Great Book: Among Righteous Men

Inside the hidden world of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights–a close-knit but divided community.

On a cold night in December, the members of a Hasidic anti-crime patrol called the Shomrim are summoned to a yeshiva dormitory in Crown Heights. There to break up a brawl, the Shomrim instead find themselves embroiled in a religious schism which has split the community and turned roommate against roommate, neighbor against neighbor.

At the center of the storm is Aron Hershkop, the owner of an auto-repair business and the leader of the Shomrim. Hershkop watches as the NYPD builds a criminal case against his brothers and friends, apparently with the help of several local residents, who have taken the rare step of forgoing a ruling from the local rabbinical council. Soon, both sides are squaring off in a Brooklyn criminal court, with the Shomrim facing gang assault charges and decades in prison. What conflict could run so deep it left both sides airing their dirty laundry so publicly? This compelling story takes you to the deepest corners of a normally hidden world.

– Features fast-paced writing and a true story with surprising twists, personal conflicts, and a tense trial

– Offers a glimpse in a normally sheltered and private community many see, but few know much about.

– Centers on an unusual man facing a universal conflict: do you do what’s simple and expedient, or do you do follow our heart, your tradition, and your faith?

Buy The Book HERE

More on the Book To Come…

10 Responses to “Great Book: Among Righteous Men”

  1. Barry Yeoman Says:

    Among Righteous Men is an intimate look into the world of Hasidic crime patrols–some would say vigilante squads–in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, told through the lens of the criminal-assault trial of six squad members. Matthew Shaer penetrated a culture that most journalists would find too daunting even to approach, and did the hard work of building relationships with sources on both sides of a deep schism. Beautiful narrative, deep sense of place, and end-times theology combine to make this a very compelling read.

  2. Found this Online Says:

    http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/77/04706082/0470608277-138.pdf

  3. In Brooklyn, a battle pits Jew against Jew. Says:

    Book Review — Source: CSMonitor.com – Christian Science Monitor

    In the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, some residents dial 911 to report a crime in progress. Others call a Jew.

    That’s unusual enough. But the fact that Crown Heights boasts a Jewish security patrol – complete with police cars, a riot van and fast fists – is just the beginning of the remarkable story of one the most insular communities in the United States. Crown Heights actually has two Jewish security forces, the product of a cleft in a sect of Hasidic Judaism that’s obsessed with the impending arrival of the messiah.

    Tensions between the two security forces, each devoted to keeping the peace, degenerated into a violent clash in 2007. The bloody confrontation deepened Jew-vs.-Jew tensions and culminated in a bitter courtroom battle.

    The whole complicated, convoluted and captivating saga unfolds in the smart and perceptive Among Righteous Men: A Tale of Vigilantes and Vindication in Hasidic Crown Heights. The book is by former Christian Science Monitor staff reporter Matthew Shaer, who embedded himself in a Brooklyn enclave united by men in beards and black hats but torn by religious conflict.

    Crown Heights has a tangled history of racial tension and religious fervor featuring Lubavitcher Jews. They believe that the messiah will arrive soon or – in the case of a splinter group inside the sect – that the messiah already showed up in the person of a Brooklyn rabbi who died in 1994.

    In the 1990s and earlier, the Lubavitcher Jews in Crown Heights and their local Jewish security force focused on violence from blacks as the neighborhood became “Exhibit A in the race wars,” as Shaer puts it.

    Over time, however, the threat of crime lessens. Meanwhile, the sect-within-a-sect grows in numbers after the death of the rabbi; believers say he’s the messiah and will return from the dead.

    Now, Shaer writes, “any spat in Crown Heights was at least as likely to be between two Jews as between a Jew and a black man.”

    In December 2007, a fight breaks out at a decrepit and overcrowded dormitory for young men who follow the late rabbi and want to become rabbis themselves.

    The security force of the not-so-messianic Lubavitcher faction responds before the police. In moments, a small room is full of violence, some of it caught on camera. Soon, a half dozen alleged instigators – the Shomrim Six, named after their security force – would find themselves in an American legal system they consider to be almost a foreign land.

    As Shaer explains, Lubavitcher Jews of all stripes isolate themselves into their 16-block territory of Crown Heights, the “only world that matters.” Even though they make up only about a third of Crown Heights residents, they boast their own rabbinical court system, their own ambulances and security forces, and their own dress code.

