In an escalation of the internal feud dividing Lithuanian Jews, the Chabad movement’s senior emissary to the country was banned from the capital city’s main synagogue.
Rabbi Sholem Ber Krinsky, who has lived in Vilnius for 22 years, was informed in an email Monday from the chairman of the Vilnius Jewish Religious Community that he could not set foot inside the Vilnius Choral Synagogue until he commits in writing to follow the synagogue’s “rules and order.”
The move follows a brief period of reconciliation following reports in November that guards hired by the community prevented Krinsky from entering the same synagogue.
“You do not pay attention to my oral and written request to comply with the orders and rules of our synagogue,” Shmuel Levin, the community chairman, wrote in the email to Krinsky, which the website Defending History about Lituanian Jewry published Monday.
As of Tuesday, Levin said, “you’re being banned from entering the synagogue for breaking its rules, namely showing disrespect to the rabbi of the synagogue.”
The email did not specify how Krinsky is accused of breaking the establishment’s rules.
According to the account on Defending History, the move is connected to a service on Friday in wich a community member said publicly that community bosses gave orders that Krinsky should not be allowed to approach the synagogue’s bimah, or pulpit.
Krinsky was involved in a similar dispute in 2004, when a fistfight broke out in the synagogue between his supporters and those of Chaim Burshtein, who was hired by the community. The dispute in Vilnius was one of several that unfolded during those years in Eastern Europe between emissaries of Chabad and non-Chabad rabbis.
Chabad critics oppose what they see as the movement’s fundamentalism or believe the work of Chabad rabbis in their communities is needlessly dividing congregations that are barely large enough to function. However, in recent years public expressions of this sentiment have subsided, leading to greater cooperation and better relations among congregations.
Burshtein and Krinsky eventually reached a modus vivendi.
But the Jewish Community of Lithuania, or LZB, fired Burshtein in 2015 amid his objections to the government’s plan to build on an area that used to be a Jewish cemetery. He accused Faina Kukliansky, the community’s president, of excessive authoritarianism – an allegation she has denied.
Some 6,000 Jews live in Lithuania, a country that had nearly 250,000 Jews before the Holocaust.