Torah Center Victory

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Chabad lawsuit against congregation is dismissed, but appeal is expected.

The lawsuit by Chabad-Lubavitch of Michigan seeking title to the Sara and Morris Tugman Bais Chabad Torah Center of West Bloomfield was dismissed — practically before it got started.

Oakland County Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot ruled Aug. 15 that Chabad of Michigan, led by Oak Park-based Regional Director Rabbi Berel Shemtov, waited too long to file its suit and was barred from its legal action against the Torah Center, its board of directors and its rabbi, Elimelech Silberberg.

Furthermore, the judge held that the Torah Center and its board could not be sued to enforce the prior decision of a Lubavitch bais din (rabbinical court) because only Rabbi Silberberg — not the board or synagogue — was a party to the bais din hearings.

Because she dismissed the lawsuit on these procedural grounds, Judge Chabot did not have to rule on whether the Torah Center, which Chabad of Michigan had considered to be a “renegade” offshoot, is subject to the hierarchal control of Chabad. She also did not rule on the obligations of Rabbi Silberberg with regards to the bais din judgment that Chabad of Michigan had sought to enforce.

The Torah Center filed its motion to dismiss the lawsuit on June 11, 2012, in lieu of formally responding to the allegations in Chabad of Michigan’s complaint. Chabad countered with its own motion for an immediate judgment in its favor, which the judge denied.

In its April 17, 2012, lawsuit, Chabad of Michigan sought to enforce an Aug. 14, 2004, bais din arbitration agreement that, on June 6, 2005, ordered the Torah Center to turn over the deed to its synagogue.

In her decision, Judge Chabot characterized the bais din as “a common-law arbitration” and said the six-year Michigan statute of limitations to enforce it began running with the initial arbitration agreement in 2004. Chabad’s lawsuit was filed 7½ years later.

Chabad had argued that the statute of limitations should not have started running in 2004 because the bais din’s ruling had been amended as late as 2008, and Chabad was not granted permission by religious authorities to file suit until 2009.

If Judge Chabot’s decision is not appealed by Chabad, the case is over.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” said Chabad of Michigan’s attorney Norman C. Ankers of Detroit-based Honigman Miller Schwartz & Cohn.

“Judge Chabot did not make any ruling on the merits of the claim. She simply ruled that the claims were either time-barred or that the complaint did not set forth causes of action [against all the defendants].

“We expect to appeal, and we expect to be vindicated. It doesn’t matter who’s ahead in the first inning, but who’s ahead when the game’s over.”

The counsel representing all the Torah Center defendants praised the court’s ruling.

“We’re elated,” said Todd R. Mendel of Barris Sott Denn & Driker in Detroit.

“I think Judge Chabot took a good, solid route that she thought would withstand scrutiny by the Court of Appeals. I think she purposefully was very careful to try to take a road that would lead to a justified decision.”

Gilbert Borman of Bloomfield Hills, an attorney who was in court on another matter and heard the proceedings, said afterward, “I’ve got friends on the Shemtov side, and I’ve got friends on the Silberberg side. I feel very sad that they can’t work it all out.

“I would ask them to find a way that everyone could sit down with somebody who could arbitrate this dispute. This isn’t good for Lubavitch. They’re a wonderful organization, and every minute they waste their time in court and fighting they’re not doing good deeds for the Jewish people.

“I look at Lubavitch as a community treasure, and I only want good for them and from them.”

By David Sachs, Senior Copy Editor

chabad detroiter
chabad detroiter 08.23.2012

didan notzach !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Baseball?
Baseball? 08.24.2012

I'm a appalled by attorney Ankers comments above that demean the situation to a trivial baseball game. These comments reduce him and his side to the level of those throughout history to whom taking over Jewish Communities was nothing more than a game. For four decades, Torah Center in its current state has been the legitimate center of Jewish life for dozens of families. Question: How many Torah Center families have come out to support being taken over? I'm willing to bet not a single one. Are these comments indicative of the integrity of yourself and the firm you represent?

