Grand Rabbi David Twersky
NEW SQUARE — Grand Rebbe David Twersky on Monday asked a state court to throw out a civil lawsuit implicating him in the arson attack that seriously burned a dissident member.
Twersky's lawyer argued Aron Rottenberg provided no "factual basis" showing the Skver Hasidic Jewish leader had any role in the attack or the community protests before the early morning arson attempt of May 22.
Shaul Spitzer, 18, who lived in Twersky's home and did butler work for him, has been charged with attempted murder, attempted arson and assault. He has pleaded not guilty.
Rottenberg and several other residents became targets of community protests in September for not praying at the rabbi's synagogue. They instead prayed with the people at the Friedwald Center outside the village.
They said the retribution included vandalism of their car and house windows, protests by hundreds outside their homes, their children being kicked out of religious schools and verbal threats. Rottenberg said no one would hire him as a plumber.
Twersky's lawyer Franklyn H. Snitow argued there was no evidence Twersky had a role in those protests.
He moved Monday to have the June $18 million lawsuit filed by Rottenberg's lawyers dismissed against Twersky. The lawsuit also names Spitzer.
The papers were filed with the state Supreme Court in New City.
Snitow called the arguments "sophistry" and Twersky has denied ordering or encouraging any violence against the Rottenbergs.
"This lawsuit is nothing more than a smear tactic meant to embarrass a dedicated religious leader of a peaceful community," Snitow said. "These allegations lack a single shred of actual evidence that would implicate Rabbi Twersky even in the court of common sense, let alone the laws of New York state."
Rottenberg's lawsuit maintains that a pattern of vandalism and intimidation against him occurred in the six to seven months leading up to the arson attack that left him with severe burns over nearly 50 percent of his body.
Part of Rottenberg's argument is that Twersky and his advisers have iron-clad control of the social and political mores in the community, including who more than 2,000 people vote for in a given election.
Rottenberg's lawyer, Michael Sussman, said Monday that he was not planning to get into a public exchange with Snitow on the merits of the lawsuit.
Sussman said he would file opposition papers with the court.
He said he believes more information will be forthcoming during pretrial discovery when parties to the lawsuit like Twersky are interviewed under oath.
"We believe there is more than sufficient basis to sustain the allegations and claims," Sussman said.
Ramapo police continue to investigate the attacks on Rottenberg — and possibly others — before the arson attempt.
The FBI is assisting the police, but it has declined to comment.
Spitzer has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is free on $300,000 bail.