I don’t say this lightly. But in my view the Skverer Rebbe has failed as a religious leader and he should step down. I realize that this would cause great hardship for the many residents there. They have come to rely upon his leadership and see him as an icon. But their Rebbe has failed them, whether they realize it or not.
I understand the benefits that this community has achieved by living as they do. These benefits were clearly spelled out in an Ami Magazine article (now available here) which was in part the subject of a recent post about them. But so also is the fact that they have the clear markings of a cult. One that uses extreme violence as a matter of unwritten and yet near public policy of enforcement. If anyone there veers off the path set by their Rebbe, they will pay very dearly for it. That was made clear by the kind of violence heretofore unseen in any religious enclave – setting ablaze Aron Rottenberg because he veered from their path of uniformity.
What was his crime? It was not any violation of Halacha. It was in fact for doing an act of Chesed. He Davened in a nursing home where a friend was convalescing, trying to make a Minyan for him. I have already noted the lack of any real public expression by the Rebbe of sympathy for the victim other than a general ‘I hope all those who were injured are healed’.
That clandestine violence is used as an enforcement method of their standards was made pretty clear in just about every article (with the exception of Ami Magzaine) written about this group since this event took place. Vigilantes are publicly condemned by their religious leaders and privately praised for ‘upholding the Rebbe’s standards’. And in the case of Aron Rottenberg setting him ablaze was just the culmination of months of abuse!
After reading the article in Lohud.com however, I have come to the conclusion that all their vaunted Chesed, spirituality and untiy, is completely worthless in the face of the price to be paid by their enforcement methods.
The fact that spokesman blamed the victim for ‘going against the Rebbe’ speaks volumes about the malaise of New Square. The greater concern was about ‘going against the rebbe’. Far less concern was expressed – if any - for a human being that was torched for doing so! They can deny it all they want. But this is what appears to be the truth about them from more than one source.
Why should the Rebbe resign? Because the ‘buck’ stops with him. He has the power to stop it. It is clear from every article I’ve read, both positive and negative that the Rebbe is venerated and treated as near God-like! If he wanted it to stop, it would. In a heartbeat!
But the Rebbe doesn’t get involved. From Lohud.com:
They act out in the name of the rebbe, but not at his direction, the school workers said.
"The rebbe does not get involved on a day-to-day basis with problems that go on," one staffer said. "He gives out his rules, his standards, and we're supposed to fulfill them. Whatever the grand rebbe wants us to do we have to do."
He said a congregation board tries to speak with offenders and negotiate with them to bring them into compliance.
"If that doesn't work, then you've got the hotheads," he said. "There are always hotheads who think they're important and try to come up with their own solutions."
He doesn't agree with their tactics but said he understands the source of their anger.
"We want everybody who lives in the village to have one mind," he said. "We have one rabbi. I believe he's the holy spirit mind. If you don't like it, you should move."
Here you have an abdication of responsibility. You don’t just make the rules and rise above enforcement leaving it to others without regard to method. If there is violence of any kind, it is up to the leader of that community to stop it! If he just ‘leaves it to a board’ and they allow this kind of vigilantism to take place (under the table so to speak) then he is as much at fault as his ‘board’.
That his Chasidim think he's the holy spirit mind (by which I suppose they mean he has Ruach HaKodesh) easily explains how we end up with this kind of vigilantism. That he seems to be looking the other way indicates that he doesn’t really object to it all that much. He apparently considers conforming to the policy of Skvere to be far more important than the methods used for conforming to it. At least until he gets some bad press. Second to conformity comes image, I guess.
All the puff pieces in the world by Magazines like Ami will not change the reality of this. All their vaunted Chesed and spirituality means nothing in the face of the evil that exists in their midst.
I don’t expect anything to change in New Square. There may be some new PR efforts made to show that things in New Square are not really as they are presented in the media . There will surely be a lot more blame thrown around at various media claiming unfair bias against ‘religious Jews’. The mindset of New Square Chasidim will continue to be about how truly righteous they are and what a wonderful privilege it is to live there. There will certainly be a lot of ‘hunkering down’ until all this blows over.
I suppose this will eventually all blow over for them. And things will go back to ‘normal’. There will be no new leader. That is the nature of Chasidus. The Rebbe will remain in his position as leader of Skvere and continue to be seen by his Chasidim as ‘royalty with Ruach HaKodesh’.
Things may not change but it needs to be said. The Skverer Rebbe has demonstrated an utter failure of leadership. A failure that demands he step down and let someone with a better understanding of what true Jewish leadership is - step up.
To the best of my knowledge abdicating a position as a Chasidic Rebbe has never been done in the history of Chasidus. If he did that, it would show true courage and prove that he truly is an Ish Emes.