The Forward 50

Michael Sussman

Michael Sussman

Activism

The sleepy village of Goshen in upstate New York’s Orange County seems an improbable place to find someone shaking up the Jewish world. But civil rights attorney Michael Sussman, 57, is doing just that through lawsuits against two redoubts of ultra-Orthodoxy ensconced in the Catskills. The suits threaten, for better or worse, to upend what he sees as the Hasidic sects’ unholy fusing of religion and government.

In New Square, N.Y., the Skver Hasidic sect, under the leadership of Rabbi David Twersky, has established an enclave of some 7,000 residents where women are not allowed to drive and men and women must walk on separate sides of the street. Last June, an employee from Twersky’s household allegedly sought to burn down the home of dissident resident Aron Rottenberg, but instead ended up inflicting third-degree burns over half of Rottenberg’s body. Sussman, as the attorney for the Rottenberg family, is seeking to break Twersky’s hold over everything that happens in the village.

“That control, if it is going to be exerted as it has been, has to end,” Sussman told the Journal News, a local daily.

Sussman’s suit against the politically influential Satmar Hasidic enclave of Kiryas Joel in Monroe, N.Y., where more than 13,000 residents live, seeks the village’s outright dissolution. The suit, brought by dissidents who reject the leadership of Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum, flatly declares that Kiryas Joel “is a theocracy,” where affairs of government are so deeply entangled with religion “that its very existence as a municipality violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

Sussman, who finished Harvard Law School at the top of his class in 1977, notes that he has one brother who is a rabbi and another who is an atheist. “I’m somewhere in the middle,” he says.

Plus One

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, the Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.