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“Rabbi To The Stars” Loses Congregation After Five Divorces

One of the most common concerns people have when divorcing isn’t necessarily about the divorce itself, but the blowback they might experience when others learn about it. Whether a divorce is caused by bad behavior by one or both spouses, or simply a couple falling out of love after a promising start, New York protects the privacy of divorce records.

Confidentiality can be built into settlement agreements, and other steps can be taken to keep your private information out of public view. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be very personal consequences when circumstances strike those around you as especially outrageous.

Take the case of Rabbi Marc Schneier, 57, the founder and leader of the Orthodox Hampton Synagogue, and a man who has been married and divorced five times. Schneier is the 18th generation of a rabbinic line, and when he married in January 1981 at the age of 21, to 20-year-old Elissa Shay, the ceremony was officiated by the chief rabbis of Israel and Romania.

At the time, he was a rabbinic student at Yeshiva University, while she was a Brooklyn native studying at Barnard College. Their marriage lasted less than a year.

Young and hopeful, Schneier wed again a few years later, this time to Esther Melamed. Friends believed the marriage was an unhappy one, and the couple divorced in 1992. It was during this marriage that Schneier founded the Hampton Synagogue, an upscale house of worship catering to the well-heeled, often elderly, residents and visitors to the Hamptons.

Schneier took a slightly unusual approach to leadership of the congregation, appointing his own board rather than letting members vote or select representatives.

In 1993, Schneier wed again, this time to Toby Gotesman. The daughter of a prominent Orthodox family from Portland, Oregon, the couple had an exclusive 90-guest ceremony at Gracie Mansion, and friends felt that the union was a good one for both.

Gotesman seemed to enjoy the couple’s lifestyle of entertaining and partying, and the marriage produced a son, Brendan, now 17. In 2005, rumors surfaced that Schneier was cheating with a divorced fashion designer, Tobi Rubinstein, which led to the couple’s divorce. Gotesman went on to write a fictional memoir of the experience, called “Bad Charisma.”

Gotesman told the New York Post that at the time of their split, Schneier was making around $800,000 in total compensation, including a half million dollar salary and mortgage payments toward his $3 million, 5,000-square-foot Westhampton Beach home.

In 2006, Schneier took his fourth walk down the aisle, wedding Rubinstein at the now-closed New York Synagogue, which Schneier also ran. The small 25-person wedding was the start of a celebrated union that included the gift of a 400-pound endangered Asian lion to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo to commemorate Schneier’s 50th birthday.

Once again, infidelity came between the two when Rubinstein hired a private investigator to look into Schneier’s activities.

The couple divorced in 2010 after Schneier was photographed in the Holy Land with synagogue member Gitty Leiner, during what Schneier had told his wife was a business trip.

In 2013, Leiner and Schneier married, producing a daughter they named Brooke, now two. What came next appears to have been the last straw for his congregation. When his infidelity again broke up his marriage in 2015 and his wife and baby daughter left him, his Orthodox community could no longer stomach Schneier’s behavior.

An email campaign was launched by congregant Lloyd Landow, 76, and architect from Long Island and a longtime member. “He is not fit to be the rabbi of our congregation,” Landow wrote. Members gradually coalesced around withholding payments and pledges to the Hampton Synagogue to pressure Schneier to leave, and on April 14, 2016, Schneier announced that he will be stepping down from his post as rabbi.

According to media reports, the congregation remains divided over Schneier’s conduct over the years, with many crediting him with creating a center for Semitic life in the Hamptons. Others, especially women, felt that his behavior toward other female worshippers was beyond the pale, even calling it an abuse of power.

Because there are no female rabbis in Orthodox Judaism, the role holds a special trust to the community, and many believe that Schneier’s extracurricular activities have violated that trust.

Schneier’s situation is far from typical, but anyone facing a divorce is likely to worry what coworkers, friends, and family will think when they hear the news. People will have questions that may be uncomfortable to answer, and for individuals in a variety of public roles, details that leak out from a divorce can feel – or even be – devastating.

While New York law keeps the motions, testimony, and evidence of your divorce a secret, the action itself will feature two people who are likely to be hurt and angry. When there are children involved, even adults who choose to be discrete may find that personal and even damaging information has made its way to friends and colleagues.

There are measures you can take to limit this kind of exposure. Experienced divorce attorneys can help shield you from public discussion by developing a confidentiality framework for your divorce. Settlements can be contingent on both parties signing a non-disclosure agreement, for instance, and even negotiations can be founded on a mutual agreement to protect the details being discussed from the public.

At Zelenitz, Shapiro & D’Agostino, we work closely with our clients to develop a thorough understanding of their situation and their needs, whatever the circumstances of their divorce. We know that protecting your reputation is a core role for any divorce lawyer, and that keeping your secrets safe from public scrutiny is vital.

Our team can help you get maximal confidentiality in your divorce, and minimize your exposure to public opinion. When you’re considering divorce in Queens and want to protect your privacy, call us today at 718-523-1111 for a free consultation with an experienced Queens divorce lawyer.