Shlichus Dispute Calls Territorial Claims into Question

A dispute between two Shluchim in the Washington, DC, area has spilled out into court, and an ugly brawl over turf and territorial control is once again threatening the spread of yiddishkeit to the tens of thousands of Jewish students in the area.

In a complaint filed in DC District Court by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the Shliach to Washington, DC, he claims that Rabbi Yudi Steiner, the Shliach serving Jewish students at George Washington University, had violated the terms of his employment contract and was therefore fired.

Shemtov states in his complaint that the “defendants had violated two provisions of the Contract. Specifically, Defendants failed to timely transfer to him data obtained in connection with those services and failed to timely remit to him contributions received by them in the course of their services.”

Prior Disagreement

Although this case had been initiated just a few months ago, the dispute runs much deeper and stretches back to 2008, just a short while after the Steiner family had moved to DC to start a Chabad House at George Washington University.

That dispute arose from reportedly unreasonable demands and burdens placed upon Steiner by Shemtov, who after resisting was promptly fired for the first time. When Steiner refused to abandon his Shlichus, Shemtov initiated a court proceeding against him, while Steiner demanded a Din Torah.

Shemtov balked and pressed on with his court proceedings in an effort to remove Steiner, but once Vaad Rabonei Lubavitch, the governing rabbinic authority over most matters that arise on Shlichus, had received Steiner’s request for a Din Torah, enormous pressure was put upon Shemtov to withdraw his actions from court.

Once both parties arrived to the Din Torah and stated their claims, the panel found that Steiner was improperly fired. A new and detailed employment contract was drawn up and signed by both Shemtov and Steiner in 2012.

New Work Agreement

The new employment agreement spells out the exact terms of Steiner’s employment, which precludes him from fundraising or arranging any programing without the expressed approval of Shemtov.

In turn, Shemtov was to provide all the costs for operating the Chabad House, including rent and money to cover programming expenses. Also, Shemtov was to provide Steiner with a monthly salary, health insurance, school tuition for his children and cover the cost of renting a three bedroom apartment near the university.

All donations raised through the Chabad at GW website were to be immediately transferred to Shemtov, who would then disburse the money to fund Chabad House activities. An addendum to the contract afforded Steiner the ability to raise $55,000 to cover the losses he incurred stemming from the first dispute.

Just two years have passed, and the agreement has not held up.

Breach of Contract

In the complaint filed by Shemtov, he claims that Steiner had breached the contract by not delivering ‘reports’ in a timely manner, and that he had raised money and not transferred it to him in a timely manner.

In his response, Steiner paints a completely different picture. He claims that for months Shemtov has been falling behind on paying the Chabad House’s expenses – as well as his own salary, that he is already owed $50,535.54 and that his landlord initiated eviction proceedings against his family’s apartment as well as the Chabad House.

According to the employment contract, Steiner has the right to challenge his termination by consulting a panel of Shluchim, a sort of Zabla, who will discuss the reasons for the termination, and their ruling should be “legally and halachically binding.”

A panel including three Shluchim was impaneled; they included Rabbis Yaakov Fellig, Shliach in Coconut Grove, FL, Shaul Wilhelm, Shliach in Oslo, Norway, and Mendel Kaplan, Shliach in Thornhill, Canada.

In a statement, they concluded that based upon what was presented to them by Shemtov Steiner violated the terms of his contractual agreement. They further stated that they felt incapable of giving an actual Psak Din, and that it was merely their opinion.

Wasting no time, Shemtov emailed the Steiners a day after the Zabla panel met and informed them of their immediate termination, and that they were expected to “…conclude your work at GW peacefully within 30 days and without causing any discomfort to me or [American Friends of Lubavitch].”

Demands to Remove the Dispute from Court

Steiner turned to the authorities in Merkos Linyonei Chinuch and demanded once again to be afforded his right to a Din Torah, stating that he has meritorious claims against Shemtov, who was the first one to breach the contact by not paying him.

Shemtov in turn claimed that Steiner has no right to call for another Din Torah, since he specifically agreed not to seek any alternative recourse outside of the framework provided in the contract.

The executive committee of Merkos sided with Steiner, stating that it “is a Halachic issue that needs to be determined by Rabbonim. And since Vaad Rabbonei Lubavitch refuses to deal with this issue, the parties should resort to a Zabla.”

The committee further decided that Steiner is to remain in his capacity as a Shliach until the matter is resolved, and that Steiner should restore Shemtov’s access to his website in the same manner it was prior to his termination.

Also, the committee insisted that Shemtov immediately remove the lawsuit against Steiner from the secular courts, and choose himself a Rabbi to be impaneled in a Zabla. As of the publication of this article, those demands have not been met, with Shemtov filing new court papers as recently as Wednesday.

