Lawsuit exposes Chabad power struggle in Israel

Chabad institutions have petitioned the courts to prevent a takeover by Tzeirei Chabads chairman.

Chassidei Chabad Lubavitch Yeshiva Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Wilshansky, Beit Chana Schools head Rabbi Shlomo Raskin, and members of Chabad Israel, which manages the movements activities in the country, have petitioned the courts to prevent Tzeirei Agudat Chabad (Chabad Youth Organization in Israel) chairman Rabbi Yosef Y. Aharonov and five members of Tzeirei Chabad from taking it over.

Wilshansky and Raskin asked the court to forbid the respondents from making material changes Tzeirei Chabads foundation documents, signatory rights, directors, and membership, or making any other fundamental changes. The petitioners claim that this is an attempt to illegally take over Tzeirei Chabad, and through it, Chabad Israel in general.

The petitioners claim that there are grounds for concern that the respondents, headed by Aharonov, will create a fait accompli, and even withdraw money from Tzeirei Chabad or sell its assets. The petitioners are therefore seeking temporary relief.

The court was not persuaded that there is a reason for issuing the requested ex parte injunctions, and asked the respondents to file statements of defense.

Chabads international activities are estimated at over $1 billion a year. There are no estimates about the extent of Chabads activities in Israel, but they presumably amount to tens of millions of dollars a year. These activities include running several yeshivas (houses of Jewish learning), kindergartens and schools, publishing weekly newsletters about events within the Hassidic movement and outside of it, the operation of so-called mitzvah tanks, and hosting holiday events.

The Chabad movement has been wracked by a power struggle between moderate and messianic factions since the death of Lubavitcher Rabbi Menachem Mendel Scheerson over a decade ago. The latter factions claim that Scheerson was the Messiah. Chabads main institutions are run by the moderate factions, although the messianic factions run a number of institutions in Israel.

There is no dispute between the factions over Chabads right-wing political character. Chabad was among the top opponents of the disengagement plan and Prime Minister Ariel Sharons government. Chabad has not yet declared which candidate it will support in the upcoming elections, but it should be remembered that it backed Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister in 1996, under the slogan Netanyahu is good for the Jews.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on February 14, 2006

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