Rockland County Court Judge Victor Alfieri found himself between the battling factions of the Satmar Hasidic dynastic family based in the Orange County town of Kiryas Joel and Brooklyn.
The Satmar leadership has been contested since the 2006 death of Grand Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum, a renown figure in the Hasidic world. His heirs, rabbis Aaron and Zalman Teitelbaum, have fought over which one their father intended to lead the 100,000-plus Satmar community.
The Teitelbaum brothers have clashed personally and through their supporters. They are fighting over power, property, synagogues, elections and yeshivas. News reports have estimated that the disputed real estate alone is worth more than $500 million.
The court fight before Alfieri involved control over the Kiryas Joel cemetery — one of 23 legal actions between both sides, referred in the community as the Aaronites and the Zalmanites, according to published reports.
The cemetary dispute came to a head after 41-year-old member of the Zalmanite faction died in 2009. The Aaronites controlled the cemetery, a symbolic victory for them since that’s where the elder Teitelbaum is buried. The Zalmanites dug a grave in a nearby clearing for their deceased member to meet with Jewish law requiring quick burial. They hoped to have dedicated as a new cemetery.
Alfieri, an elected Rockland judge assigned as an acting state Supreme Court justice in Orange County, played King Solomon, in a way. He sent the dispute back to religious court, called a Bais Din, which already is hearing other succession issues. He also named the three rabbis to hear the dispute.
“Since the Congregation’s bylaws are a secular corporate document adopted by its members pursuant to New York law, this Court finds that the Congregation and its members adopted the Rabbinical Court, i.e., the Din Torah…as the alternative dispute resolution mechanism of choice for disputes between and among members of its congregation,” Alfieri wrote, according to reports.
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