Who is Really in Charge of Chabad in DC?

In his response to Shemtov’s lawsuit, Steiner claims that Shemtov misrepresented himself as the ‘ultimate rabbinic authority’ over Washington, DC, and that Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, the head Shliach to the State of Maryland, “has a prior and more authoritative claim on communal and university Chabad activities,” leaving political activities alone under Shemtov’s jurisdiction.

Steiner states that “this claim dates back to 1978, and was agreed to by Rabbi Hodakov, then the Director of Merkos and Chief of Staff to the Lubavitch Rebbe. Shemtov’s father, Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, also agreed to such division of jurisdiction in a signed letter to Rabbi Kaplan.”

1 Shemtov Complaint

2 Contract

3 Contract Addendum

4 Shluchim Zabla

5 Shluchim Zabla Clarification

6 Merkos Directives

7 Steiner Affidavit

8 Steiner Answer and Counterclaim

9 Kaplan Claim

10 Steiner Shemtov Psak Din

11 TRANSLATED Steiner Shemtov Psak Din

53 Comments

  • 2. Din and Dayan wrote:

    Sadly this is not the first and probably not the last time that theses “turf wars” in Lubavitcher are coming to light. Merkos unfortunately has little control over these matters. It is about time merkos sets up a third party (that are not nogeah bdavar) to mediate these matters.!

  • 6. the real complaint wrote:

    I believe the real complaint against steiner was that he was preventing his shlichus post being transferred to a now eligible son or son in law.

    Wake up yungeleit. The system is corrupt. Find a place and go out on shlichus on your own!

  • 7. always been bad wrote:

    The fact that Shemtov kept American University, Georgetown and George Washington, among other local college and universities WITHOUT Shluchim for well over a decade is a black eye on him, Merkos and Chabad on Campus.

    Who would want to work in such a “system”?

  • 9. WHY WHY WHY!!!!!!! wrote:

    Why oh why put these articles on a website like this!!
    Why does everyone have to know these politics. C’mon

    • 12. Anonymous wrote:

      Not really there are some Psycho’s out there that are control freaks. Most people know who they are but dealing them is impossible. They use the beis din to their advantage while the good guy is afraid to go to court. 9/10 of these cases would be won by the under Shlaich in a secular court but would never hurt the Rebbe, The under Shliach signed a one sided/abusive contract they have to live with. And if you use the “the Shlaich didnt need to sign the contract”. go tell that to Indian workers in Saudi Arabia that are slaves. The contracts and conditions are unfair (not in all cases by any stretch most head Shluchim are holy jews) but for the guys that are dealing with control freaks and abusive head Shluchim its hell. May Hashem deal with the oppressors by removing them from their jobs now!!!!! and then the Shluchim will be free to work in a healthy environment and Moshiach will truly come!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      PS clean up the Beis Dins. Too many machinations allowed. bring in a third party to call out abuse. There is no venue for the abuse. that’s why JCW does so well. People are sick of abuse and just want to live peaceful lives.

    • 13. Anonymous wrote:

      its about money because money controls. If it was exclusively about money this element would let the small Shliach earn a living and focus on making money. Its about narcissistic, ego maniacs with control issues. Unfortunately many people in the position of power let it get to their heads. You think Shemtov is making money from this? you think he worried about some college students making a donation for some kugel or the “building fund”. One of Shemtovs BB can give more than all of these kids combined ….its not about money.

  • 14. go yudi wrote:

    Rabbi yudi Is the greatest campus shliach out there. Made baal teshuvas and does the rebbes work with full emes.

  • 16. sad wrote:

    The point of shlichus is to assist others. Why can’t all of us help each other and our own as well?
    Chilul Lubavitch and should not be having to have this posted to all to see.

  • 17. Menachem Shmoy wrote:

    Pheh!
    Is this what we need to read here?
    This is going to bring Moshiach?

  • 18. not surprised wrote:

    I know of both parties & neither are probably blameless. As an uninvolved observer, albeit one with opinions, it seems to me that once again, Rabbi Shemtov’s ego gets in the way of doing what’s right.

    Chabad is becoming like the wild west – lawless in that everyone and his mother runs to court, instead of going to Beis Din & acting like a proper mentsch.

    These are Shluchim. We teach our children that Shlichus is the highest calling in Chabad (rightly or wrongly, that is the message & it’s another discussion.) We all know that Jews – FRUM Jews – do not go to court except as a last resort & with a psak din, UNLESS the other party refuses to go to Beis Din. That doesn’t seem to be the picture here, & even Merkos (who are very tight with Rabbi Shemtov Snr, a senior member of Agudas Chassidei Chabad) told Rabbi Levi Shemtov to go to a Din Torah AND pull the court case.

