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!
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • 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.