Sunday, May 29, 2011

Grand rebbe's word is law in New Square 

The New Square man who was severely burned in an arson attack last week had become an outcast in his Hasidic world for daring to go against the wishes of a figure who is not often defied.

The "grand rebbe" of the Skver Hasidic sect that runs New Square is a 70-year-old, rarely seen, Romanian-born rabbi who comes from what's known as a "dynasty" of Hasidic leaders.

David Twersky is the rebbe, guru and monarch of the nearly 7,000 residents of New Square, making every significant decision about their way of life. Like other Hasidic leaders, he is believed by many to be an intermediary with God, so his word is not to be questioned.

"The rebbe never says things that are wrong for the people," resident Menasha Luftig, 33, said.

The May 22 attack on a New Square man who defied Twersky by not attending the village's main synagogue has raised many questions outside New Square's borders about the extent of the grand rebbe's influence on his followers and whether Twersky is indirectly responsible for the shocking outbreak of violence.

Aron Rottenberg, 43, suffered third-degree burns on half his body after his family endured months of broken windows, threats and the expulsion of their daughter from a village school.

The suspect in the case, Shaul Spitzer, 18, who also was injured, had been a devoted aide to Twersky, living in his home for more than a year and screening visitors.

Rockland County Sheriff James Kralik, who served as the department's first liaison to New Square almost 50 years ago, said the community should have known the Rottenberhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifgs were in danger.

"The fear of disunity has driven people there to this illogical ending," he said.

A few in New Square have openly blamed Twersky for not responding to a campaign of intimidation against Rottenberg's family.

"The only one who could stop this is David Twersky himself," said Pinches Dirnfeld, 26, who plans to leave New Square.

Twersky did condemn the violence on Thursday in a statement to yeshiva students, asking followers to pray for Rottenberg.


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