    What example does he send to our children? So he gets to shmooze with Presidents & high ranking dignitaries – does that make him putter from acting in a way that is a positive reflection on his Shlichus?

    He is so lucky his Daddy got him the job. What a chilul Lubavitch.

  • 19. What a chilul Lubavitch wrote:

    And I’m supposed to believe in this holy thing called shlichus??? It’s one big game and not serious at all. It’s all about fame and money and nothing to do with emes. Live and let live

  • 20. a person who doesn't usually comment wrote:

    I can’t believe a chabad website is publishing politics between shluchim, this has nothing to do with who is right and wrong these are things that are meant to remain quiet. I feel compelled to voice my opinion even though I usually don’t because this is chasing a big chilul lubavitch by printing these things even if they are true and some people know about them, the less the better
    STOP embarrassing shluchim

    • 23. Anonymous wrote:

      no rules leads to chaos. Show me the handbook. every corporation of this size has written rules. When there are no rule you have chaos.

  • 24. What to do when you are dealing with a clinical sociopath wrote:

    Sociopaths can’t ever loose. No matter how many contracts and verdicts there will be, as long as Mr. shemtov (sorry such a person does not deserve the title of Rabbi) does not get his way, he will be kicking his feet and crying like a baby, and will never let it go.
    The only thing Mr Shemtov has going for him is his last name which he holds on to for dear life. Beneath his “untouchable” frame lies very insecure pitiful man. I only hope for these Shluchim the Stieners , that they continue their shlichus and don’t loose sight of the ultimate goal which is to light another soul to yiddishkiet. As for the Mr. Shemtov, I suggest some heavy duty therapy…

    • 25. Anonymous wrote:

      I dont know who is right in this case but the Head shliach in my area is Sociopath par-excellence and gets away with womanizing, abuse etc and the head Shliach wont deal with it. So what do we do. JCW points out the abusers, This is more a halachic issue but if the rabbonim will give a legitimate forum to voice complaints people will not need to speak on these websites. The Rabbonim need to put an end to abuse by the head Shluchim.

  • 26. My dear friend! wrote:

    My Dear friend Rivky,
    My heart is crying that you once again have to go through this! Stay strong! Your “employer” my not believe it but there is a Hashem in this world who knows and sees it all. My only wish for you and your beautiful family is that you get the strength to keep sight of the goal you had when you went out on shlichus which is to mekarev yidden!
    Wishing you lots of luck to overcome this unexcuseable situation!
    Your old bff
    Amsterdam

  • 29. Ch resident wrote:

    How incredibly sad – for “rights” to Shlichus to be fought out in secular court! This is painful to read! I don’t think the Rebbe would approve at all!!!

  • 30. ?????? wrote:

    WHY IN THE WORLD ARE YOU PUTTING THIS THING UP ITS ONLY DELAYING MOSHIACHS COMING
    IF YOU HAVE ALITTLE BRAINS TAKE IT OFF
    THIS A RANDOM NOT CHABAD BUT A JEW THAT JUST WANTS MOSHIACH NOW!!!

  • 31. Sad but true wrote:

    As painful as this is to read, and unfortunate it is that it is public, in a sense I am glad that it is because it reminds all parties involved that they do not live in a bubble and that their egos are now subject to public scrutiny.

  • 32. Simple Questions wrote:

    1) If Rabbi Kaplan is indeed the Head Shliach on the entire State (including Washington DC) – so what is the whole hassle? Let him make a contract with Rabbi Steiner and pay him directly, who cares if Rabbi Shemtov fired him or not?

    2) If Rabbi Shemtov is not adhering to Merkos – why is he himself still a Shliach (under Merkos)?

  • 33. No thanks wrote:

    Why do we need to know about these disputes? Its not my business and dont apreciate coming on to your website and seeing them.

  • 35. Puzzled wrote:

    Don’t get it. A Schliach ignores the parent body’s instruction to take the dispute up with Rabbonim. Instead, he violates halacho and goes to secular court…and no consequences! This one is going to come back to bite them.

  • 37. as a poshute yiddenne wrote:

    so let me get this straight

    this shameful behaviour on all sides ,by people who claim to be “the rebbe”s mentchen”,who our children think are the important chassidim,unlike the “farmers” of crown heights—–is actually a power struggle between Moishe Kotlarsky and Avremel Shemtov???

    Gantzz poshut,aha
    gut shabbos

  • 38. Truth wrote:

    Steiners, may you have hatzlacha in this and all the beautiful things that you do. Iyh goodness will prevail, and all ppl and things who try and stop that will be taught the hard way…
    Countinue behatzlacha with full support of Shluchim and anash around the world !!