Scott Neuman
Scott Neuman 08.26.2012

Here they go again. The so called representatives of the Rebbe's true teachings have struck again, The director, and possibly the last remaining Foundation board member, gave it his best shot. It called on a secular court to justify the Foundations bad behavior, The problem is the Foundation didn't make it to first base, to use a baseball analogy that the Foundation lawyer seems to feel is appropriate describing this evil lawsuit. The Foundation's arguments were completely struck down as being bogus by Oakland County Circuit Court Judge, the Honorable Judge Chabot. It wasn't even a close call by the Judge. The Judge saw it for what it was, an inventive imaginary argument, not worthy to continue in her courtroom, where serious matters require her judicial acumen. . I know, I read the transcript of the Summary Disposition Hearing. The response of the lawyer for the Lubavitch Foundation to her ruling, was in essence, we have not even begun to fight. This seriously calls in to question whether the Foundation, depending on their filing for tax exempt status, is allowed to use donor funds to pursue such a frivolous lawsuit without calling into question its tax exempt status for donors and the Foundation. While I am an attorney, I am not a tax attorney, but I can state from reading the IRS definition of "Defintition of Exempt Operating Foundation" ii is clear tthat to qualify as an exempt operating foundation for a tax year, a private foundation must meet the following requirement" Among those requirement include that the foundation's actions are. " broadly representative of the general public".. I am not sure whether the Foundation is filing as private foundation, but in any event, it is general knowledge, that the lawsuit is not broadly or even narrowly representative of the general public. In fact it seems to me by reading the responses in the Jewish News and speaking to Detroit Jews, the lawsuit has been condemned by the vast majority of Jews, period.

Now, as I stated earlier, I am not a tax attorney, but it seems to me that any person donating to a a non qualifying organization, may not be able to use such a donation for a tax deduction. Further, it is possible that the Foundation itself can lose its deductions granted under the tax code. Why would any Jewish foundation sue a group of Jews in order to steal their property is beyond me. I am not sure if it is true, but I have heard that since the Foundation came into existence the original Foundation members have died or are no longer active. This means, that the Foundation has no overseeing how donations spent. For it is simple logic that no board of a foundation would ever use donor money to finance a "million dollar" lawsuit against a small shul. Even worse, why would anyone donate money to a foundation that uses its donations to satisfy the vendetta of a "renegade" foundation director. This Shanda must stop before the Foundation destroys itself by "sinat chenom", baseless hate. All donors to the Foundation must stand up and call on this shanda to stop.. if they don't, then the bleeding of money and hate will continue for years and no matter what the results, the real losers will be the Detroit Jewish Community.

Answer!
Answer! 08.26.2012

I got this statement from Chabad Lubavitch:

