Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Arson In New Square... and the Silence That Followed.

This week, Shaul Spitzer, a New Square man,attempted to burn down own the house of another New Square man.  Spitzer arrived at the  home of Chaim Aron Rottenberg at around 4:00 on Sunday morning, armed with Molotov cocktail-like devices.  Fortunately, Rottenberg woke up before Spitzer could set fire to the house, killing Rottenberg and his family.  Instead, Rottenberg confronted Spitzer. At some point, the incendiary device was lit, with Rottenberg suffering third degree burns over 50% of his body.  Spitzer, who was also burned during the confrontation, has been arrested and charged with arson and attempted murder.

It turns out that this is not the first time that Rottenberg and his family have been targeted.  In the previous few months, there have been nighttime protests outside his home (complete with calls such as "Sheigetz get out of New Square"), car and home windows have been smashed and other acts of intimidation.

You may ask what it was that Rottenberg did to deserve all this.  Did his wife act in a non-tznius fashion?  Did he read Rabbi Slifkin's books?  Does he author a blog? 

The answers to the above questions are no.  Rottenberg's crime, for which he and his family were going to be murdered, was davening in the wrong minyan.  Apparently, in New Square, the Rebbe had instituted a rule years go that everyone must daven in the main shul in New Square.  Rottenberg, for whatever reason, chose instead to daven in a minyan in a nearby nursing home.  For this reason, his family has bee the subject of intimidation and harassment for months.

I believe that when something like this happens, a community is obligated to stop and re-evaluate itself.  While the actual act of arson may have been the work of a lone person*, the campaign of harassment was not and surely was endorsed by communal leaders.  When a community allows itself to physically harass and intimidate people over the choice of shul, then there is something severely wrong with the community.

The silence of the Skver Rebbe on this matter has been absolutely deafening.  To date, he has not condemned publicly condemned the attack on Rottenberg.  There are at least two possible reasons for this.  The first is that he is so far removed from his congregation that he does not know what is happening.  The second is that he knows what is happening and he approves.  Either way, the Skver Rebbe does not look good.  If he is unaware of a major event such as this, and unaware of the campaign of intimidation that has been going on for months, then his capabilities as a communal leader are virtually nonexistent.  If, on the hand, he knows and approves, then he's no better than a common thug.  Either way, the silence is showing that the Rebbe may well be unfit to lead the community.

When an event like this happens, a community must also stop and remind themselves of their  larger environment.  I'm not talking, in this case, about the chillul HaShem that has come out of this.  What I'm talking about is the attitude of the community concerning their perceived autonomy. 

There are those who believe that the Skver Rebbe has a right to dictate to people which shul to daven in.  Likewise, there are those who feel that it's perfectly all right to use intimidation,harassment and terror -- up to and including arson -- to enforce that rule.  Of course, there are laws against that sort of behavior, laws that, due to the isolation and homogeneity of the town, they feel they can ignore.  There are those who seem to feel that it' perfectly all right for New Square to be run as an absolute theocracy, and that those who don't fall in line should be forced out by whatever means possible.  They will state that New Square has the "right to set standards" for itself and that if Rottenberg or others "don't like it, they should just move."

 Fortunately, we live in a country where that's not the rule.  A community does NOT have the right to set religious standards and then ruthlessly pursue those that don't hold those standards.  It would serve the New Square community well to reflect upon the laws that grant them the freedom to be free from harassment in the first place.  You cannot assert the right to live where you want while practicing your religion and then turn around and deny the same to others.  There's a word for that sort of behavior -- hypocrisy.   And it would do the Skver Rebbe (or whomever is leading the community) well to remember that he, too, is subject to the laws of the United States and the State of New York – and that ordering a person to be harassed out of the community through violence is against those laws.

What is also astounding to me is that there are people who actually defend what Spitzer and the rest of the community have been doing.  They actually maintain that the leader of the community has the right to tell you where you can pray and that if you don’t follow his instructions to the letter, you forfeit your right to live there, you can (and should be) forced out of your home and publicly hounded until you leave.  They support the idea that a group of people should be allowed to set up a mini-theocracy where one person’s word is absolute law and that by living in the area, you surrender any and all rights (both halachic and legal) to which you are entitled. 

But the truth is that they don’t really mean it.  Oh yes, it’s good for them when they control the show, but I’d be willing to bet dollars-to-donuts that if a group of Chassidim moved into a hypothetical isolated Modern Orthodox community and were subject to this type of harassment that they would be registering their complaints as loudly as possible (and rightly so). 

And, in the end, what’s the cause of all this?  Because Rottenberg chose to daven in another shul.  I can’t help but wonder if this is exactly the sort of sinas chinam (baseless hatred) that is mentioned as the cause of the destruction of the second Bais HaMikdash. 

UPDATE:  The victim's name for tehillim is Chaim Aharon ben Chaya Sara.

The Wolf

* or not.  It is as of yet unknown if Spitzer was acting alone or under orders from higher authorities in the community.


G*3 said...

> Does he author a blog?

That’s scary, no? If this is what was done to someone for davening in a different shul, imagine what they would do to you or me!

