Last week, after over two and a half years of talks, document exchanges, and preparations, the actual trial over the future of 770 has begun, with Petitioners requesting from the court that Congregation Lubavitch should be evicted from 770.
The current claim comes after numerous previous proceedings that took place in different court houses in New York over the past decade, where the Directors of Agudas Chasidei Chabad and Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch are trying to use the secular courts in order to wrest control of the Shul from the Gabbaim, who were voted into their positions through elections. Similar claims against the Gabbaim on two prior occasions were dismissed in court.
On the first day of the trial, lawyers for Agudas and Merkos presented their opening argument that the claim was a simple one of a landlord (Agudas and Merkos) seeking to evict a tenant (the Shul) from their property. They asked the judge to rule on the case as a simple real estate dispute. The lawyer for the respondents explained that this is not a regular real estate dispute, but rather, since the members of the shul are all members of Agudas Chabad, and one of the purposes for which Agudas Chabad was formed was to provide a Shul to its members, the first question is whether a religious congregation has the legal authority to evict its own membership. Additionally, since the organization was legally established as a religious and Chassidic institute, the legal proceedings need to be done according to the spirit of its founder, the Frierdiker Rebbe (and the Rebbe MH”M after him), and according to the spirit of what is written in official documents of the organization from the 1940’s. Therefore, congruent with the instructions of the Rebbe, the Shul’s management ought to be under the sole direction of the Gabbaim, who are elected by the congregants.
Furthermore, it is also to be determined whether the State of New York has the legal authority to intervene in such religious matters, where the dispute is in essence over differences of opinion regarding the Rebbe as Moshiach, for instance, regarding the signs on the walls of 770 etc.
During the Discovery portion of the proceedings, the Gabbaim sought to present a compilation of Sichos and letters from the Rebbe which demonstrate how the shul should be run. In response, the petitioners argued that the court should not consider any religious claims, but instead judge it as it were any other legal case, and therefore disregard the Rebbe’s opinion from any consideration (Screenshot attached).
The lawyer for the Gabbaim, Mr. Rudofsky, presented excerpts from the prior Appellate Court rulings, and from the ruling of Judge Devin Cohen, who presided over the earlier stages of this landlord-tenant case, who wrote about the complexities of the legal issues of the case which merit full discussion (Screenshot attached).
After the opening arguments, the Court heard the testimony of Mendel Sharfstein on behalf of Agudas and Merkos as to how he claimed that the Gabbaim had taken over the Shul. The cross-examination of Sharfstein was set for Rosh Chodesh Tamuz, June 17, although the schedule may be delayed until after the summer.
Currently, the lawyers of the congregants are preparing to present their claims, where they will prove that the shul in “Beis Agudas Chassidei Chabad” was always managed through the elected Gabbaim. The Rebbe’s opinion on the matter is going to be presented as well, including answers and Sichos of the Rebbe and additional documents showing that the Rebbe gave the management of the shul to the hands of the Gabbaim.
Chassidim worldwide are asked to say Tehillim for the success of this case, that the Rebbe’s will should be fulfilled, and that the shul will continue to be run by the Gabbaim in accordance with the Rabbanim of the shchuna, as it has been since its establishment and iy”h till the coming of Moshiach.
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Their claim not to take the Rebbe’s opinion into consideration:
Cong. Lubavitch Respondents Trial Exhibit F
Lawyer for the Gabbaim, Mr. Rudofsky, presented excerpts: