Skip to main content

New York ultra-Orthodox welcome ostracized Israeli rabbi

Disgraced Rabbi Shaul Alter is banished from his Gur community in Israel, but he found a very warm welcome on a trip to the United States.
Rabbi Shaul Alter

ASHDOD, Israel — American ultra-Orthodox Jews are celebrating the visit to Brooklyn of Israeli Rabbi Shaul Alter, a former senior Gur figure. The Gur sect is the largest Hassidic group in the world, with two main centers in Israel and in the United States. It wields a lot of influence over Jewish life in the diaspora as well as on Israeli politics.

Alter's arrival was his second visit in New York as a Hassidic leader after a first last year. As in his 2021 visit, the American ultra-Orthodox community welcomed him effusively. In an enormous tent in Boro Park, thousands of followers hung on his every word. His meetings with prominent American rabbis were heavily covered by local ultra-Orthodox newspapers.

Such visits by major rabbis usually make headlines in the Israeli ultra-Orthodox press, but this one was practically ignored. Why?

The story starts three years ago with a dispute between a Gur follower named David Berliner and the Gur leadership over a children’s summer camp at the Catskills, New York. Berliner allegedly seized control of the camp's funds after claiming it had not paid him what he was owed. The seizure infuriated the Gur leadership, which immediately called for the community-wide shunning of Berliner. Alter published a letter of support for Berliner and his fate was sealed.

Alter comes from a dynasty of Gur rabbis and is the cousin of the current grand rabbi. He has long been viewed as a brilliant Torah scholar and headed the prestigious Sfat Emet yeshiva for many years. But after the letter came out, Alter was removed from all his roles and has been persecuted ever since. The Gur court declared that anyone who joined Alter’s community would be persecuted as well. The children his followers are banned from the community's schools.

A scandal involving an Alter-following family erupted a few months ago, when two girls, one of them underage, went missing and their parents accused the Gur court of kidnapping or brainwashing their daughters. The accusations greatly angered the Gur leadership, which made an announcement via the community’s closed telephone system to defend the grand rabbi. As a result, thousands of angry Gur Hasidim stormed the synagogues of Alter-following splinter groups in Bnei Brak, Jerusalem and Ashdod, damaging property and causing injuries.

Despite the violence in Israel, in the large American Gur community, many rabbis refused to take part in the banishment. A few young Gur Hasidim ripped up the flyers about the rabbi’s expected visit, but the destruction backfired. Pictures of torn announcements were disseminated in the social networks, greatly angering the Gur community.

An ultra-Orthodox American rabbi told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “In the US, with its Declaration of Independence, people are free live their lives as they choose. This includes the ultra-Orthodox world as well. Thus, while in Israel the Gur hegemony succeeds in terrorizing senior grand rabbis and prevents them from meeting Rabbi Alter and supporting him, this kind of banishment doesn’t work in the US. Here, the public is more likely to support the persecuted underdog. The fact is that when the grand rabbi of Gur went to the US to attend his grandson’s wedding, there were hardly any discussions of the split.”

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

Text Alerts - Be the first to get breaking news, exclusives, and PRO content.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial