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Israeli rabbi jailed for fondling sleeping woman on plane

By Aman Ali

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Orthodox Jewish rabbi and father of 11 was sentenced to 60 days in prison on Thursday for groping his sleeping female seatmate, an Israeli soldier, aboard a transatlantic flight.

Gavriel Bidany, 48, an Israeli citizen, remained silent in federal court in Brooklyn as a Hebrew interpreter informed him of the punishment meted out by Judge Ramon Reyes.

"He is a well respected man and a well valued person in his community," the judge said. "That said, the need for the sentence imposed is great because this is a serious offense."

Bidany was convicted of fondling a 23-year-old lieutenant in the Israeli Army. She testified against him in court earlier this month.

The victim did not appear at the sentencing but issued a statement saying she expected more from Bidany considering he's an Orthodox rabbi.

"Whatever was taken away from me cannot be returned," she said. "This cannot be learned any other way. A burn leaves a scar that cannot be removed."

According to court documents, Bidany was on a Delta Airlines flight from Tel Aviv, Israel to John F. Kennedy airport in New York in March, seated next to the woman. Bidany placed a blanket over his head, appearing to fall sleep, and that's when the victim decided to place a blanket over herself too and sleep, the court documents said.

About 30 minutes later, the victim woke up to find Bidany groping her genital area and jumped back before the rabbi pulled his hands back, the documents said. The victim then placed the blanket back over herself before Bidany tried to grope her again, this time reaching for her breasts.

When the woman questioned the rabbi about what he was doing, the rabbi replied, "It's a mistake, I'm asleep," the documents said.

She immediately reported the incident to a flight attendant, leading to Bidany's arrest.

Many of Bidany's 11 children wrote letters to the judge pleading for his release and about a dozen of the rabbi's friends appeared in court at the sentencing and said they valued his for his spiritual counseling.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)

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