Hasidim Sue Grandson of Their Late Rabbi Over Ownership of Library
NEW YORK (AP) _ A group of Hasidic Jews seeking to block the grandson of their late rabbi from selling off part of his library called on author Elie Wiesel to defend their claim of communal ownership.
Wiesel, the chronicler of the Holocaust who pleaded with President Reagan not to visit a German military cemetery earlier this year, testified Thursday that it was his belief ″whatever the rebbe (chief teacher) has, somehow ... becomes part of the community.″
″If it is wealth, it is not his. It belongs to the community,″ said the author, who studied Hasidic lore in his native Europe before being rounded up by the Nazis and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The library of Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, who died in 1950, comprises some 50,000 secular and religious volumes, many of them priceless. It was smuggled out of Europe by Schneersohn, who brought his sect, the Lubavitch movement, to Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood to escape Nazi persecution.
The Lubavitchers are the largest branch of Hasidism, a sect of Orthodox Judaism that grew up in 18th century Poland and emphasizes a personal, emotional style of worship and devotion to a spiritual leader.
All of Schneersohn’s books remained at Lubavitcher headquarters until last fall when Barry S. Gourary, the son of Schneersohn’s eldest daughter, removed 400 and sold about one-third of them.
The Lubavitchers were outraged and took Gourary to court, contending the books belonged to the community, not the family. They contend the volumes were purchased with charitable funds raised by the Lubavitcher community.
Gourary, a 62-year-old management consultant from Montclair, N.J., maintains the library belongs to his 86-year-old mother and her sister and that the books were sold with his mother’s approval. His grandfather left no will.
He has said the dispute should be settled by a religious court, not a federal one.
But Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, secretary of the Lubavitcher group, said: ″According to Jewish law, we were encouraged to take the steps that we took. If any matter can’t be ajudicated in the Jewish court of law, not only does it allow the use of secular - non-Jewish courts - it encourages their use.″
″To assure the books would not be sold on the open market, we had to take out a temporary restraining order,″ he said.
Gourary, who holds a rabbinical degree himself, denied that a court order was necessary. He said the last sale was on June 13, weeks before the Lubavitchers sued on Aug. 5.
″I have not sold any books that have any significance to this movement,″ he said.
″He was 27 years old when his grandfather died. He’s 62 now. Where was he for 35 years? He didn’t take these books for sentimental reasons,″ said Krinsky, saying one book, an illustrated 15th century volume, was sold by Gourary for $68,000 and later sold to a Swiss collector for more than $150,000.
U.S. District Judge Charles P. Sifton is not expected to return a decision in the non-jury, civil trial for several months.