784-788 Eastern Parkway is the address of the main synagogue where Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson of the Chabad movement inspired his Hasidim to leave Crown Heights and relocate in far off lands in order to lead lapsed Jews throughout the world. 770 Eastern Parkway, right next door to 784-788 Eastern Parkway, is where the Rebbe had his study and davened. The Rebbes passing on June 12, 1994 caused a theological split in the Chabad movement, which continues to this day. Many Chabadniks did not believe that the Rebbe was a mere mortal. The Rebbe either was hiding somewhere, or had passed away and was going to reappear at any moment. These Messianic Chabadniks came to blows with the mainstream Chabadniks who believe that the Rebbe had passed on to the next world. Fake news! Tzadikim never leave this world!
The Gabboyim ran daily services at the shul at 770 Eastern Parkway at the time of the Rebbe’s passing. The non profit Chabad organizations set up by the Rebbe had title to 770 Eastern Parkway, and had title to the adjoining building where the Rebbe had his private study. The non profits constructed a plaque onto 770 Eastern Parkway in honor of the Rebbe, “of blessed memory.” The Messianic Chabadniks, with the approval of the Gabboyim, took the plaque down on the grounds that the Rebbe was not a “memory,” ie., the Rebbe was still alive. The plaque was put back up. The plaque was taken back down. Police were called. Lawsuits were filed. Restraining orders. Court appearances. Anger. Rage. Physical violence. It was a typical messy divorce case in Family court.
The long running legal battle between the Gabboyim and the Rebbe’s non profits over control over 784-788 Eastern Parkway and 770 Eastern Parkway has finally ended. Judge Harriet Thompson of the Civil Court of Kings County New York just issued a ruling in favor of the non profit organizations set up by the Rebbe before his passing. The individual Gabboyim, and their non profits, never had a chance. The Gabboyim claimed they had a constructive trust and threw in some half baked adverse possession theory. They submitted evidence that they physically barred members of the Rebbe’s non profits from entering 770. Hostile takeover arguments usually don’t endear you with the Judge.
Judge Harriet Thompson stated in her decision that she was sensitive to the highly charged nature of the lawsuit and would not entangle the Court into issues of religious interpretation, which would be unconstitutional. Thompson wrote: “This court is cognizant of the highly emotional nature of this controversy and its deep rooted religious underpinnings and reiterates its pronouncement made at conference with the parties that it will not rule on any questions dealing with religion but will make determinations based only on the laws of New York State. As such, the determination of this court shall in no way be construed as favoring one side or the other in the Messianic debate.” In other words, Judge Thompson would not be consulting with the Shulchan Aruch, the Talmud, or the Mishnah Berura. Thompson did state in a footnote that she visited the Ohel and wrote a note to the Rebbe asking the Rebbe how to decide the case. The result was a 770 page decision, less 626 pages that she burned on Lag B’Omer, which came out to a total of 144 pages of legalese indecipherable to 99% of Lubavitchers. She asked Larry Noodles to write a blog highlighting the main points of her decision.
Judge Harriet Thompson wrote: “The Rebbe created two corporations in which he acted as the President and he personally selected the board members and trustees; those members of the organization that were loyal and favored his corporations. In light of the above, both corporations, by the authority granted by the state of New York have the power and authority to operate in perpetuity. Although the Court does not totally find Rabbi Krinsky’s claim that the Rebbe was not dictatorial unworthy of belief, the corporations’ restructure show that the process of selection of the members of the Board of Trustees for both corporation was not ‘democratic’ but legal under the laws of this state. It appears that males only, especially, the Rabbis, and others, are vested with the authority to select their successors and their successor’s successor. As the Rebbe’s counsel stated, the Rebbe possessed the knowledge of the benefits and burdens of leadership and the structures of the corporations were intentionally “not so democratic.””
Judge Thompson made a point to mention that the Rebbe set up the corporations in an undemocratic way, a “dictatorial” way, with no women. Judge Thompson stated that the Rebbe handed over his power to “males only, especially, the Rabbis.” Judge Thompson stated that the Rebbe’s actions were totally legal under New York law. I don’t know why Judge Thompson mentioned sexism and fascism in her decision, as these issues were completely irrelevant to the arguments raised in the case. The Catholic Church is also run by men, male priests, and has been run like a dictatorship, with the Pope in charge, for almost two thousand years. The NFL is also run by men, male football players, male owners, and male coaches, and is also run like a dictatorship. Players are not even allowed to kneel in prayer before the games. Does Judge Thompson have a problem with the National Football League? I’ll bet Judge Thompson doesn’t even watch the Super Bowl or the halftime show.
