Buildings Must Be Stabilized After Secret Tunnel Found in Brooklyn

It all has to do with a decades-long split within Hasidic Jewish group
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 10, 2024 1:30 AM CST
Updated Jan 11, 2024 1:00 AM CST
UPDATE Jan 11, 2024 1:00 AM CST

New York City issued vacate orders and emergency work orders following the discovery of a tunnel that had been secretly dug over a period of nearly a year underneath a historic Brooklyn synagogue. Officials say the building and neighboring structures will be stabilized and occupant safety will be ensured, the AP reports. The synagogue has been cited for the illegal excavation, which, a spokesperson says, was carried out by a rogue group of "extremist" young men.

Jan 10, 2024 1:30 AM CST

Nine men were arrested Monday afternoon when an altercation broke out at a century-old Brooklyn synagogue over a tunnel that had been secretly dug underneath the building. The New York Times reports that the Chabad-Lubavitcher movement, which it describes as one of the most prominent Hasidic Jewish groups in New York, has for decades been in conflict over the movement's future, with mainstream leadership wanting to carry out the teachings and visions of its leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the rebbe, who died in 1994. But a smaller faction believes he never died and is actually the Messiah, and that has led to disagreements over a planned expansion to the movement's global headquarters and sanctuary at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood.

The rebbe called for an expansion of the property more than 30 years ago, but legal disputes between the two sides (involving, among other things, whether a plaque could refer to the rebbe as deceased) have gone on for years. Community members believe members of the smaller faction secretly dug the tunnel to fulfill the rebbe's vision of expanding. The New York Post, citing Jewish outlets, reports the group was trying to reach the abandoned men's mikvah, a ritual bath, around the corner, and had been digging for almost a year. The tunnel was actually discovered late last year, but Monday's trouble began when a cement truck was brought to fill it and some young Hasidic men tried to block that from happening.

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Video from the scene shows a man emerging through the wall of the sanctuary from the tunnel, men sitting in the tunnel to block it from being filled, police confronting the men, and an altercation breaking out, involving people throwing desks and prayer books and the police apparently spraying some sort of irritant, ABC 7 reports. The men arrested were charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, and one was also charged with obstruction of governmental administration. The headquarters is closed while a review of its structural integrity is carried out. A spokesperson for the movement refers to the men who dug the tunnel as "extremist students" and "young agitators" who were primarily in the US on student visas. (More Brooklyn stories.)

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