to walk the groom to the Chupah since he did not have any close relatives in the US.”
Information has also emerged that Eliyah had shown the woman a family tree of his antecedents, but soon thereafter it was revealed that his alleged genealogical background was replete with multiple inaccuracies. As shocking as it may sound, Eliyah also recorded on his family tree that one of his ancestors was notorious Jewish mobster, Meyer Lansky and provided names of other prominent Ashkenazic Jews. None of his findings could be verified by reliable sources.
If things weren’t bizarre enough, Eliyah also professed to be an employee for the National Security Agency (NSA) and displayed a supposed “letter” from his contemporaries at the NSA which stated that they congratulated him and his bride on their wedding.
When the wedding day arrived, Eliyah’s family were absent from the proceedings and he provided his bride and her family with cogent reasons as to why they chose not to attend.
Now that the FBI is involved in the case and seeking leads and information about Eliyah and his affiliations, the United States Department of Homeland Security has been briefed and is investigating if Eliyah is in the US illegally or whether he has a visa. Also brought in to this case is the Israeli Consulate General who has launched a probe of this man.
On the religious end, it has reported that in addition to the various governmental agencies who are looking into this matter, prominent Rabbonim and community organizations are investigating if in fact the man claiming to be a Jew has a Jewish mother or not.
The report indicated that the woman will remain in the safe house she is in until a confirmation is made on her husband’s true identity.
While residing in Texas and spending significant amounts of time with the Chabad chapter at Texas A&M University, the rabbi who heads the group issued the following statement earlier today, which appeared on the YWN web site.
The Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at Texas A&M is open to all Jewish faculty and students to explore Judaism.
In 2018 a student presenting himself as Eliyah Haliwa began visiting Chabad along with other local campus Jewish institutions (including serving as president at one of them). He would occasionally attend Shabbat meals at Chabad, and infrequently attended the services or Torah classes.
Last year he met a woman from N.Y. on a Jewish dating website.
He falsely presented himself to her as observant. When asked by the woman and her family, I informed them that his conduct did not reflect that of a fully observant Jew.
The fundamental responsibility of the officiating rabbi at a wedding, the mesader kiddushin, is to determine the Jewish status [birur hayahadut] of the couple and ensure that they are both Jewish, single and allowed to marry each other in accordance with Jewish law.
Accordingly, when Rabbi Ezra Zafrani, a respected Syrian rabbi in Lakewood, N.J., asked me if Eliyah was Jewish, I explicitly informed him that I did not know and that whoever was officiating would need to do a proper birur and would need to independently confirm his Jewish status.
The wedding itself was officiated by Rabbi Zafrani’s son, Rabbi David Zafrani. As my wife and I were in New York for other reasons, Rabbi David Zafrani, who was officiating in place of his father, and his wife, asked us to join the wedding. As the groom had no family attending, at the request of the couple and the Zafranis, we walked him down the aisle and I signed the ketubah, which had been drafted by Rabbi Ezra Zafrani. We were not officiating and our involvement was predicated on the understanding that, as supervising rabbis, Ezra and David Zafrani had done their due diligence to confirm the groom’s Jewish status.
In the ensuing weeks, it has come to light that the bride was aware that Eliyah was using a false name, information he concealed from others, when she learned of his Muslim name. We were clearly misled about his identity. Our hearts go out to this woman, her family and everyone else deceived by this individual here in Texas and in New York and New Jersey.
Rabbi Yossi Lazaroff