The four were initially charged with felony assault after pouncing on victim Jacob Brach last December after he burst into the temple and sat in a seat reserved for the Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum. Also attacked was Brach’s pal Leon Teilebaum. Brach suffered a broken leg and Teilebaum a broken ankle.
Zalman Teitelbaum was appointed by his father, Grand Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum, to run the Williamsburg congregation. But Brach is among followers of Zalman’s older brother, Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum, who believe he is entitled to run the synagogue. Two lawsuits aimed at getting the civil courts to settle the vicious battle are still pending.
Yesterday, prosecutor John Omara told Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Anne Feldman that he accepted the lesser pleas because Brach, who has a federal conviction, was "provocative" and offensive by deliberately placing himself in the seat reserved for Zalman.
Thousands of incensed Zalman followers packed the synagogue after the incident. The four were charged with attacking Brach with a door and a baton and choking, kicking and punching him.
"We had two police officers who will testify they were present when Mr. Brach was involved in praying," Omara said in court. "There was a lot of commotion. They broke down the door and began attacking."
He said if the case went to trial, the victims would be able to identify the four men, and a retired cop who took pictures of the men would testify they continued to assault Brach even after police arrived.
Krausz’s lawyer George Farkas was gratified Omara described the scene as he did, noting that Brach had committed the ultimate affront and provocation to Zalman’s followers by sitting in a place so holy they forbid their children from touching it.
A traditional explanation for the Sin of Adam and Eve is that Adam told Eve that God had forbidden them from touching and eating from the tree on penalty of death, when in fact God had only forbidden eating. The serpent pushed Eve, she touched the tree and did not die. The serpent then said, if you can touch the tree and not die, why not eat from it, too? You will become like God! And so Eve ate.
The point is that adding onto a law without specifying that this is only a fence and not the law itself leads to greater sin.
And so is the case here. When one treats a rabbis chair as "so holy they forbid their children from touching it," one elevates a chair to a presumed status it does not in fact have. This led to tremendous chillul hashem, desecration of God’s name, and the violation of real biblical commandments.
This is the problem with the hasidic movement as a whole. It elevates customs to a place higher than law. This can only lead to destruction. And so it has.