Vilnius, Lithuania – The Jewish community in Vilna refuses to allow the local Chabad rabbi to enter the main shul, even though the rabbi has to say Kaddish and has no other minyan where he can say it.
Tense, acrid relations have existed between the Jewish community and Rabbi Krinsky since 2004, when the community passed Rav Krinsky by for the rabbinate and chose instead Rabbi Chaim Burstein, a former St. Petersburg refusenik who had studied in Litvish yeshivos in Israel. Despite Rabbi Krinsky living in Vilna and being involved with the community since 1994, the kehilla said they had a tradition of being misnagdim and preferred a rabbi who was a Litvak.
Fisticuffs broke out in the shul between pro-Krinsky and pro-Burshtein factions during Shavuot services in 2004. The fracas was covered extensively by the local and foreign media.
Burshtein was later roughed up by Krinsky supporters during tefillos in the shul. When Krinsky’s hooliganism continued, he and his followers were barred from the synagogue. They countered by holding vigils in the courtyard for months while pouting to foreign journalists about their “victimization”.
The ensuing embarrassment and seeing no end to the conflict caused the kehilla to close the synagogue for more than a year, while services were held in the kehilla building. The community took Krinsky to court, and an arrangement was finally reached where the rabbi had to retreat to his Chabad center. The shul reopened in August 2005, and morning and evening services have since been held daily – without Krinsky, who presides over his own services in a first-floor room at the Chabad center.
The ban against Rav Krinsky entering the main shul means that he cannot enter the shul to recite Kaddish for his mother who passed away a few days ago. His own synagogue doesn’t have a regular minyan of worshippers. Krinsky grumbled, “The doors are closed, and the guards know me and won’t let me enter. How can one say ‘no’ to a Jew who wants to say Kaddish for his mother?”
Rabbi Yosef Aharanov, the head of Israeli shlichim, was shocked. “Banning a Jew, kal v’chomer one who is a rav of a kehilla, is extremely serious. Such a thing is not done except under the most extreme circumstances.”
Mr. Alperowitz, the community president, says, “Krinsky should blame himself that he doesn’t have a minyan. He distanced people from himself.”
Both Krinsky and Alperowitz accuse each other of violence, and being motivated by the long-awaited restitution of Jewish communal property, which in Lithuania eventually will include at least 200 buildings and an estimated $60 million in compensation for property that cannot be returned.
Local observers claim that Krinsky’s attempt to grab control of the Vilna kehilla follows a Chabad pattern to usurp power from local rabbis elsewhere in Eastern Europe which in recent years occurred in Kiev, Prague, Russia and Germany.
Lita has today about 4,500 Jews, most of them living in Vilna.