> I can’t help but wonder if this is exactly the sort of sinas chinam (baseless hatred) that is mentioned as the cause of the destruction of the second Bais HaMikdash.

Nah, the sinas chinam that destroyed the Beis HaMikdash was political factions fighting with each other, killing each other, burning each other’s food supplies, crippling the overall ability to mount a defense against the Romans, – and actually setting fire to the Beis HaMikdash.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Here's the cynical reason for the silence:
No point in yelling at the Skver rebbe. He probably doesn't think he did anything wrong in ordering the hit and besides, if the police show up he'll sell his butler out to protect himself. No point yelling at someone who isn't listening.
No point in complaining about it publicly either. Complaining that doesn't lead to change is just whinging. The Mafia, l'havdil (or maybe not so l'havdil) carries out "business" all the time. How many times does the Italian community protest en masse?

Frank said...

The silence of the Skver Rebbe on this matter has been absolutely deafening. To date, he has not condemned the attack on Rottenberg.

Why do you lie Wolf? The Skverer Rebbe has in fact spoken out against it. You didn't hear or read about it or it wasn't reported? That gives you no license to take out your poison pen and spew filthy lies.

BrooklynWolf said...


If the Rebbe did speak about it, then please post a link to the report. I will be more than happy to update my post accordingly.

The Wolf

Frank said...

the campaign of harassment... surely was endorsed by communal leaders.

Another of lie coming from the figment of your anti-semitic self-hating imagination.

Frank said...

Report Wolf? The Rebbe sees anyone who drops by his house, almost any day of the week. That some reporter chooses not to report it is not anyone elses responsibility or bother.

BrooklynWolf said...

That some reporter chooses not to report it is not anyone elses responsibility or bother.


The reporter also didn't report that the Rebbe said the world was run by Invisible Pink Unicorns. Perhaps the Rebbe said that too?

Kidding aside, the Rebbe has not made a public statement. The Rebbe does not have to rely on "some reporter" to get the word out*. As the head of the community, he is perfectly capable of getting public word out condemning the attack. The fact that he hasn't is very telling.

The Wolf

* Can you post a link that shows the Rebbe even met with any reporters?

Frank said...

Are you kidding Wolf? You know as well as anyone else Chasidic and Chareidi leaders don't grant media interviews for good reason. Yes, you've written you don't like that fact and feel they should do interviews or issue press releases or the like, the fact is they don't and wont. That doesn't give you license to lie about what they have not said, unless he told you that he didn't say it.

Why are you so afraid of asking him directly? You can do it. He won't bite your nose off. The fact that you won't ask him personally, is very telling. Brooklyn isn't that far from NS, and it is worth the hour drive to save yourself from lying.

BrooklynWolf said...

You know, Frank, at first I was going to tell you that you're off your rocker, since what I said was true.

However, I went back and looked at what I wrote. I wrote that the Rebbe did not condemn the attack. Truth to tell, you may have a point... I don't know for a fact that the Rebbe did not privately tell someone "you know, that wasn't a good thing he did." So I changed my post to read that the Rebbe has not publicly condemned the attack. Now, my statement is, to the best of my knowledge, truthful.

Thank you for encouraging greater accuracy.

The Wolf

Dave said...

The Rebbe was willing to sign a public document stating that the victim should be denied access to communal buildings and resources.

So why is he unwilling to sign a public document stating that the firebombing is forbidden and wrong?

Or is the former more important than the latter?

Frank said...

While that is slightly better, it renders senseless your post and condemnation of Skver. To take one example, read your changed wording in context with what you wrote two sentences after your change.

BrooklynWolf said...


I fail to see what you're talking about. Please elaborate.

The Wolf

G*3 said...

> The Mafia, l'havdil (or maybe not so l'havdil) carries out "business" all the time. How many times does the Italian community protest en masse?

The Italian community doesn’t see Mafia dons as pious paragons of virtue.

> That doesn't give you license to lie about what they have not said, unless he told you that he didn't say it.

Would you like to buy a bridge? By the same logic you demonstrate above, as long as you can’t prove I don’t own it, that means that I do, right?

Moshe said...

I am not defending them, but this is what they are saying.

The community was established that way, based on voluntary acceptance of the strict Takonos.

Not Davening in the main Shul is merely a symptom of a long history of publicly ridiculing the Rebbe and causing mischief in this little shteltl.....

They say the whole New Square was built on private property, owned by the previous Rebbe....

Anyway, מנהג אבותם בידם, the skverers have a long history of turf wars and violence against people not exactly like them, back in back country Ukraine...

see the book נאחז בסבך

BrooklynWolf said...


All of which matters not one whit.

Even if New Square is private property (is it, really?), it doesn't matter. Can you legally force your tenant to daven in a certain shul? Even if you make it a stipulation, that certainly doesn't give you the right to intimidate and harass him, and then try to kill him and his family.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...


Thanks for speaking out. I hae contacted major Orthodox Organizations to tell them to do something.

Anonymous said...

