Friday, March 16, 2012

Where There’s Fire…

If I saw a car set fire in front of someone’s house and I was the leader of the community where it took place - I would certainly stand up and say I condemn it. This is what the Grand Rabbi of Skvere, Rabbi David Twersky did.

Ok. Now we can get back to normal.

That seems to be about the extent of any active soul searching in this town. And it also seems to be the extent of any active measures taken to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. reports that a Skverer Chasid by the name of Aron Fromowitz has plead not guilty to setting fire to the car of fellow Skverer Chasid, Aron Rottenberg. Recall that Mr. Rottenberg was himself set on fire last year by the over-zealous 18 year old ‘Hoiz Bachur’ of Rabbi Twersky. A Hoiz Bachur (literally – ‘house boy’) is a young man who is selected by the Rebbe to be his personal valet. I believe that is considered to be a great honor.

That incident apparently cost the Rebbe (and his Hoiz Bachur) 2 million dollars in settlement with Mr. Rottenberg who is still recovering from those burns.

Innocent until proven guilty is the American ideal. Our system of justice presumes all accused criminals to be innocent. The burden of proof about Mr. Fromowitz’s guilt is on the prosecution. But the circumstantial evidence is very strong. From the article:

Fromowitz, who works for the grand rebbe’s kitchen and once prayed with Rottenberg, is accused of setting fire to the rear bumper of Rottenberg’s 2003 Mazda Protege on Thursday night.

Rottenberg, 44, a plumber who still is recovering from third-degree burns from a May attack, told police and family that Fromowitz had been drinking and celebrating the Jewish festival of Purim when he visited the Jefferson Avenue house of his mother.

Rottenberg counseled Fromowitz about the dangers of drinking when the younger man became upset and stormed from the house, cursing Rottenberg with his middle finger, police and family members said.

Fromowitz came back into the house to make additional comments, only to leave again. Flames erupted on the rear of Rottenberg’s car minutes later.
The idyllic town of Squaretown was beautifully portrayed last year in an article in Ami Magazine. Its citizens have much piety and joy in serving God through their intermediary, the Rebbe. It is hard to imagine this kind of hard core criminal violence coming out of there. But it does. It was bad enough when a young Skeverer Chasid did this last year. And now we have yet another incidence of it by another Skeverer Chasid – also in the immediate employ of the Rebbe. He works in the Rebbe’s kitchen.

The question arises, is there any real piety in a town where something like this can take place? Twice? The answer is yes. But it is a piety that is applied by a zealotry on behalf of your Rebbe that can result in arson. There is something terribly wrong with that. It doesn’t really matter that the Rebbe publicly condemns it. I would be hard pressed to think he wouldn’t!

If the Rebbe is responsible for all the piety and joy in this town, he is equally responsible for a mindset that sees arson as a means of protecting the honor of the Rebbe.

It also doesn’t matter that it happened on Purim and that the accused was drunk. Being drunk only loosened up his inhibitions. Deep in his mind – he probably always thought that violence on behalf of the Rebbe’s honor is acceptable. When one is sober, however, one does not do those kinds of things - since there is an awareness of the consequences. But alcohol takes care of that problem.

Is Mr. Fromowitz guilty? I think he probably is. But I will let the courts decide. As a matter of public concern, however, it doesn’t really matter whether it was this Skever Chasid or another one. The point is that there are Skverer Chasdim who see merit in using arson in service of their Rebbe’s honor.

Condemnations like this from the Rebbe inspire little confidence that this will never happen again. I believe that the loyalty of the citizens of Squaretown to their Rebbe can easily erupt into violence again. It happened twice in 2 years with 2 different Sverer Chasidim. And if Mr. Formowitz is found guilty - the perpetrators were not just any Skverer Chasidim. They were in the Rebbe’s direct employ!

As of now, the Rebbe’s condemnations are little more than mere words. He condemned it last time too. I am therefore skeptical about how serious he is. There has to be more than a verbal condemnation. He has to show that he means business and come down hard on this kind of behavior. He has to follow it up with severe sanctions. Like expulsion from Skverer Chasidus and the community in which he lives.

Or maybe he should just step down as Rebbe. Perhaps even disband the entire Chasidus of Skvere! Let his Chasidim find someone else to be inspired by.