When the tunnels were discovered in December at the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, the synagogue’s leaders called in construction crews to flood them with concrete.
But a group of Chabad-Lubavitch students in their teens and early 20s gathered at the building on Monday afternoon in an attempt to protect the hidden passageways.
Videos from the scene captured Orthodox men vandalising a cement truck that had begun to pump cement into the tunnel.
Others were seen entering the building and tearing up wood paneling, revealing a network of pathways beneath.
Several of the men ran into the tunnels to stop them being filled, while one used a hammer to smash the synagogue wall to make the tunnel wider.
The group also overturned seats and confronted police.
In another video, a young Orthodox Jewish man climbs out of a hole in the pavement outside the building, then runs away.
On X, footage went viral of a showdown between police and a crowd of Orthodox Jewish men inside the building has amassed more than five million views.
In the clip, three men stand inside the tunnel with one casually sipping a drink.
Social media users expressed their confusion at the scene, with many asking: ‘What am I looking at here?’
A woman named Emma Batsheva Saulz captured the collective thought, writing: ‘I’m really not sure what I just watched but it’s wild.’
10 people were arrested by the New York Police Department and the synagogue has since been closed.
Here’s everything we know about the story so far.
Why are there secret tunnels under the Brooklyn synagogue?
The underground tunnels connected the women’s section of the 770 building to an unused mikveh on the nearby Union Street.
A mikveh is a bath used in traditional purity rituals. For instance, Jewish law requires women to immerse in a mikveh before marriage, and bathing in the mikveh is part of the Jewish conversion process.
One video of the tunnels shows a room the disused mikveh filled with a mound of earth and rubble. A small hole in the wall of the room leads to a long tunnel about a meter high.
According to one source, construction workers installing plumbing near the building discovered part of the tunnel when digging a trench to lay a waterline.
The discovery confirmed the suspicions of a Union Street resident who had reported hearing unusual noises at night over a period of time.
It’s unclear why the tunnels were created. The website Forward claims that the tunnels were dug to ‘expand’ the 770 building.
What is Chabad Lubavitch?
Chabad-Lubavitch is an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic group that originated in Russia. It is one of the largest Hasidic groups in the world.
Hasidic Judaism, also known as Chassidism, is an Orthodox Jewish movement that emerged in the 18th century. It draws on Jewish mysticism beliefs.
The word Hasidim literally means ‘religious ones’.
Hasidic Jewish men often wear white shirts with black overcoats. They also wear hats depending on which group they belong to.
Chabad men, for instance, wear black fedora hats. Hasidic Jewish women wear modest clothing that covers their knees, collarbone and elbows.
According to one estimate, there are up to 17,000 Chabad-Lubavitch households across the world, making up 13% of the global Hasidic population.
Who owns the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters?
The Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters are located in Brooklyn, New York, and is also known as ‘770’.
The building was purchased by an organisation representing the Chabad-Lubavitch in the 1940s and has since become a key location for the movement. It also serves as a synagogue.
A dispute over the ownership of the building has been ongoing for more than two decades.
Some Chabad-Lubavitch members believe that the late Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson is the Messiah and is still alive, while others believe he is dead.
The issue has long divided the Chabad-Lubavitch community, with the two factions battling for control of the 770 building.
The headquarters were previously controlled by the faction that believed that Schneerson was the Messiah.
However, a violent clash in 2004 over a plaque outside the headquarters, which implied that Schneerson was dead, led to a lawsuit over the ownership of the building.
In 2006, a court gave control of the headquarters to the ‘non-messianist’ Agudath Chasidei Chabad group.