Why were Chabad-Lubavitchers allowed to dig tunnels under their world headquarters in New York City and not get arrested by police or criminally investigated?
Given New York City's onerous regulations, one would think digging tunnels under your own property (let alone someone else's) without a permit would be a serious crime but it has been around four weeks since the tunnels were discovered and there's zero indication that any of the guilty parties are being held accountable.
The news went viral last week due to Chabadniks rioting against police to keep the tunnel from being filled with cement. Many questioned why there were small soiled mattresses and a baby high chair in the tunnels but police aren't interested in investigating.
Doing any sort of construction in New York City requires all manners of permits but apparently the decision to fill the tunnel with cement didn't require any lengthy surveying/inspections as one would expect.
The media has put out a few cover stories to try to explain it all away but none have addressed why no one is being held accountable for anything other than the riot and why there's no criminal investigation.
All questions are simply being deemed "anti-Semitic."
Those who dug the tunnel had created several openings in the basement walls of the single-story building. It wasn't immediately clear how much of the tunnel had been excavated from the ground, and how much was formed by making openings in existing rooms.
The tunnel had rudimentary supports in place and was constructed without approval or permits. City engineers said the excavation had undermined the building above it, as well as another building on Kingston Avenue, causing structural stability issues. The Department of Buildings issued partial vacate orders for both buildings due to safety concerns.
The department said other neighboring structures were unaffected and could be reoccupied, apparently meaning that the synagogue itself was secure.
"The safety of our fellow New Yorkers is our highest priority," the department said in a statement. "We will continue to monitor the progress of this emergency stabilization work, and if necessary, we are ready to take additional actions that may be required in the interest of public safety."
The piece mainly focused on lamenting how people on social media were sharing "old antisemitic tropes" about "Sewer Jews."
The Guardian on Tuesday ran an 3,000 word article "co-published with Shtetl.org" written by Chananya Groner, who "grew up in the Chabad Australia" that purported to explain "the real story" behind the tunnels.
The majority of the article was just about Chabad's history and internal conflicts. Groner echoed the vague statement Chabad put out after the story went viral blaming "young agitators" for building the tunnels.
Groner (hilariously) argued the tunnels were built to ease overcrowding:
'The tunnels are actually a no-brainer'
Despite the tension and occasional flareups of violence, 770 remained a cherished site and a focal point for the global Chabad community. It is still well attended, especially during holidays and other important occasions, and is often immensely overcrowded. On Rosh Hashanah, the sanctuary is so full that the brief walk to the doorway for a bathroom break is a 20-minute adventure that requires climbing over tables and benches, squeezing through tightly packed throngs, and praying that your jacket buttons don't come off in the process. The need to expand the synagogue has been widely recognized.
What's more, expansion plans had already been drawn up under Schneerson's direction during the 80s.
According to Yossi Newfield, a writer and journalist who has frequently written about Chabad's messianic doctrines, Schneerson saw expanding the shul to be of messianic import. "This is the shul of Moshiach," Schneerson had said.
This is all filler to act like she's explaining "the real story" behind the tunnels while revealing nothing.
But that vision was never completed during Schneerson's lifetime. And following his death, expansion plans have stalled for nearly three decades, due at least in part to the ongoing litigation.
According to Newfield, the anti-Meshichists, too, want to expand. "But from their point of view," he says, "770 has been hijacked. There's no purpose in expanding it in its current state, and it's not in the interest of the Chabad movement. That's why litigation is so important. They need to evict the messianic faction."
So far, however, that eviction effort has gone nowhere. "They went to court 20 years ago, they're still in court 20 years later," Newfield said.
While many in Chabad see expanding the synagogue as a practical necessity, the Tzfatim began to see in it a grander mission: the fulfillment of the rebbe's desire to broaden and enhance "the shul of Moshiach".
Frustrated by the lack of progress, the delay in realizing Schneerson's vision created a sense of urgency among the Tzfati students, who decided the only way to proceed was to take matters into their own hands. It almost succeeded. In some ways it already has.
Precisely when the excavation began is somewhat unclear, but it may have started as early as 2018 and, at least by some reports, was well underway during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Over these past few years, the students managed to excavate a wide area adjacent to the synagogue, including an access tunnel. If not for gabbaim [day-to-day caretakers at 770] discovering the excavations several weeks ago, the work would have continued. As of now, the excavation work has been halted, and according to some reports, the damage to the synagogue interior has been partly repaired.
But Sam, the former Tzfati, believes their project will ultimately succeed.
"What they're doing is actually a no-brainer," Sam says. "They need to expand, they have real problems." And, he says: "I'd be surprised if, by next year, that whole excavation isn't made official. I think the shul will just be de facto expanded."
His reasoning, Sam says, is simple: ultimately, there's no one with any authority to keep the Tzfatim from doing as they please. "Yes, the community was horrified," he says, "but the gabbaim are powerless." No one is in charge, Sam explains. Krinsky, whose organization owns the premises, can't walk into the synagogue. There's a sense in Crown Heights that the inmates are running the asylum, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. But that's nothing new either.
"The one person who was likely the least surprised is Krinsky," says Sam. "He's probably saying, 'Good morning, this has been going on for 25 years.'"
As for the diggers, Newfield says: "In their thinking, they have to complete the mission, even if it means fighting the cops and fighting the communal authorities. The King Messiah told them to do this, and he's the higher authority."
"To them," he says, "the rebbe's alive. He's not buried in Queens. He is the king Messiah. They don't accept the authority of the rabbis, or the community council, or of Merkos. The whole hierarchy is obliterated. The king Messiah is above all that."
In a way, this thinking is consistent with the message Schneerson bequeathed to his followers. The Messiah will come when you have the audacity to do what it really takes to bring him.
"To them, it's plain," Newfield says of the diggers. "'By smashing down these walls, we'll force the end of the exile. We'll force the rebbe's return.'"