(photo credit: ANDREW KELLY / REUTERS)
A young hassidic man who firebombed a neighbor’s house in a religious dispute three years ago is to be given early release from prison after a New York court retroactively granted him youthful offender status on Tuesday.
Shaul Spitzer was 18 when he set fire to the house of Aron Rottenberg, a fellow resident of the insular hassidic village of New Square, New York, in 2012, causing severe burns over half of his body.
According to local newspaper The Journal News, Rockland County Court Judge William Kelly decided that Spitzer had matured in prison and that he was not the same man he was when he tried to impress the hassidic leadership of his community by taking the law into his own hands.
The Skverer Hassidic sect, which largely runs New Square, is very strict and maintains rules regulating what its adherents eat, what they wear and where they pray.
Spitzer, who was living in the house of Grand Rabbi David Twersky at the time, attacked Rottenberg due to the latter’s decision to pray outside of the town’s central synagogue.
Prior to the arson, Rottenberg had been harassed by other neighbors in the forms of rock attacks, threatening phone calls and the expulsion of one of his children from a local school. He subsequently sued both Spitzer and Twersky for what he termed a coordinated campaign against him and his family.
Rottenberg later received a settlement from the Skverer Hassidic movement of more than $3 million.
According to The Journal News
, during Tuesday’s court appearance, Kelly said that he “got the impression [that Spitzer] was sincere,” and taking into account Rottenberg’s call for leniency when Spitzer was initially sentenced, he felt comfortable in ordering him freed.
A video clip posted to the haredi website matzav.com purported to show Skverer Hassidim dancing and singing in celebration of Spitzer’s release.
Rottenberg spoke out against Spitzer’s release, telling the judge that despite initially advocating for leniency, he did not believe that the young man should be set free now.
“If they succeed in getting Spitzer out early, it will actually prove to them that they do have the power in the justice system and they will be able to brainwash their community even a lot stronger,” he told The Journal News