Federal judge dismisses claims against N.Y. Hasidic village

Thursday, December 1, 2011

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A federal judge has dismissed all claims raised by dissidents who said their Hasidic Jewish village was violating religious freedom and should be dissolved.

The plaintiffs, who follow a different Hasidic leader, had claimed that the majority congregation took over the government of Kiryas Joel, 40 miles north of New York City. They said leaders selectively enforced tax, zoning, election and other laws to oppress them.

In an opinion issued Nov. 28 in Manhattan, Judge Jed Rakoff dismissed several of the claims on the grounds they were settled in earlier cases. He dismissed others because the people allegedly harmed were not among the plaintiffs.

The judge also found that the dissidents’ complaint “does not adequately allege that the defendants’ actions were motivated by religious differences.”

The lawsuit asked that the village be dissolved, or that religious leaders not be permitted to hold government office for 25 years.

But the judge said village officials could not be barred from holding office just because of their membership in the majority congregation.

And he said the dissidents’ allegation of a conspiracy failed to show there was a “meeting of the minds,” which he said was necessary for a conspiracy claim.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael Sussman, said he would appeal the ruling.

The lawsuit named as defendants the village, the main congregation and several village officials. Calls to the village attorney were not returned in time for this story.

Kiryas Joel was incorporated in 1977 by members of the Satmar Hasidic sect from Brooklyn. Few if any others live there. A village of large families, its population grew by 54% to more than 20,000 between 2000 and 2010.

The lawsuit said many of the dissidents follow the teachings not of the village’s grand rebbe, Aron Teiltelbaum, but his brother Zalman Teiltelbaum, who leads a Satmar group in Brooklyn.

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