Statement of Chabad Lubavich of Michigan
August 20, 2012
Although we understood from the beginning that this complex case could require a process involving multiple steps through the legal system, we are disappointed that the case was dismissed by the Circuit Court on a procedural matter and that its fundamental issue has not yet been judged on its merits. That is why we are asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to consider this case.
It is important for the community to remember that Chabad Lubavich is an organization with a special mission to the Jewish community and has executed that mission successfully in Michigan for more than 50 years.
Our movement has a specific form of governance based on Jewish law and Lubavich tradition. This is imperative to the success of the movement, its future and its ability to work together in a cohesive manner. Any tampering with that system would undermine the structure of the movement. At its core, this case is about following Jewish law, rules and rabbinical court decisions.
Throughout this case, the ownership and authority of Bais Chabad has been determined by numerous rabbinical bodies, based on Jewish law and Lubavitch tradition. We sought action in the secular courts with full permission of the rabbinic courts and only because the rulings of the rabbinic courts were not followed.
As an example, here is a quote from one of the rabbinic rulings:
“ Concerning Congregation Bais Chabad Torah Center of West Bloomfield: According to the facts, it seems clear that the congregation was established by Chabad-Lubavitch of Michigan even before Rabbi Silberberg was appointed. Over the years, funds have been raised for the congregation using the name of Chabad-Lubavitch. If the institution had indeed been ‘independent,’ it is obvious that unless this had been concealed from Rabbi Shemtov, he would have stopped it immediately (just as he would stop any independent congregation in the city wanting to raise funds by using the name of Chabad-Lubavitch). Therefore there is no justification for transferring the aforementioned congregation from an institution within the framework of Chabad-Lubavitch to becoming “independent.” It makes no difference what was Rabbi Silberberg’s involvement in this, whether it was direct or indirect: Even if it was only in a manner of indirectly causing it to happen, one who is entrusted with taking care of anything or serving as a shaliach [emissary] to do anything is held liable even if he caused damage indirectly, as explained in Divrei Geonim, Klal 15, chapter 5, and Klal 95, chapter 30 – see there.
Since (as noted) Rabbi Shemtov is the one who established the congregation (even before he appointed Rabbi Silberberg to his job), and one of Rabbi Silberberg functions when he accepted his appointment from Rabbi Shemtov was to develop the congregation, this [change in the congregation’s status] was in conflict with his duty, and contrary to the mission he accepted (and certainly contrary to the sacred desire of the Rebbe). Clearly, the act of transferring ownership of an institution belonging to the Rebbe to private individuals (and concealing this from Rabbi Shemtov), severing it from Chabad-Lubavitch, and making it independent, constitutes a most grave offense.
(See Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Mechira Umatana V’shaliach Va’apotropos (paragraph 17), that it is a shaliach’s duty to inform the one who sent him if he is unable to accomplish his mission; if he makes a change for his own benefit, he is considered dishonest.)”
We still hope that Bais Chabad and its Rabbi will change their direction and choose to abide by the rabbinical rulings. That would save additional money, heartache and division within the community.
It is not an option of Chabad Lubavitch of Michigan to walk away from this case and somehow grant independence to Bais Chabad, as that is a right not granted to our organization. Under Jewish law and Lubavich tradition, the director of this organization is entrusted by the Rebbe, of blessed memory, and the Lubavich movement as a custodian to build, protect and secure the success and future of the movement, its property and the funds that rightfully belong to the organization.
Because some have charged, via The Jewish News, that we plan to somehow take away Bais Chabad and displace its members, we reiterate what we wrote in our letter to the congregation on the day that Circuit Court litigation was filed:
“While this suit is going on, we encourage the members of Bais Chabad to continue to pray, attend services and study at Bais Chabad. We do not wish this case to cause any disruptions in the operations of the Congregation.”
“It is our hope that after this situation is resolved with the authority of Chabad Lubavitch of Michigan rightfully established, that Bais Chabad will continue to grow as a place of Torah and chasidus in the community. Chabad Lubavitch of Michigan will not, G-d forbid, interfere and will indeed be willing to help in facilitating the growth of the congregation.”

Jack M
Jack M 08.27.2012

It seems like the rabbinic rulling was very clear. It is surprising that the other side won't follow it.

Where can I see the complete rulling so that I can see it in context?

Listening to the other side
Listening to the other side 08.27.2012

I was somewhat familiar with this case as I am friendly with people on both sides.

Recently I spent two hours with someone from the Chabad of Michigan side and came away very convinced that they are right in this case.

I agree that I never did a two hour session with someone from the other side but I did hear a lot and read all the papers.

Even after I realized that they had more right to their claim than the other side, I still wasn’t sure why they needed to pursue this case. By the end of my conversation I came to understand why it is important.

I recommend that all people who are still open minded, reach out to someone from Chabad Luabvitch of Michigan for such a conversation.

I will just share with you one of many points that really surprised me. I was shocked to hear that a lawyer and past president of Bais Chabad wrote a letter to the Lubavitch Headquarters in NY saying that Rabbi Silberberg is “just an employee” of the organization and that if the Lubavitch rabbis keep sending him orders they (implied that ) they will sue the rabbis in court. I was surprised that the Bais Chabad case is based on diminishing the authority of Rabbi Silberberg, someone who I always saw as the leader of the congregation and it was Chabad of Michigan who was claiming that all authority in the congregation is vested in the Rabbi and that he is contractually bound and responsible to Chabad.

There was a lot more that I heard.

I once again, ask all of you who are open minded to give yourself this education. The person who I spoke with said that he would be happy to talk to anyone who asked (but I will not say who I spoke with – sorry)