Judge Harriet Thompson wrote about how the Rebbe methodically handed over power to the Rabbis of his choosing: “The Rebbe intended to maintain all power and decision-making authority of both properties in the hands of the Board of Trustees and not the Gabboim. The Rebbe’s decision-making power is supported by the case law. As most of the cases above will substantiate, the hierarchical churches and other religious institutions reserve their rights to property ownership and management in their governing authorities such as the archbishop, the bishops, and the like. Parishioners have no rights or decision-making authority with regard to real and personal property of the religious corporation. In this case, the Rebbe availed himself of the rights afforded by the law that authorizes its members to maintain dominion and control over the real and personal property owned by the two religious corporations by and through their Board of Trustees and no other legal entities.”
Judge Thompson went into the entire history of the Chabad movement and the synagogue building located at 770 Eastern Parkway and compared it to the Temple Mount: “It is irrefutable that the history of the buildings shows that 770 Eastern Parkway was purchased for the previous Rebbe, his family, for offices for the corporation and for the Synagogue. Further, it is not in controversy that the Synagogue was expanded five times due to the growth of the Lubavitch movement over fifty years from 1940 to date. It is also not in dispute that multiple individuals contributed to the funds to purchase the property; the purchase of the property was discussed in the Lubavitch newsletter; various fund raising campaigns were made for funds from the Lubavitch from Crown Heights, others from the Jewish communities and from other Jewish people from all over the world including those that were not of the Jewish faith; even the Rebbe’s mother made a contribution to the building fund; a fund raising brochure represented that “770 occupies a unique and central place” and it is a “miniature-sanctuary” and the Rebbe asked congregants and others to give $770.00 or more for the building campaign and those individuals would have their names inscribed on the “Wall of Anash.” It is also undisputed that from 1940 to date, the Synagogue has been in 770; the Synagogue services were run by the Gabboim; the Rebbe granted discretion to the Gabboim in the operation of the Synagogue; and the Shul at 770 has a special place in the teaching of the Lubavitch movement. It represents the embodiment of the ‘Holy Temple in Exile.’ It is incontrovertible that there is special significance of the Synagogue in the theology of the non-profits; it should never be closed; the Synagogue contains the ‘shrine of sort’ where the Rebbe’s place of prayer is…'”
Judge Thompson rebuked the Gabboim for challenging the Rebbe, whom they revere, with such a lawsuit aimed at the Rebbe’s non-profit entities: “The Rebbe’s restructuring of the corporations did not demonstrate that he intended the Gabboim to have any control, whatsoever, of the real and personal property owned by the corporations. The Rebbe’s legal and structural changes to both corporations show that the faction, close to and loyal to the Rebbe and the corporations, and selected by the Rebbe himself, remain loyal to his trustees that would assure that the property acquired by the Lubavitch movement be controlled by the religious corporations. No such power or authority was every delegated to the Gabboim; nor was any decision-making power ever granted to the Gabboim or the congregation over the property owned by the Petitioners corporations.”
Judge Thompson compared 770 to the goyim who pray at St. Paul’s Cathedral chaz v shalom: “The significance of a historical religious site like 770 for the Lubavitch community, like any other place of worship, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, just to name only one, carry heavy emotional and spiritual beliefs of its worshippers. However, those financial and religious contributions, small, medium or large, should not create equal, greater rights or superior rights in the giver than the deed owners of the property; and certainly, worshippers should not be allowed to encumber the religious corporations’ property unless expressed in writing in legal documents.”
Judge Thompson concluded: “Rebbe Schneerson determined the power and authority granted to the owners of these properties. His intentions and only his intentions were made clear by granting full authority to the owners, through Boards of Trustees, not the congregants or the Gabboim, over the religious corporation’s real property and personal property. This Court has the legal obligation to enforce the bylaws, religious corporation law and subsequent amendments to their contents. The congregation and the Gabboim have no legal rights to continue in possession after the Board of Trustees granted authorization to commence these legal proceedings to recover possession of the subject premises by proper board action.”
In most cases where there is a theological split in a shul the break away minyan moves down the street and starts a new congregation. In this case there is only one 770 Eastern Parkway. There was nowhere for the Gabboyim to go. You just can’t create a new 770, although there are replicas of 770s located throughout the world. There is only one Kotel. There is only one 770. Judge Thompson presided over a messy divorce and ordered the divorced couple to reside in the same house for eternity, or until the arrival of Moshiach, whichever is first. Oy gevalt!
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