NEW YORK (JTA) — The family of a man badly burned in an alleged arson attack filed a lawsuit against the grand rabbi of the Chasidic village of New Square, N.Y., accusing him of directing and condoning a campaign of harassment against them.
The suit, filed Monday in New York State Supreme Court on behalf of Aron Rottenberg and his family, lists two defendants: Shaul Spitzer, 18, the alleged arsonist; and David Twersky, the rebbe of the Skverer Chasidic sect. It urges the court to level an $18 million judgement agaisnt each of the two defendants.
"[D]efendant Twersky committed the intentional tort of assault against each of the plaintiffs, intending to, and causing them, substantial fear and anxiety through his illegal direction that he gave that they be banished from the Village of New Square, a political sub-division from which they cannot be rightfully banished," the suit alleges.
On May 22, New Square dissident Aron Rottenberg was badly burned in an early morning attack outside of his New Square home. Since the attack he has been in the hospital recovering and undergoing skin graft surgeries. Spitzer, who was charged with first-degree attempted arson, first-degree assault and second-degree attempted murder, was released on $300,000 bail but also remains hospitalized for his own injuries.
Spitzer had spent the past year as a live-in aide to Twersky. Since September, Rottenberg, 43, had been making the mile-long trek to pray at a nursing home located outside the village, and his lawsuit alleges that Rothenberg and his family were targeted for harassment for his refusal to pray in the main village synagogue presided over by Twersky.
The suit alleges that "at the direction of defendant David Twersky, members of his Congregation as his followers began taking aggressive actions" against Rotnberg and his family. The lawsuit cites the throwing rocks at Rottenberg’s home and his car windows, the expulsion of one of Rottenberg’s daughters from the village’s religious school and threating phone calls to their home.
The suit also alleges that Spitzer would not have committed the arson attack without Twersky’s direction.
"Spitzer … acted at the direction of the Grand Rabbi in whose home he then lived, to whom he gives his absolute allegiance and without whose direction he would never have so acted," the suit alleges.
It adds: "Plaintiffs had no personal dispute with Spitzer, whose action, upon information and belief, was solely motivated by defendant Twersky’s edict that the Rottenbergs and other families, who did not abide by his absolute rule over New Square, leave or be forced to leave the Village."