Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Lawsuits against the Skevrer Rebbe and Kiryas Joel

There has been some serious fallout from the events that took place recently in New Square. Arson victim Aron Rottenberg has filed an $18 million lawsuit against the Skverer Rebbe. The attorney handling that lawsuit, Michael Sussman, is also handling a lawsuit against Kiryas Joel, a town of Satmar Chasidim that is similar to New Square –asking that it be shut down.

It is with a heavy heart that I support both lawsuits. My heart is heavy because I know the intentions of both communities are good. A lot of time and effort was put into the building of those communities - both built for similar purposes. The goals were noble – to create a society of completely religious Jews where no outside influences could in any way dilute their service to God.

Both communities have thrived. I’m sure the description in a recent article about New Square’s highly spiritual lifestyle is mirrored in Kiryas Joel. But I am equally certain that the control of the town residents mirrors that of Square Town too.

I don’t know that the enforcement procedures are exactly the same. But I have little doubt about the tolerance level of the city fathers in Kiryas Joel for dissidents. They are very likely as intolerant as New Square. The only question is how similar the intimidation tactics are.

I have no issue with those who want to set up a society of like minded individuals. I don’t even mind if they set up rules for admission. Whether a town in the United States is constitutionally allowed to set themselves up as a religious enclave or not is an issue for the courts to decide. But in terms of pure ethics, I see nothing wrong with that.

It only becomes an issue for me when the town turns into a cult with life threatening consequences to those who do not comply with its rules. This happened in New Square. I don’t think anyone has been set on fire in Kiryas Joel yet. But I’m not so sure that they are that far off from doing that. Form an article in recordonline.com:

Among the most serious allegations is that Kiryas Joel's Public Safety Department, a quasi-police agency, has acted as enforcers for the main congregation and tolerated acts of violence and intimidation against dissidents by unruly crowds of young supporters of Satmar Grand Rebbe Aron Teitelbaum, the leader of Kiryas Joel's majority faction.

In one incident in August 2010, a mob of screaming boys — angry about a marriage held in a dissident wedding hall — allegedly hounded relatives of one of the newlyweds as they walked home from a synagogue after midnight. The complaint says the boys punched, kicked and threw bottles and eggs at the family, which included a pregnant woman.

The individual bringing the lawsuit against Kiryas Joel is not a secular Jew. He is not even a modern Orthodox Jew. He is Joseph Waldman - a dissident fellow Chasid (seen in the photo together with attorney Sussman).

As sorry as I feel for the residents in both communities who see their lives in terms of purity and holiness through their dedication to their beloved Chasidic Rebbes, they are living in a cult –whether they understand that or not. It is one thing to live like they do, practicing whatever Chumros their lifestyles demands of them. It is another to believe that that lifestyle must be forced upon everyone through violent means – even if those who live there agreed to those rules before they moved in.

That turns a wonderfully spiritual city into a terrible cult. Even if most of the residents do not support the violent means used against dissidents – they do tolerate it and easily look the other way when it happens. They end up condemning it while condoning it.

If their powerful Rebbes would truly reject the violent methods used by some of their youthful supporters - it would not exist.

Leaving out his virulent hatred for the State of Israel, I have read some pretty good things about Rav Aharon Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe who heads the town. He is a brilliant Talmid Chacham and a tremendous Baal Chesed. But as I said about Square Town… all the good deeds in the world fall apart when violence raises is ugly head in service to compliance of the rules. Especially when they are not required by the strict letter of Halacha but are instead designed mostly for the maintenance of their very specific lifestyle.

The people who live in Square Town and Kiryas Joel are cultists. That - in and of itself - may not make them bad. But the fact that they tolerate violence to that end does. They are raising generations of children who will grow up to be just like them. Generations that are multiplying faster than any other segment of Jewry.

Given enough time, they will out-populate all of us.

These communities ought to not be allowed to be the future of Judaism. I therefore hope both lawsuits are successful. If they are, then New Square will have a serious dent in its leadership and Kiryas Joel will close (or at least be forced to change the way they operate). We then have a chance that the residents of both communities will be forced to integrate with the rest of Orthodox Jewry. And to whatever extent they do that – is to the extent that it will benefit them and all of Klal Yisroel.