Last September, Aron Rottenberg did something radical.
Along with some friends, he began worshiping not at the grand synagogue at the center of this ultra-Orthodox Skver Hasidic community in Rockland County, but outside the village at a residence for the elderly.
Before long, a rabbinical court ruled that praying outside the synagogue was a serious violation of community rules.
Next, groups outside Mr. Rottenberg’s house smashed windows and dumped his daughter’s school desk and books on the front porch. And on May 22, an early-morning attack left Mr. Rottenberg with third-degree burns over most of his body.
Shaul Spitzer, 18, who lived in the house of Grand Rabbi David Twersky and worked as his butler, was charged with attempted murder and attempted arson. Mr. Spitzer, too, was hospitalized with serious burns.
The attack on Mr. Rottenberg, 43, who has lived in New Square for 30 years, is drawing renewed attention to the insular and rapidly growing Hasidic communities in Rockland and Orange Counties, and in particular to what some see as a symbiotic relationship of ultra-Orthodox communities with government officials and politicians.
Mr. Rottenberg’s lawyer, Michael Sussman, requested a federal hate-crime investigation in a May 26 letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Mr. Sussman said officials in the town of Ramapo, where New Square is located, had long been intimidated by the Hasidic community’s often-unanimous bloc vote, leaving them unwilling to investigate leaders of the community.
The attack, Mr. Sussman wrote, “was not just an isolated incident against one particular family.”
“Rather,” he continued, “it illustrates a systemic crisis of religious bigotry and intolerance” in New Square and similar Hasidic communities. He said he planned to file suit this week against the village leadership.
Hank Sheinkopf, a public relations executive representing a group of New Square citizens, said of the May 22 attack, “This is a singular act, which is not reflective of the community, which has a history of living very much in peace and quiet.”
Ramapo police officials said Friday that they were working with F.B.I. agents in the investigation.
Grand Rabbi Twersky, 70, who has led New Square, and Skverer Hasidim worldwide, since his father died in April 1968, issued a statement four days after the attack in which he said he was praying for Mr. Rottenberg’s recovery.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the use of violence under any circumstances,” he said.
The Rottenberg family had recently installed surveillance cameras, out of fear of attacks and harassment. Mr. Rottenberg’s eldest son, Jacob, was monitoring the cameras around 4 a.m. on May 22 when he saw at least one intruder placing gasoline-soaked rags behind the house. Screaming, he awoke his father, who ran outside only to have the gasoline explode and set him afire.
Mr. Spitzer was ordered held on $300,000 bail during his arraignment at the burn unit of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, where he has been treated for burns to his arms and hands.
Initially, local officials played down the attack. Peter Brower, Ramapo’s police chief, said there was no evidence linking it to previous incidents. The town supervisor, Christopher St. Lawrence, who was re-elected in 2009 with the support of virtually all of New Square’s 2,000 voters, said he had conferred with the deputy mayor of New Square, Israel Spitzer, and was assured that the attack was an isolated event. The suspect is Mr. Spitzer’s cousin.
But police records show that the Rottenberg family had reported increasing threats and attacks since mid-September, when Mr. Rottenberg and some friends began praying at the residence for the elderly. Mr. Rottenberg has since said he started to do so because a friend there was being treated for cancer.
The Journal News, a newspaper Mr. Rottenberg visited in November, saying he feared for his safety, reported Sunday that violence in the community was the result of gangs of young zealots intent on supporting the rabbi.
Mr. St. Lawrence did not respond to phone calls on Friday.
A county legislator, Joe Meyers, called for a federal investigation and criticized Mr. St. Lawrence’s response. He said there were indications of a concerted effort “to intimidate Mr. Rottenberg and to effectively deny him his legal right to worship where he pleases.”
Eliot L. Engel, who represents part of Rockland County in Congress, termed the attack “horrific” and urged an investigation, without calling for federal involvement.