Cuff 9 in rabbi row

Lubavitchers clash over plaque

Daily News/December 16, 2004
By Melissa Grace

Lubavitcher members rail against wording on cornerstone for Grand Rebbe Menachem Schneerson yesterday.

Nine members of the ultra-orthodox Lubavitcher Hasidic sect were arrested on a Crown Heights street yesterday after a violent dispute erupted over a plaque honoring the sect's holiest figure.

Seven men and two women were arrested as cops flooded the area outside the sect's synagogue and headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway at 11:30 a.m. in response to a report of a disturbance involving nearly 300 Lubavitchers. The charges included resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

The violence erupted over the words "of blessed memory," which were inscribed on a plaque under the name of Lubavitcher Grand Rebbe Menachem Schneerson that had been affixed to a cornerstone at the synagogue's entrance.

The inscription goes to the heart of a long-standing dispute that has split the insular community. One faction believes Schneerson is dead. The other believes the grand rebbe is alive - and coming back as the Moshiach, or Messiah.

"He's alive - they are writing that the rebbe is dead!" said Gil Schwartz, 42, a Lubavitcher from Montreal.

The controversy dates to 1994, when Schneerson died. Shortly after Schneerson's death, the plaque was mounted on the cornerstone. The words "of blessed memory" were scratched out by those who believe that Schneerson lives on, and will one day return as the Messiah.

The new trouble started several weeks ago, when a group of Yeshiva students substituted the plaque for one that read, "Long live our Master, the Messiah," according to Lubavitchers outside the synagogue yesterday.

After several attempts to replace the plaque were thwarted, the organization that runs the headquarters, Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, got a temporary restraining order barring any further interference. The synagogue's entrance has been guarded by barricades and cops since.

Meanwhile, Merkos had a new plaque - with the original inscription - put up, prompting the outcry and the violence.

Calling the violence "unacceptable," Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for the main rabbi, Yehuda Krinsky, said, "We hope that they will soon learn the error of their current ways and become adherents of the rebbe's ways."

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