The new issue of Harper’s has a must read, must debate article on Crown Heights Lubavitchers. A Shtetl Divided is nominally about the ongoing schism between two Lubavitch anti-crime patrols, the Shomrim and the explicitly messianic Shmira, but in atmosphere and theme reads like a Hasidic Winter’s Bone. New York City fades away. In its place is a claustrophobic village of factions that—if they can’t overcome one another—are perfectly content to feud forever (Allison Hoffman’s piece today on Rabbi Milton Balkany is an excellent companion piece).
It’s an incredible, often uncomfortable read. I’ll leave you with a throw away scene, wherein the author is hunting down a source in a yeshiva dormitory:
On the third floor, we were stopped by a knot of half-dressed bochurim, who spilled out of a room giggling and shrieking. As I got closer, I saw that one of the boys was carrying a shovel with a half-dead ray rat on it, its eyes flickering dully. Rats and mice are a huge problem in [the dorm], and because Lubavitch leadership doesn’t provide extermination services, the residents are forced to do the hunting themselves. Whack! One of the kids had dropped the rat onto the ground and was using the blade of the shovel to cut its neck. A tiny splatter of blood burst forth, and the boys cheered.
Or, in the words of William Golding: “‘Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!'”