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Intrigue Fills Lubavitch Circles As the Rebbe’s Health Declines

The Lubavitcher rebbe is fighting the most serious medical setback he has suffered since his stroke nearly two years ago.

Meanwhile, his closest aides are fighting over who will control the most important decisions made in the nerve center of the huge Chasidic empire — including those that directly affect their leader’s medical care.

Tensions between the Chasidic movement’s leaders are escalating, as is confusion among the Lubavitch themselves, say observers, in a scenario as complex and intriguing as that in any Levantine court.

The rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, now 91, has been suffering a massive infection for about two weeks.

But his cadre of doctors was unable to identify the location of the infection until just a few days ago, when they began treating him with antibiotics that seem to be working, say sources close to Lubavitcher headquarters.

His fever has been high and his overall condition so weak that the rebbe was forced to take a rare trip outside of Brooklyn or Queens, to a Manhattan hospital for tests on Nov. 12.

While the rebbe and the Lubavitch movement are based in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, until his stroke he regularly visited the gravesite of his father-in-law in Queens. It was there that he had the stroke on March 2, 1992.

As the ailing man who has been rebbe since 1951 struggles to recover his healthy, some of the men who for decades have carried out his wishes are continuing a battle that has been brewing for months.

DID GRONER CAUSE REBBE’S STROKE?

In May, at issue was who would have financial control of the Lubavitch empire’s central umbrella institutions.

The Lubavitcher rebbe’s influence extends far beyond his Crown Heights headquarters, which coordinates the activities of hundreds of emissaries, educational centers and publishing houses around the world. Its Chabad movement reaches out to unaffiliated Jews from Alabama to Zaire.

In recent weeks, however, the fight has been over the rebbe’s medical care.

Rabbi Leibel Groner and Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, two of the rebbe’s five official secretaries, have for several years been most closely involved in the rebbe’s medical care and at odds over the course it should take.

Now allegations have surfaced that Groner made decisions about the course of the rebbe’s treatment that caused the stroke itself and that since have had a deleterious effect on the rebbe’s health.

Those siding with Krinsky say Groner sabotaged the rebbe’s care, according to Yori Yanover, an Israeli writer who is co-author, with Nadav Ish-Shalom, of a forthcoming book about Lubavitch, “Rokdim u’Vochim,” or “Dancing and Crying.”

The book is scheduled to be published in Israel and the United States in December, in Hebrew. An English-language translation is planned.

According to those who side with Krinsky, the rebbe’s long-time spokesman and driver, Groner has been interfering with the rebbe’s treatment in order to preserve his own status within the Chasidic community.

Repeated phone calls to Groner’s office and home were not answered.

Groner’s prestige within Lubavitch, like that of any of the secretaries, is wholly based on his access to the rebbe — that is, on how quickly he can expedite responses between the spiritual leader and his petitioners.

Since these serious allegations began flying within Lubavitch, threats have allegedly been made against Groner’s life. He is being protected by two New York City policemen and his own supporters, observers say.

Groner first became closely involved in the rebbe’s medical care after Schneerson had a heart attack on Simchat Torah in 1977.

Part of the treatment prescribed by his cardiologist included regular doses of aspirin, which the rebbe took for years until he developed eye problems a few months before his stroke.

‘A GREAT DEAL OF SABOTAGE’

Groner took the rebbe to see an ophthalmologist, who suggested the aspirin intake could be contributing to his eye problems, Yanover said.

The rebbe’s cardiologist, Dr. Ira Weiss, was said to be leery of taking him off the aspirin but agreed to allow it for a week, to see if the ophthalmologist was right.

When the rebbe suffered his massive stroke two months later, it was discovered that he had not started taking the aspirin again. People in Krinsky’s camp believe that the stroke likely would not have happened if the rebbe had resumed taking aspirin.

What is more, say those siding with Krinsky, the cardiologist was not given full access to details of the rebbe’s care, according to Yanover.

“During the two months the aspirin was interrupted, (the) accusation (against Groner) is there was a great deal of sabotage going on with Weiss, who had been a chief figure” in the rebbe’s medical care since 1977, said Yanover.

Those who side with Krinsky say that the doctor “would come in and Groner would say that the rebbe had no time for him now.”

In an effort to ensure that the rebbe gets the proper medical treatment, a prominent and authoritative group of Lubavitcher rabbis decreed, in mid-September, that another individual would be assigned to coordinate all contact anyone — including the secretaries — has with the rebbe.

A physician was assigned to be the coordinator, and Groner and Krinsky both reportedly agreed to the new arrangement, which dramatically broke from the way things have always been done among the secretaries.

But the latest wrinkle, according to the Krinsky camp, is that Groner has tried to subvert the new arrangement by videotaping Schneerson as Groner posed a series of questions to the rebbe, said Yanover.

Groner has also reportedly established an independent fund-raising effort named Kupat Rabbenu, or “Our Rabbi’s Fund,” in an attempt to circumvent 770 Eastern Parkway, the Lubavitch headquarters where Krinsky oversees the collection and dispensation of donations.

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