The fight for control of the haredi world's premier yeshiva has intensified, Ynet reports:
In recent years, the renowned Lithuanian Ponevezh yeshiva in Beni Brak has been engulfed in a violent struggle between two rival factions over who will control the institution. The conflict began after the yeshiva’s legendary head, Rabbi Elazar Shach, became ill in the late 1990s and had to be replaced.
Two camps immediately emerged as contenders for the throne: The first led by Rabbi Beryl Poversky and Rabbi Gershon Edelshtein (the heir-to-be of 95-year-old Rabbi Elyashiv), and the second headed by Rabbi Shmuel Markovich.
In the most recent incident related to the power struggle, the yeshiva’s administrative director, Aharon Gertner, was arrested Wednesday after police claimed he attempted to assualt menbers of Rabbi Markovich’s faction with an ax.…
Two years ago, after several years of truce, the status quo between the rivals was violated after the Edelshtein-Povarsky camp appointed Rabbi Haim Peretz Berman as the new yeshiva head. Immediately following the appointment, the rabbi was assaulted with sticks and hospitalized. Berman was replaced by Rabbi Haim Shlomo Lebovic, whose first lecture was held under heavy security of dozens of policemen. Upon returning home that day, he found an explosive device waiting for him at his doorstep.
The police believe that the war is far from over, as its resolution depends on one of the sides finally withdrawing from the contest over control. Meanwhile, the district police chief summons the yeshiva’s leaders to his office once every few weeks for a talk, which is usually followed by a short-lived truce that ends whenever a new conflict – over the distribution of food or rooms in the yeshiva for instance – emerges.
Many of the top Jewish criminals of the last century – Arnold Rothstein, Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik, many Murder Inc. hitmen, etc. – came from very "frum" families. (Guzik himself used to put on tefillin every day.)
I used to think their criminal behavior was caused in large part by poverty and dislocation, the refugee-immigrant experience gone bad. Yet, as I've learned more about historical haredi mob violence, my view has changed.
There were murders over succession in hasidic courts and mob violence used to for rabbis to rule stringently. (My favorite story in this regard is the attack on the av bet din of Brody and his family over a disagreement regarding the use of machine-ground flour for Passover matza. Haredi thugs threw bricks through the [closed] windows of his home while he and his entire family, including young children, were asleep inside. This happened in the 1870s. The mob was upset by the rabbi's halakhic leniency.)
I think haredi society itself is at fault. The proof is the rampant welfare fraud, tax fraud, white collar crime, and mob violence in haredi communities. Power struggles are not settled in bet din – they are settled on the streets, with clubs and pipe bombs or by secular courts and law enforcement.
Murder Inc. came from somewhere, and that place is just as much Ponevezh, Brody, Lubavitch and Kapust as it is the old Lower East Side.
I'm sure many of you will disagree. Feel free to say so below.
[Hat Tip: Michelle.]