    Even the young are isolated. While they “browse the Web and watch TV and bicker with alacrity about the latest headlines,” Schaer writes, the decades-old words of a local rabbi about the Crown Heights territory remain true: “eight blocks away was the end of the world.”

    Shaer, a stranger in this land, is a rare neutral observer in the detached world of Lubavitcher Jews and seems to have gained trust on both sides. His prose is carefully balanced and respectful but still peppered with gems of wordsmithery.

    On one side are the “old-school” Lubavitcher Jews, who are appalled by their fellow Jews who seem even more filled with the spirit than they are. The super-sized fervor is “somehow disgraceful, even here, among the ritually fervent,” Shaer writes. These traditional types consider their more messianic brethren to be dirty, smelly, pushy, standoffish. Shaer notes the irony of Jews – ever the target of anti-Semetism – slurring each other with such stereotypes, just as some secular Jews do to Hasidic Jews.

    On the other side, the true believers, especially the young, fill their bedrooms with photographs of the late rabbi and spread the word about him through stickers and fliers.

    Now both factions would find themselves facing each other in American court, just about the last place any self-respecting Lubavitcher Jew would want to go.

    The community’s perspective after the trial, Shaer writes, was something like this: “Were there not holy laws in place preventing one Jew from sullying the reputation of another Jew before a goyish judge?”

    The reality was that the isolated enclave inside Crown Heights had sprung a devastating leak. And not, for once, because of outsiders.

    The trial, full of many characters with many motives, is a bit hard to follow and almost entirely populated by men. (Readers may wish they could learn more about the women in the Lubavitcher community, who wear wigs, jewelry, and fashionable boots.)

    Still, the journey from a vicious dormitory fight to a harshly lit courtroom is a fascinating one. In “Among Righteous Men,” Schaer proves himself a worthy guide through a maelstrom in a world-within-a-world.

    Randy Dotinga is a regular contributor to the Monitor’s Books section.

  4. CHER Says:

    I ordered the book on Wednesday, it came on Friday, I read it over Shabbos, it’s a good read, a page turner indeed.

    I heard a complaint that the book makes it look like theres a Jew Vs. Jew problem in Crown Heights and that it’s a Chilul Hashem.

    I don’t understand this complaint, for a matter of fact there is a Jew vs. Jew problem in Crown Heights, thats our sad realty.

    Don’t shut the messenger, whose simply writing about what he observed.

    The hard and sad realty is that two years ago, Seven Jews falsely testified against six Jews in the court of law, in an attempt to lock them up for over a decade. The chilul Hashem was caused two year ago, not now with the book. The book is only a result of two years ago.

    I recommend every Crown Heights resident and beyond to read this book and face realty.

  5. Meshichist Hypocrisy and Total Stupidity Shows Again Says:

    http://onebigcholent.com/2011/11/22/meshichist-hypocrisy-and-total-stupidity-shows-again/

    Chabad.info aka. jihad.info a meshichist mossrim blog, owned and operated by Menachem Mendel Hendel, leader of the Meshichist mossrim cult, has chosen to present the new book on the great Meshichist Mesira in the following manner:

    [HEADLINE] Chilul Hashem: Book About Shomrim Violence

    Chilul Hashem: A new book discusses the violence on part the Shomrim hooligans who assaulted Bochurimin the 749 dormitory, and then proceeded to “cry wolf” when they were taken to trial● The “old-school” Lubavitcher Jews consider their more messianic brethren to be dirty and smelly. The author notes the irony of Jews – ever the target of anti-Semitism – slurring each other with such stereotypes ● Full Story

    Response:

    Reading the book:
    1. It is obvious that the people on the armature blog of jihad.info did not read the book, thats for sure. They would not and could not describe the book in the manner that they did, had they actually read it.

    A new book discusses the violence on part the Shomrim hooligans who assaulted Bochurim in the 749 dormitory, and then proceeded to “cry wolf” when they were taken to trial

    This is NOT what the book discusses.

    2. Chilul Hashem?:

    The “Chilul Hashem” was two years ago when the Meshichist Mossrim took this to the courts and tried (and failed) to prosecute 6 innocent Jews. The book mainly focuses on that Chilul Hashem.

