Long-standing and deep-seated differences between the two largest Hasidic movements, the Lubavitcher and the Satmar, reached a peak in recent weeks with the cutting off of the beards of two Lubavitch rabbis and Lubavitch accusations that Satmar Hasidim were responsible.
Rabbi Mendel Wechter, 36, was attacked yesterday morning on his way to the synagogue by several men who forced him into a van and cut off his beard. Wechter, a resident of the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, was pushed out of the van, suffering a fractured left ankle and neck lacerations.
Wechter was taken to Maimonides hospital, where he was treated and his condition reported as satisfactory. Police said they did not know who was responsible, but Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, a Lubavitch spokesman, asserted the attack was committed by Satmar Hasidim.
He said that Satmar Hasidim also were responsible for the first beard-cutting act on May 27, when Rabbi Pinchas Korf who was reportedly teaching the son of a Satmar Hasid in a store in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the major center of the Satmar movement. Five or six young men burst into the store and pinned Korf to the floor before cutting off his beard.
ARREST IN FIRST INCIDENT
In the only arrest in the two incidents to date, police arrested Yakov Kohn, 28, a resident of Williamsburg. He was indicted on three counts in the attack on Korf, and faces trial in Brooklyn court on June 29.
Krinsky told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Kohn is an assistant administrator in the Satmar office in Williamsburg. Rabbi Krinsky reiterated his statement that the attackers in both incidents were Satmar Hasidim and contended that leaders of the Satmar movement knew about the attacks but chose not to act.
ATTACK CONDEMNED BY SATMAR REBBE
He was asked for comment on a JTA report from Jerusalem that the Satmar Rebbe, Moishe Teitelbaum, condemned today the attack on Rabbi Wechter “by four Satmar Hasidim.” According to the JTA report, Teitelbaum, making his first visit to Israel as the Satmar Rebbe, sent his son as the head of a Satmar delegation to the United States with instructions “to find the attackers and oust them from the Satmar community.”
In response, Krinsky cited the comment of a young man who identified himself as a Satmar Hasid and as a “friend of Rabbi Wechter,” who visited Wechter yesterday in the hospital. Krinsky quoted the hospital visitor, who asked that his name not be used, as saying that the Satmar leaders “condemn it but that they don’t do anything about it. They know who these people are but by doing nothing, they encourage it.”
In response to the attack on Korf, the Lubavitch judicial council called for a boycott of foods certified as kosher by the Central Rabbinical Congress, a Satmar agency which certifies as kosher a wide range of foods.
Clashes between the two groups, based on deep-seated differences or religious philosophy, have been frequent. Satmar spokesman have complained, in connection with the two attacks on Lubavitch rabbis, that the Lubavitch are trying to proselytize Satmar youth.
Krinsky ridiculed the claim of alleged proselytizing, declaring that this “rationale” for Satmar hostility was “baseless.”
He asserted that Lubavitch “is not at war with anyone. It is not feuding with anyone. It has no rivals. It is not competing with anyone. In the recent incidents, it has been a case of a villain and a victim.” He said the situation is “not a two-way street but a one-way street of violence and terrorism that was completely unprovoked and senseless.”
Asserting that “the Satmar record of terrorism goes back more than 50 years,” he said he felt “the Jewish world should be alerted to this potential lurking danger.”
Krinsky said he did not consider the situation as “a Lubavitcher problem but one that should enrage and involve the entire Jewish community.”
Rabbi Ephraim Stein, a Satmar spokesman, said he could not comment on the arrest of Kohn for legal reasons but he added that an individual was innocent till proven guilty.
SATMAR ORDER VIOLENCE HALTED
Stein also told the JTA that the Central Rabbinicial Congress, the umbrella agency in Williamsburg for all Satmar groups, issued a proclamation yesterday condeming all violence in the Jewish community, stemming from “a recent rash of violence during the past week, around the world, that is unbecoming to an observant Jew and to Halacha.”
He said the proclamation called for “an immediate cessation of all violent activities and a return to the principles of Torah-true Judaism and observance of the Torah as prescribed by rabbinical authorities.”
Stein said the proclamation had been distributed in poster form throughout Jewish sections of Brooklyn, including Williamsburg and Crown Heights, the center of the Lubavitch movement, and all other Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish areas.
He also told the JTA he did not believe that Satmar Hasidim were responsible for the attacks on the two Lubavitch rabbis, as charged by Krinsky. He added that “the police have not made a determination that there has been Satmar involvement and we cannot accept such charges.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.