Hasidic People: A Place in the New World

By Jerome R. Mintz | Go to book overview

· 26 · Kiryas Joel: In Court and Out

Problems and Promise

The religious environment of Kiryas Joel initially proved to be as promising as the first settlers had hoped. The village was a marriage of shtetl and suburb, a contemporary rural community strengthened by its ties to the past. Soon after the death of the old Rebbe in August 1979, however, the bonds holding the community together began to fray as the new leadership was questioned and disputes threatened the traditional order.

Kiryas Joel contained ideas both old and new. Almost everyone was soon forced to take sides on a variety of issues concerning the powers of the Rebbe and the rov, methods of education, and the rights of villagers to go their own way and manage their own affairs. Some who had children who were physically or mentally impaired were eager to push ahead into a world of new ideas to improve their children's education and ability to socialize. They presented plans and waited eagerly for words of encouragement. Others, anxious to revitalize the community, considered a return to an idealized past preferable to what to them had become a tame religious order quenched of its anti-Zionist zeal. They found the new leadership wanting in terms of charity and generosity of spirit in comparison with their memories of Reb Joel. Some tightened their ties to the old rebbetsn. They recalled the old Rebbe's warnings: beware of false prophets; measure every action against the words of the Torah.

The community expected order and continuity. A few also hoped for wisdom and understanding. For their part Reb Moshe, the new Rebbe, and his son Reb Aaron, the chief rabbi of Kiryas Joel and dean of the yeshivah, reacted harshly to any presumed threat to their authority, no matter how small the matter. In their eyes it seemed that dissenters to authority should suffer the same fate as Korah, the rebel in the desert who opposed Moses and who together with his followers and their households were swallowed up and went down to Sheol. 1 This would prove to be unsettling as the community faced a series of encounters with the outside

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