    How is writing about a “Chilul Hashem” that took place in public a Chilul Hashem? Unless of-course in the Meshichist ‘everything is allowed for meshichistim dictionary’, the definition of ‘chilul Hashem’ is “only something which is published”. For example: You can kill innocent people, just make sure it doesn’t get published anywhere, because that would be a chilul hashem. You can steal, just make sure you don’t get caught and the story gets published etc..etc.. The actual crime is nothing, only when its published does it become a chilul hashem.

    (when the shomrim six case was happening, these idiots also scream chilul hashem, only once it was in the papers…this is why they must be defeated, not convinced).

    3. Why the Meshichistim hate this book?

    a – Meshichistim Mossrim tried to erase the Shomrim Six trial/Mesira from history, this book etches their mesira in to stone, forever.

    b – THE TRUTH HURTS

    c – It reminds them that the Shomrim won (or better yet, got to keep their freedom) and they lost!

    d – Considering all the above. The Meshichistim Mossrim can not scream victim (“cry wolf”) anymore and we all know how they yearn to be the “victim”.

    Note to Meshichist:

    Any attention brought to a book, positive or negative, is ultimately good for the book. More people (from both sides), will buy the book. The publisher will always win.

    Notice: 1BC purposely left the link to jihad.info distorted version of what took place at 749. 1BCS has linked those lies many times, to prove a point. The point being is that the truth with ultimately out shine any propaganda. Remember, the case was lost for the Meshichistim after the seven meshichist mossrim testified to the exact things you published (all seven were found to be lairs. All seven turned out-from their own testimony in a court of law – to be the aggressors).

    Bottom line:
    Shomrim won and you lost, nothing you say will ever change that fact!

  6. Peter Moskos Says:

    A thrilling read that propels the reader into a most enjoyable fracas. Shaer delves deep into one of America’s most fascinating and closed religious subcultures, the Crown Heights Lubavitcher Jews of New York City. Even if you don’t know the difference between a bagel and bialy, you’ll learn how and why our most devout beliefs can bring us together and drive us apart.

    – Peter Moskos, author of Cop in the Hood

  7. Sudhir Venkatesh Says:

    An engrossing read, from the first page to the last. How many of us have looked at Orthodox Hasidic enclaves and wondered about the life and people within? With a keen eye and empathetic ear, Shaer takes us into this world. Brooklyn, New York is the setting for a courtroom drama that pits the insular world of the Hasidim against the secular world outside. The book feels novelistic, but it is all too true, and Shaer brings to life the great characters: gangs, lawyers, religious leaders, victims, and perpetrators. All come alive in this wonderful, riveting book.

    –Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets

  8. From the Inside Flap of Book Says:

    It began as a very loud, perhaps violent, argument between two incompatible roommates at a yeshiva dormitory at 749 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Things seemed to be settling down, until members of the Shomrim, Crown Heights’s Hasidic Community police, arrived. What occurred over the next several minutes transformed a disagreement over a mattress into a major incident that would tear at the fabric of a close-knit community and expose many of its secrets to the prying eyes of the outside world.

    In Among Righteous Men, journalist Matthew Shaer delivers a fast-paced and compelling account of the brawl and its lengthy and unsettling aftermath. He explains what the fracas at 749 had to do with a religious schism within the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch Hasidic community, why it resulted in unprecedented criminal prosecutions in which Jews testified against Jews, and how it forced one man to make a wrenching choice between standing up for what he believed in or stepping back from the good fight to save his brothers and close friends from possible prison terms.

    Drawing on personal interviews with major figures on both sides of the schism, as well as court transcripts, press coverage, and historical documents, Shaer creates a tense, dramatic narrative peppered with concise and pertinent background information. He reveals why the “Shomrim Six,” who attempted to quell the disturbance in the dormitory, were charged with multiple felony counts, including assault, and he explains why the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office was reluctant to prosecute these defendants. He also provides a clear and careful explanation of the seemingly minute differences between two factions within the Lubavitch community.