To Frank
Can you deny that the rebbe made a big seuda the next day instead of a taanis. Is that what you do when you have farbrente chasidim. Its as good as saying there is no cause for alarm nothing untoward has happened. Is there a notice in his shul where all must attend to say t'hillim for him. Not to my knowledge. These 'little' things and many others all point to the same thing.
I challenge you to answer them.

JJJ said...

There must be a reason that Rottenberg didn't daven there. Probably, there are issues that caused him to go daven elsewhere.

BrooklynWolf said...


I'm sure there were reasons. But whatever those reasons are really don't matter.

The Wolf

ItcheSrulik said...

Two points are missing from your post.

1-Spitzer is the skverer's שר"י private footman.
2- The bet din issued a statement "asking people not to resort to violence even for the best of reasons" which was phrased in much milder terms than the original order against Rottenberg. The interesting thing is that the rebbe did not sign even though he sees every single public notice posted in town.

Dave said...

And someone paid $300k bail for the assailant.

Mike S. said...

The gemara in Perek Cheilek has, among other things, Chazal's warning against the abuse of religious authority. See Sanh. 106b where the gemara takes the passuk (Isaiah 33:18) "ayeh sofer ..." as God's hesped over the learning of Doeg HaEdomy, yet, a few lines before it posits a God telling him (based on a passuk in Tehillim) "Why are you counting (or telling) My laws? When you get to the portions about murder and slander how will you expound them?"

Frank said...

The religious leadership issued a written statement decrying the violence.

“’This is against the Bible and against American law,’” religious journalist Yossi Gestetner translated from the statement.

Now will Wolf apologize for his libel? More likely he'll attempt to conjure up some more lame excuses.

BrooklynWolf said...

The religious leadership issued a written statement decrying the violence.

I've seen the statement. It's an unsigned, unnamed letter from the Bais Din of the town. The members of the Bais Din couldn't even bring themselves to put their names on it, nor could they even bring themselves to say that people should daven for the victim.

In addition, it doesn't address the campaign of harassment and intimidation that the family has been undergoing the last few months.

And, the Rebbe *still* hasn't said anything publicly.

Now will Wolf apologize for his libel? More likely he'll attempt to conjure up some more lame excuses.

Now will Frank condemn the attack and the harassment campaign of the last few months or will he find some lame way to say that it's all justified?

You didn't like it when I did that to you, did you? So don't do it to me. I'm more than happy to debate with you, but keep it clean and civil.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

To Frank
You have not replied to my post. Perhaps you also agree its a time for simcha and seudos when chasidim get farbrent. This letter after the event needed a person to be burnt before it was written. What about all the harassment till now. Can you honestly say he acted alone. No he acted under orders and was told he would get away with it. Which he most likely would if he wasnt caught in the act. He hasnt spoken yet but when he does you may find out the truth.

Anonymous said...

I was a therapist at the mental health center up the road from New square. I saw the casualties of that society who the rabbi could not spirit away to be hidden in another location. My first hand contact with these casualties tells me that it is a sick society with a sociopathic rabbi who will undercut any attempt for people to live normally. Whatever you know of New Square, the reality is actually worse.

CSW said...

I am a therapist who worked in the NS community. The mental health problems experianced by members of that community would be considered extremely mild compared to society at large. In always found the community to be very warm with large loving families.

Josh said...

"You cannot assert the right to live where you want while practicing your religion and then turn around and deny the same to others."

O really!? You can't?

Hypocrisy you say!

This has been done for 1000s of years, in every religion on the planet, in every place on the planet. It may be hypocrisy in your eyes but those are the eyes of a pluralist/relativist. You see, if I am the Rebbe I am the law and above the law.

"And as ye see it manifest that the King is overlord of the whole land, so is he master over every person that inhabiteth the same, having power over the life and death of every one of them. For although a just prince will not take the life of any of his subjects without a clear law, yet the same laws whereby he taketh them are made by himself or his predecessors, and so the power flows always from himself..." -King James

Anonymous said...

There's probably some truth in what CSW said. But "Anonymous" (the therapist "up the road" from New Square) paints a picture that is very consistent with the town's history here:,_New_York

as well as news reports of the conduct of some New Square inhabitants.

Yeah, I know, it's Wikipedia and it's fashionable to deride it as inaccurate. Feel free to investigate further if you like.

But the point is: this place sounds extremely disturbing, and not for superficial reasons like being outside the mainstream.

It's a phenomenon we've seen before, often with spectacularly tragic results. If no one else will say the word, I will.

The word is "cult."

wanderingchana said...

"I can’t help but wonder if this is exactly the sort of sinas chinam (baseless hatred) that is mentioned as the cause of the destruction of the second Bais HaMikdash."

I've been thinking the same thing.

The whole thing is just scary on so many levels.

Baruch Spielberg said...

Anon: There is nothing in that Wiki article that would indicate any cult like stuff. Stop buying every antisemitic gobbledigook you hear or read. Especially from the Jew-hating Journal News.

megapixel said...

not a cult. members are there voluntarily, are free to leave if they dont like it, and many do.
they are not hiding their "Prototype" from anyone.
that being said, I have heard so much respect for the rebbe over the years (not by his chasidim - that would not impress me at all. by NON chasidim)
that I really really dont want to believe that he is behind this.