  • 39. Schneur wrote:

    Why are shemtovs always in court. And now the next generation if shemtivs. – chilul lubavitch!!!

  • 41. Sad and even more sad. wrote:

    It sounds like Shem Tov would like to have mesiras nefesh for the Rebbe’s inyonim but with a condition it has to be done the way I like it and then I will have mesiras nefesh to do it. This is actually what tohu is all about. Disclaimer: I don’t know the facts.

  • 42. last paragraph says it all.. wrote:

    I doubt you will even publish this comment but i just wanted to mention;

    I know both parties well involved in this case;

    However…

    1) Steiner signed the original contract with all of its crazy stipulations but he signed it so who is at fault for that?

    2) The last paragraph says it all “Who is in charge of Chabad DC”, Yudi Steiner is being used as a pawn in a game to usurp Levi Shemtov’s success in DC he may not even knowingly be doing this, there are people are the board of Merkos out to destroy Shemtov… The article says the Executive Board of Merkos sided with Steiner .. of course they did Shmuel Kaplan is on the Executive Vaad!!

    3) There is an individual on the Merkos board who does tremendously wonderful work for the world of Lubavitch yet his gaivaah gets to him time after time and he destroys shlichusin one after the other … Take a look around and you will see that i am not spewing venom just facts..

    Vehamaivin Yovin

  • 43. its a shame wrote:

    All the good the shemtovs have done both in west Bloomfield and Washington r all going down the tube due their extreme arrogance and lack of respect
    Mes must save the shluchim system and immediately remove r berel and r Levi for ignoring vral
    And embarrassing lubavitch it’d a shame. How arrogance can destroy years of good work I lost all my respect for these people and the end of the day they put their ego first and front center all the chased us they ever learnt means nothing they are one of the same the same as any wall street executive that feels slighted r Levi shemtovs Mabe right but has no right to go to court and embarrassed lubavitch besides the fact that DC had zero chabad outreach for years besides chanukah in the front lawn

  • 44. chaim wrote:

    its a very harsh contract but one the things that Rabbi Steiner clearly signed is that even if there is a disagreement he would keep the contract confidential that is something that he clearly signed and just on that basis alone of clearly breaking his own contract…..

  • 45. Shemotv Shlichus to the World wrote:

    It seems that the Shemtovs view their mission of shlichus as making lawyers rich.

    So sad.

  • 46. the observer wrote:

    I don’t know how this particular article is for public eyes? It makes the shluchim look greedy and not have the mesiras nefesh they have to go out. The typical crownheightser will not understand when all their comforts are taken care for. which is the audience. Is this the impression that crown heights .info wants to leave? we will never know the full story both sides seem to think theyre right . 2 pple, with all there families. Which include there wives/children/parents/grandparents/siblings. and here we are meant to judge and take sides. poor choice . please choose better material in the future.

  • 49. Mel wrote:

    The Steiners were a family to me for the past 5 years. They gave me insight into Judaism, and helped me on my journey of becoming more religious and keeping Halacha. This story saddens me and disappoints me. Isn’t this against the whole university Chabad principle?

  • 50. Joe Bloom wrote:

    This would really be a good opportunity to shut down the mafia enforcer aspect of Chabad. No one owns a territory. No one owns the exclusive right to be a Rabbi in any place. Their internal setups are not the law. Chabad is not a government. They have to judicial power. i would say that the non-compete are not in the least bit enforceable as in violation of the Constitution.if the Chabad want to respect their agreements on their community, that’s their business, but they should not be enforceable in the least bit by a real Court. Time to stop this kind of behavior. This Shem Tov is acting so stupid – he more to lose than gain by acting like this. They should throw the Hebrew words out of the complaint- they have no significance. A shonda fun Der goyim

  • 51. Chilul Hashem wrote:

    Rabbi Shem tov, you being the representative of Chabad in one of the most Democratic governments in the world. Why are you acting like a dictator?

  • 52. Yechezkel Schreiber wrote:

    When I read about this matter in a Washington, DC newspaper over Shabbos, I was appalled over the fact that Rabbi Shemtov wrote a contract with a non-compete clause against another sh’liach. While I am not a chasid of the Rebbe, I met him when I was 7 years old and my wife’s family has many shlichim. I can’t imagine that any of them would be “upset” if another sh’liach had success in the city they lived in! Baltimore has more than one Chabad House, and the city is better off for it! Perhaps rabbi Shemtov has another sh’liach he’s rather see at GW??

  • 53. ברוך דיין האמת. המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים ולא תוסיפו לדבאה עוד . תנוחמו מן השמים. ולא תדעו עוד צער wrote:

    ne’Now!

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