    Shaer presents all of the major events in this riveting tale through the eyes of the alleged victims and perpetrators, police officers, and prosecuting and defense attorneys, assisted by commentary from longtime Crown Heights residents. You’ll experience the initial melee through the eyes of those who claimed to have been beaten by the Shomrim, follow the prosecutors as they build their case, and listen as the Shomrim Six debate whether to accept a plea bargain or risk prison time with a not guilty plea.

    Among Righteous Men is a gripping read filled with car chases, tragic figures, racial strife, and tense courtroom scenes as well as insights into Hasidic life and culture. It is part fascinating exposé, part gritty inner-city true-crime story, and a 100% page-turner.

  9. Inside the Ultra-Orthodox Shomrim Force Says:

    By Josh Nathan-Kazis • Forward

    Jewish Security Patrol Wins Kudos and Takes Criticism

    When 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky went missing in Brooklyn last June, it took two hours for anyone in Leiby’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood to inform the police. The local volunteer Jewish security patrol heard almost immediately.

    The patrol, known as the Shomrim, organized a massive posse to search Boro Park for the boy. But it was the police who found him days later — hacked to pieces, in a nearby dumpster and in the alleged murderer’s freezer.

    Jewish security patrols have existed for decades in Orthodox enclaves in New York, but few have received as much outside attention as the Boro Park volunteers in the days after Leiby’s murder. Early on, the Shomrim’s rapid response drew praise, but after the praise came questions, some of them damning.

    A new book by former Christian Science Monitor staff reporter Matthew Shaer goes some way toward explaining why Leiby’s parents didn’t call the cops when they lost their child. In Hasidic Brooklyn, the Jewish Orthodox security patrol is more than just a neighborhood watch: A powerful local force, it is central to communal identity, and in a community eager to preserve its insularity, it forms a buffer against secular authorities.

    Shaer’s book, “Among Righteous Men: A Tale of Vigilantes and Vindication in Hasidic Crown Heights,” doesn’t deal directly with the Shomrim of Boro Park. Instead, it looks at a Lubavitch neighborhood in Crown Heights and digs deep into the culture and context of a similar patrol that operates there.

    In December 2007, the Crown Heights Shomrim stormed a yeshiva dormitory unprovoked, thrashing yeshiva boys in a large-scale gang attack. Or perhaps the Shomrim themselves were ambushed, set upon and outnumbered after being lured into a trap. The brawl in room 107 at 749 Eastern Parkway — and the ongoing dispute about what actually happened there — is at the center of Shaer’s story. The implications of the fight ripple across Crown Heights and the entire Lubavitch empire.

    The yeshiva boys and the Shomrim are on opposite sides of a rift within the Lubavitch movement over the memory of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the movement’s charismatic rebbe, who died in 1994. While the Lubavitch establishment fears that expression of the messianic hopes that continue to surround Schneerson might scare away nonobservant Jews, fervent radicals like the yeshiva boys are swept up in the hope of imminent redemption. Without a strong successor to heal the rift, the split has grown severe.

    That much is well known. But what Shaer shows is that the division is even more acute in Crown Heights itself, where a brain drain has seen the young families from the Lubavitch mainstream leave Brooklyn to serve as emissaries in far-flung outposts, giving the messianists disproportionate sway over the movement’s spiritual headquarters. Crown Heights is a battlefield in an internecine war that’s mostly cold but sometimes flashes hot.

    The moderate Shomrim are key players in the fight for the neighborhood. A bunch of working-class Lubavitchers headquartered in an auto body shop, they don’t fit the stereotype of the young Hasid tethered to his books. Though they patrol the streets in vehicles that look strikingly similar to real cop cars, they’re more like a gang, or perhaps a college frat, than a professional police force. They have a beef with just about everyone in the neighborhood: the messianist yeshiva boys, a rival patrol called the Shmira and even the police.

    Shaer’s description of the relationship between the Shomrim and the local police precinct is particularly telling. In one scene, a local community affairs officer of the New York City Police Department asks the Shomrim to declare a truce with the Shmira, to accept police training and to submit their members for background checks. The Shomrim refuse.

    Shaer writes that “the average Hasid preferred to be policed and protected by his own. A security patrol vetted and trained by the city would really just be a proxy for the city and therefore somehow tainted.”

