ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – An election controversy between rival factions of a religious congregation cannot be resolved through the legal system without judicial intrusion into matters of religious doctrine, a New York appeals court ruled.
The ruling involved a dispute between two splinters of an Orthodox Jewish community called Satmar Hasidism. The Yetev Lev D’Satmar congregation in Brooklyn expanded to form a new congregation in Monroe, New York in 1974. When Grand Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum died in 1979, he was succeeded by his nephew, who appointed his sons as chief rabbis of the Monroe and Brooklyn congregations. A bitter feud erupted between the sons’ followers over who should become Grand Rabbi, causing the Brooklyn congregation to splinter into rival factions.
Elections for the congregation’s board of directors led to separate elections and allegations that one faction illegally tried to expel a member. The court said it lacked jurisdiction to rule on the congregation’s bylaws because they include religious criteria, such as whether a member follows the “ways of the Torah.”
“It is well settled that membership issues such as those that are at the core of this case are an ecclesiastical matter,” Judge Pigott wrote in the majority opinion. Judge Smith dissented. See ruling.