A panel of rabbis has ruled that a Hebrew school at the center of a dispute that has split Montgomery County's Orthodox Jewish community should be run by a board of students' parents instead of by the synagogue where it was founded.

Leaders on both sides of the issue that has divided much of the county's Jewish community predicted that the rabbinical court's decision on control of Silver Spring Hebrew Day Institute would help mend the year-old rift.

"It should end the fighting," one said. "At least I hope it does."

That fighting has ranged from courtroom bickering to a classroom altercation that left kindergarten children splattered with milk.

The dispute had been headed for trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court, but Judge Stanley B. Frosh agreed to let a Bet Din -- panel of rabbis -- arbitrate the dispute according to Halakha, the Jews' unwritten law.

As the panel and participants agreed, public airing of the strife already had brought shame on the Jewish community.

The Silver Spring Hebrew Day Institute, which is now located in Kensington, was set up in 1973 in the Silver Spring Jewish Center, an Orthodox synagogue directed by Rabbi Herzel Kranz.

Three years later, it was incorporated independent of the synagogue in order to obtain funding from the United Jewish Appeal. When board members began talking of expanding the school, which had grown cramped in the synagogue, people began arguing about who controlled the school's future and its funds, who owned its property and who was entitled to its name.

Last February, Kranz -- as honorary dean of the school -- tried to fire the principal, Rabbi Jeffrey Rubenstein, and ended up locking Rubenstein in his own office.

In April, the board and its supporters split with the synagogue and moved the institute to Kensington. The strife climaxed when one school board member tried to retrieve school supplies from the old facility and became involved in a scuffle. The ensuing altercation in a kindergarten classroom left 5-year-olds splattered with milk.

The religious tribunal a week ago awarded the school board the right to call the Kensington school the Silver Spring Hebrew Day Institute. That means it can retain not only its name but the tax-exempt status and state certification that goes with it.

The faction backed by Kranz has founded another school, the Hebrew Day School of Montgomery County. The rabbinical court left it up to the two sides to divide the property once shared by the synagogue and the institute. One observer familiar with the history of bickering said that could take from "two weeks to two years."

"The issue is not completely resolved, but we're on our way to a settlement," was the cautious appraisal offered by Alan Weitzner, vice president of the institute's board