Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Rival brothers return to court in Jewish sect leadership fight 

The succession battle between two brothers to be the leader of an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect is back in the courts.

The brothers, Zalman and Aaron Teitelbaum, have been fighting for years in religious and state civil courts to determine who should head the Satmar wing of Hasidic Judaism. The Teitelbaums' father, Moses, was the long-time Satmar boss, but he died without naming a successor.

Aaron Teitelbaum governs Kiryas Joel, a town about 60 miles from New York City. The largely Yiddish-speaking town was founded in the 1970s and its residents strictly observe Jewish religious rules.

Zalman Teitelbaum runs a similiar Satmar community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in New York City.

The latest development in the fraternal battle was sparked by a group of Zalman's supporters who live in Kiryas Joel. They have accused Kiryas Joel of running a repressive theocracy and asked a federal judge to dissolve the self-governing community.

In court papers filed in Manhattan federal court on Monday, a Kiryas Joel offical who stands accused by the angry residents said the legal fight was a tactic to change the town's leadership.

"Plaintiffs ... attempt through this case to drag Moses Witriol ... into the middle of their dispute concerning leadership," Witriol, the town's director of public safety, said in court filings.

In an amended complaint filed last month, the Zalman Teitelbaum supporters said Kiryas Joel officials selectively enforced laws and discriminated against them because of their religious beliefs. They asked U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, who is presiding over the case, to direct New York State to dissolve the municipality.

The case is Kiryas Joel Alliance et al. v. Village of Kiryas Joel et al., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-3982.


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