A tiny Lower East Side synagogue is at the center of mounting legal challenges surrounding an attempted sale by its former rabbi. A couple of weeks ago, congregants of the Home of the Sages of Israel filed a lawsuit against Rabbi Samuel Aschkenazi for his attempts to sell the property without consulting the congregants, Beford + Bowery reports.
The basis of the quarrel hasn’t changed. In 2014, Aschkenazi agreed to sell the property to developer Peter Fine, who in turn was going to buy additional nearby properties and air rights to build some type of residential development here. However, the sale was proposed for an unusually low amount for this area: $13 million.
In addition, funds from the sale were largely going to a different Hassidic sect in Brooklyn. These seemingly shady dealings led to federal and state investigations into Aschkenazi following a New York Times investigation into the matter.
This particular Rabbi is already the subject of another lawsuit. Former donors to the synagogue alleged that he was using the name of the synagogue to carry out charity fraud.
This lawsuit now filed by the congregants relates to Aschkenazi’s authority to sell the property—existing congregants are challenging that. They say that Aschkenazi is only the Rabbi in name, but is not seen as holding that position by the rest of the synagogue.
The lawsuit alleges several other wrongdoings like busing a group of people from Brooklyn and New Jersey for a fake synagogue meeting to grant permission from congregants for the sale of the property. A lawyer for the congregants told Bedford + Bowery that they’re not opposed to selling the property, they just want it done the right way and at the right price (independently, the property was appraised at $42 million).
Before any sale can move forward, a court will first have to determine who actually owns the property to be able to sell it, and so this murky saga continues.