Image: Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss
Stuart Ramson  /  AP
Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, foreground left, carries the Torah from the burnt-out ruins of the Bais Yehudi synagogue in Monsey, N.Y., on Monday. The congregation is part of the anti-Zionist Neturei Kartam movement, which had been heavily criticized for attending a conference in Iran last year where some participants denied the Holocaust.
updated 4/3/2007 4:24:21 PM ET 2007-04-03T20:24:21

Investigators said Tuesday they hadn’t found any evidence of arson in the fire that destroyed an anti-Zionist Jewish group’s synagogue.

The fire gutted the Neturei Karta’s three-story, century-old structure Sunday in what the group at first suspected was a deliberate act to target members because of their anti-Israel views.

Authorities initially agreed, but they backed off after getting a closer look at the charred house about 35 miles north of New York City.

“It does appears more likely than not that the cause was an accident,” said police Detective Sgt. John Lynch from neighboring Ramapo, which has jurisdiction over Monsey.

No one was injured in the fire that broke out on the eve of Passover, reportedly in a kitchen area. A senior Neturei Karta rabbi and his family, who lived on the top floor of the building, were not home at the time.

Three sacred scrolls were recovered seemingly undamaged but several other books were destroyed.

Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, a leader of Neturei Karta, called it a tragedy that so many holy books went up in flames. “A part of our heart and soul was taken away,” he said.

Congregants called ‘crackpots’
The blaze threw a spotlight on a group that residents of this largely Jewish community aren’t shy about describing with words like “traitor” and “crackpots.”

Members routinely burn the Israeli flag. They pray for the end of the Jewish state. A few members even traveled to Iran to participate in a Holocaust-denial conference.

Members of the group believe there should not be a Jewish state until the Messiah comes and leads them to the promised land. They also believe Israelis have used the Holocaust to gain sympathy and advantage.

“They are crazy, but no one should burn down their synagogue,” Holocaust survivor Shei Kormblue said as his family members made matzo for Passover. “God will punish whoever needs punishment. It’s not up to us.”

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