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Northwestern Wins Court Fight With Chabad Over Drinks

Northwestern University did not discriminate against a local Chabad house when it cut ties with the religious institution, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The university cut ties in September 2012 with the Tannenbaum Chabad House and its director, Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, after reports that the rabbi had served underage students wine and hard alcohol.

In a ruling filed on Nov. 6, U.S. Court of Appeals Circuit Judge Richard Posner upheld the dismissal of the Chabad House’s lawsuit alleging that the university had cut ties with Chabad for anti-Semitic and religious reasons. In the Sept. 2012 lawsuit, Chabad had claimed that the university discriminated against the religious organization, disaffiliating with it while campus fraternities and sororities also were guilty of underage drinking.

“As far as we’ve been able to determine, plying minors with hard liquor is not required by any Jewish religious observance,” Posner said in his decision, pointing out that alcholol was served regularly to underage students while under Chabad House auspices and that Klein drank with them.

“Rabbi Klein is lively, engaging, eminently approachable, enthusiastic, and one might even say charismatic. Were he more responsible concerning underage and excessive drinking by the kids who frequent the Chabad house, the university would have maintained its affiliation with the house,” the judge wrote in his decision. “He had gotten away for more than a quarter of a century with an irresponsible attitude toward excessive underage drinking that went on under his nose in the Chabad house, and seems to have thought that he could continue to do so, with impunity, indefinitely. He was given multiple chances. He was warned repeatedly, but did not react.”

Klein and Chabad can ask for another hearing of the case in front of the full panel of appeal judges. If that is unsuccessful, the case can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alan K. Cubbage, Northwestern University Vice President for University Relations, said in a statement that the university is “pleased” with the decision. Northwestern continues to have affiliations with several other religious centers on or near the Northwestern campus, including the Fiedler Hillel Center, he said.

The Chabad House continues to operate in Evanston with Klein as its director.

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