NEW CITY, N.Y. – An 18-year-old student from a Hasidic Jewish enclave has been indicted on an attempted murder charge in a fiery attack on a religious dissident.
Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said Thursday that Shaul Spitzer of New Square was also charged with attempted arson and assault.
The case has brought unusual attention to New Square, an insular village of 7,000 people, nearly all of them members of the Skver Hasidic sect. The sect takes its name from the Ukrainian village of Skver, where its members had been decimated during the Holocaust and for which New Square is named.
In the pre-dawn hours of May 22, Aron Rottenberg of New Square suffered burns over half his body when he confronted someone carrying a flammable liquid outside his home.
"As I grabbed him ... we both just burst into flames," a scarred Rottenberg said at a news conference Wednesday. He was released Monday from a hospital.
Relatives said they were watching for an attack because they had endured broken windows and threats ever since Rottenberg began worshipping at a nearby nursing home instead of the main synagogue.
Police arrested Spitzer, who was also burned, and said he was trying to burn down Rottenberg's house.
Spitzer's attorney, Kenneth Gribetz, denied the allegations.
"Mr. Spitzer has expressed tremendous remorse and sorrow for whatever injuries were caused," Gribetz said. "He had no intention whatsoever to cause any injury to anybody in the home or to murder anybody."
Spitzer also did not plan to burn down the house, Gribetz said.
Rottenberg's family has alleged in a lawsuit that the attack was directed by Grand Rebbe David Twersky because of Rottenberg's defiance.
"Definitely the community leaders are involved in this," Rottenberg said.
Twersky has decried the attack and has not been charged.
Gribetz said Thursday that Spitzer has denied that Twersky encouraged or even knew about the attack.
Spitzer is to be arraigned Friday.