Two camps immediately emerged as contenders for the throne: The first led by Rabbi Beryl Poversky and Rabbi Gershon Edelshtein (the heir-to-be of 95-year-old Rabbi Elyashiv), and the second headed by Rabbi Shmuel Markovich.
In the most recent incident related to the power struggle, the yeshiva’s administrative director, Aharon Gertner, was arrested Wednesday after police claimed he attempted to assualt menbers of Rabbi Markovich’s faction with an ax.
Gertner claimed that the people he attacked had invaded one of the yeshiva’s structures, and that he was merely trying to drive them away. Following his arrest, Gertner suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized, but in the meantime, the court has issued a restraining order banning him from approaching within 500 meters of the yeshiva, its directors and employees.
Prestige undermined by war
Ponevezh used to be the most prestigious yeshiva in the haredi world, but the violence that has been attached to its name since the internal struggle began has significantly harmed its reputation.
Two years ago, after several years of truce, the status quo between the rivals was violated after the Edelshtein-Povarsky camp appointed Rabbi Haim Peretz Berman as the new yeshiva head. Immediately following the appointment, the rabbi was assaulted with sticks and hospitalized. Berman was replaced by Rabbi Haim Shlomo Lebovic, whose first lecture was held under heavy security of dozens of policemen. Upon returning home that day, he found an explosive device waiting for him at his doorstep.
The police believe that the war is far from over, as its resolution depends on one of the sides finally withdrawing from the contest over control. Meanwhile, the district police chief summons the yeshiva’s leaders to his office once every few weeks for a talk, which is usually followed by a short-lived truce that ends whenever a new conflict – over the distribution of food or rooms in the yeshiva for instance – emerges.
Dudi Nissim and Chaim Levinson contributed to the report