SYDNEY, Australia (Oct. 13)
Chabad-Lubavitch representatives have purchased an Australian synagogue and yeshiva that was closed down following a family scandal.
The multimillion dollar purchase of the Sydney Yeshiva is intended to satisfy debts owed to Rabbi Joseph Gutnick.
A court had the synagogue evicted last month after ruling in favor of Gutnick, a major sponsor of Lubavitch activities worldwide, in a financial dispute with his brother-in-law, yeshiva director Rabbi Pinchus Feldman.
The property will now be under the control of West Coast Chabad and Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin.
Cunin gained fame in Australia for his highly successful telethons on behalf of Chabad. His 2003 production, aired just before Rosh Hashanah, featured well-known celebrities and is believed to have raised several million dollars for the Chasidic outreach movement.
The episode is the latest in a series of unusual events involving the synagogue.
In 1994, Gutnick lent the beleaguered Sydney Yeshiva $3 million toward settling a debt of almost $16 million to the Commonwealth Bank.
To protect the loan, the yeshiva granted Gutnick mortgages over the properties. When he tried to exercise his right to sell them, the yeshiva attempted to block his moves in Sydney’s Supreme Court, claiming that the loans were a gift.
The court disagreed and awarded Gutnick his counterclaim for slightly less than $9 million.
Feldman then appealed to a rabbinical court in Tel Aviv, which excommunicated Gutnick on the grounds that he took his action to a secular court rather than a religious one.
For Rosh Hashanah, the former yeshiva congregation found itself split into two, with half the members praying in a new group established by three young members of the community.
The remaining members met in a hall adjacent to the synagogue.
“Regrettably, there has been a split in our congregation,” Feldman told JTA. “But in six weeks’ time, settlement will be effected and we will start to rebuild our congregation. It is unthinkable that the headquarters of Chabad in Sydney should just disappear.”