    Things get hot for the Shomrim after they turn down the police department offer. For a group of men dedicated to a lifestyle apart from contemporary society and culture, their wartime tactics are surprisingly modern and high-tech. An anonymous blog, presumably run by the Shomrim, bashes the Shmira online. Shmira members take to interfering with Shomrim radio channels, so the Shomrim hire an expert to use advanced radio equipment to catch them in the act.

    Perhaps most shockingly for the insular Lubavitchers, the fight makes its way to the New York court system. Prosecutors bring a criminal case against the Shomrim over the dormitory brawl, with help from men sympathetic to the Shmira — a stunning development in a community that has its own parallel religious legal processes and strict mores against airing disputes before secular courts.

    Throughout, Shaer reveals the messy underbelly of Lubavitch Crown Heights with the language and pacing of the true-crime genre. He creates compelling characters out of the dispute’s colorful central figures, and expertly weaves context with narrative, though at times Shaer’s descriptions are overwrought: One cop’s desk is piled with “enough paper to power a Kinko’s joint for six years”; an Israeli speaks English with a “chewy” accent.

    More significantly, the dormitory fight that is the book’s centerpiece is a messy, complex case. There’s no clean ending here. Though a state jury hands down a decision, the questions that remain about the fight and its motivations could leave a reader feeling frustrated even after the book ends with the “vindication” promised in the title. But the complexity of the story is not Shaer’s fault, and his distillation of the broad crisis facing the Lubavitch community is a compelling one.

    As for the wider implications for Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox security patrols, Shaer’s book goes some distance toward humanizing the Shomrim. But the author does little to assure us of their competence. For these independent Jewish security patrols, it seems that their independence is as much the point as their security work.

  10. Deborah Feldman's Reviews Says:

    As a former member of the Hasidic community myself, I often find literature written by outsiders lacking in accuracy and depth, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that not only did Shaer get his facts perfectly straight, but he delved so vigorously into the fabric of the Crown Heights community that even I was able to learn something new about it.

    Although I have relatives in the Lubavitch sect (in fact, one of the characters in this book is my uncle) and I spent some time in Crown Heights as a child, my orientation was always Satmar, and because Hasidic communities are intensely private, there is a lot that other Hasids don’t know about the Lubavitch sect. What we do know is that they are the only Messianic sect, something that other Jews see as an affront against God and the Hasidic tradition. For this reason, the Lubavitcher Hasids are very cautious about the image they present to the public, and messiah-related talk is usually restricted to the very inner circle. Learning about how that inner-circle operates was fascinating even to me, already overly-acquainted with the convoluted workings of Hasidic society. Messianic Judaism is a mysterious and mesmerizing topic; although such movements have occurred occasionally in our history it had always been difficult for me to understand how a cult of personality could grow out of a religion that goes out of its way to warn against such a phenomenon. Still, after reading this book, I can see the logic and machinations behind such an enterprise; I can understand the seductiveness of a subtly shifting message.

    It amazes me that Shaer was able to pull off such an intimate and thorough portrayal of this world, although it is a testament to his sensitivity as a journalist; he conducted interviews with key people in a very skilled way, and he was obviously made to feel somewhat comfortable while doing so. He retains complete objectivity throughout the narrative, without ever making you think about it; good and bad are lined up alongside each other without judgement. However, the language is forthright and the narrative fast-paced, propelling you very quickly along the path to discovery. I found my perspective on this community changing and deepening in ways I did not expect. In the end, I realized that the combination of insider knowledge and outsider views came together in this book to create a multidimensional portrait of a world that is often seen as black and white.

    This book is a raw, blood-pumping journey through the past and present-day world of Crown Heights. It follows the painful details of a religious feud; the men participating in the fracas are at once exalted warriors of God and bodies surging with testosterone-fueled blood lust. You’ll be tempted to read it in one sitting, but you’ll also want to take the time to absorb the smartly condensed pieces on historical background offered up between the tensely drawn action scenes. They are immensely informative and unlike some other, more academic texts, they are blessedly free of scholarly verbiage and other such runaround that I am accustomed to seeing in similar works. I can’t recommend this enough; to my readers out there who are looking for more literature on the Hasidic community that won’t overlap with my own story but will provide just as much accuracy and satisfying detail, read about Matthew Shaer’s adventures “Among Righteous Men.”

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