The Volokh Conspiracy

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Religion and the Law

Schism and Suspension from Religious School


From RB v. Bais Yaakov D'Chassedei Gur, decided last Monday by New York trial court judge Peter Sweeney:

… [Plaintiffs allege] that the defendant Bais Yaakov D'Chasidei Gur ("the School") improperly disciplined the infant plaintiff through alleged suspension because of her "family's allegiance to Rabbi Shaul Alter", who the defendants considered to be an illegitimate rival to the established Rabbi of Gur, Rabbi Y.A. Alter. The School is operated by the adherents of Rabbi Y.A. Alter. [UPDATE: Note that "infant" here is simply legalese for "minor"; the plaintiff was 12 years old when the Complaint was filed.]

The lawsuit claims the defendants' actions constituted statutorily prohibited religious discrimination and negligently inflicted emotional distress, but the court disagreed:

In support of the motion, the defendants submitted the affidavits of Abraham Schmidt and Yehuda Segal, both of whom sit on the educational board of Bais Yaakov, explaining the reasons for the infant plaintiff's suspension. They both state that Bais Yaakov is an educational institution of the Ger Community whose educational philosophy is premised upon the importance of teaching their students in the religious teachings and tenants of the Ger movement. They state that one of these tenants is respect and reverence for the one and only Ger Rabbi, Rabbi Y. A. Alter, who they claim is the one true spiritual leader of the Ger movement and who is recognized as such by all the Ger Chassidim worldwide.

They state that some of the parents of the students of Bais Yaakov, including the infant plaintiff's legal guardian, have decided to shift their allegiance and loyalties to Rabbi Shaul Alter, who leads a dissident group of the Ger community who have disparaged Rabbi Y. A. Alter in numerous ways. They maintain that this has caused enormous problems for the School because a vast majority of the parents of the girls who attend the school continue to support Rabbi Y. A. Alter.

They state that many of the parents have threatened to stop sending their daughters to Bais Yaakov if the girls from the families loyal to Rabbi Shaul Alter are permitted to remain at the school because these parents do not want their daughters exposed to the ideas espoused by Rabbi Shaul Alter. They maintain that these ideas undercut and mock the way they want their daughters educated. They maintain that allowing the dissident students to remain at school will make it impossible for Bais Yaakov to inculcate traditional Ger values to the other students, the very reason that the parents have enrolled them in Bais Yaakov.

Schmidt and Segal further stated that Rabb[i] Shaul Alter is propounding a fundamentally different religious philosophy than the one taught by the Rabbi Y. A. Alter and accepted by the school and the vast majority of the Ger Chassidim. They maintain that Rabbi Shaul Alter's views differ in critical areas, including the use of the Internet and technology, the nature of rabbinic authority and a person's religious obligation to submit to such authority and the matter of learning the Talmud. The defendants also point out that the families loyal to Rabbi Shaul Alter were warned that if they were their daughters associated with Rabbi Shaul Alter, their daughters would be suspended or expelled from the school.

In response, the plaintiff Isaac Bernhack submitted his own affidavit stating that the premise of defendants' argument for suspending the infant plaintiff, that there can merely one Grand Rabbi, is not true and that such belief is not a critical component of the Ger religious observance.

"The First Amendment forbids civil courts from interfering in or determining religious disputes, because there is substantial danger that the state will become entangled in essentially religious controversies or intervene on behalf of groups espousing particular doctrines or beliefs." However, "[c]ivil disputes involving religious parties or institutions may be adjudicated without offending the First Amendment as long as neutral principles of law are the basis for their resolution."

Here, the defendants[] demonstrated that the claims asserted by the plaintiff are nonjusticiable, as they cannot be resolved based on neutral principles of law. The pivotal issues issue raised in this action is whether there can be only one true Ger Rabbi, who the defendants claim is Rabbi Y.A. Alter, and whether the infant plaintiff's suspension from Bais Yaakov was justified considering her allegiance to Rabbi Shaul Alter and his teachings. Resolution of these issue would necessarily involve impermissible inquiries into religious doctrine or practice.

Congratulations to Stuart Blander (Heller, Horowitz & Feit), who represents defendants.