Chaim of Sanz

Satmar (Hasidic dynasty)

Satmar (or Satmar Hasidism or Satmarer Hasidism) (חסידות סאטמאר) is a Hasidic movement of mostly Hungarian and Romanian Hasidic Jews who survived World War II. It was founded and led by the late Hungarian-born Grand Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum (1887-1979), who was the rabbi of the town of Szatmárnémeti, Kingdom of Hungary (now Satu Mare, Romania) up to World War II. Members of his congregation are mainly referred to as Satmar Hasidim or Satmarer Hasidim.

The 2 largest Satmar communities are in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Kiryas Joel, New York; There are also significant Satmar communities in Borough Park, Brooklyn; Monsey, New York; and smaller communities can be found in North America, Europe, Israel, Argentina and Australia. The late Satmar Rebbe, Reb Yoel, also held the title of the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem's Edah HaChareidis (an ultra orthodox anti Zionist community in Jerusalem), although he did not live in Jerusalem since 1946.

Satmar is one of the largest and most influential Hasidic movements in existence today, but formal demographic comparisons with other Hasidim are not available. It is believed now, however, to number close to 130,000 adherents, and is rapidly growing due to the extremely high fertility rates of this group. This population figure does not include a number of smaller and related anti-Zionist Hungarian Hasidic groups who align themselves with Satmar.

Name

The original Hungarian name of the town of origin was Szatmár. The name appeared at first in a document written in 1213 in the form "Zotmar". Originally it was derived from a personal name. The Romanian name was first Sǎtmar, differing only in orthography from the Hungarian one, but in 1925 was officially changed to Satu Mare. That version means "large village," with the Romanian Satu ("village") deriving from the Latin fossatum, while Mare means "large" in Romanian.

There is a well known folk etymology, repeated both among members of Satmar itself, as well in outside literature about the group, that Satu Mare [which is the Romanian translation of the word Szatmar] actually meant "Saint Mary." Many Hasidim - including sometimes - the Satmar Rebbe, Reb Yoel referred to the town as "Sakmar" so as not to use its allegedly "pagan" name. The folk story not withstanding, the vast majority of younger hasidim now use the original Hungarian name "Satmar".

Outline of Satmar Rebbe's Hasidic lineage

  • Rebbe Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), founder of Hasidism
  • his disciple, Rebbe Dov Ber (1710-1772), the Maggid of Mezritch
  • his disciple, Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk (1717-1786), the Noam Elimelech
  • his disciple, Rebbe Yaakov Yitzchak (1745-1815), the Chozeh of Lublin
  • 1. his disciple, Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum of Ujhely (1759-1841), the Yismach Moshe
    • 2. his son, Rebbe Eluzer Nissan Teitelbaum of Drubitsch (1786-1854)
      • 3. his son, Rebbe Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum of Sighet (1808-1883), the Yetev Lev
        • 4. his son, Rebbe Chananyah Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum of Sighet (1836-1904), the Kedushas Yom Tov
          • 5. Rebbe Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum of Sighet (1884-1926), the Atzei Chaim, eldest son of Kedushas Yom Tov
          • 5. Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum (1887-1979), Satmar Rebbe, author of Divrei Yoel and VaYoel Moshe; youngest son of Kedushas Yom Tov
            • 6. Rebbe Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum of Sighet (1911-1944), son of Atzei Chaim and son-in-law of his uncle Rebbe Yoel
            • 6. Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum (1914-2006), the previous Satmar Rebbe, author of Berach Moshe; son of Atzei Chaim
              • 7. Rebbe Aaron Teitelbaum (born 1949), current Satmar Rebbe living in Kiryas Joel; eldest son of Berach Moshe. Son-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, the Viznitzer Rebbe of Bnei Brak
                • 8. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Teitelbaum, Rabbi of the Satmar Congregation in Williamsburg on Hooper Street; former leader of the small Satmar Community in Antwerp; eldest son of Rabbi Aaron
                • 8. Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Hirsh Teitelbaum, Rabbi of the Sighet Synagogue of Williamsburg; son of Rabbi Aaron
              • 7. Rebbe Chananyah Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum, the second son of Berach Moshe; President of the weekend only shul, called Berach Moshe of Zenta in Williamsburg
              • 7. Rebbe Yekusiel Yehuda (Zalman Leib) Teitelbaum (born 1952), current Satmar Rebbe living in Williamsburg; third son of Berach Moshe
                • 8. Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum, Rabbi of Satmar Congregation of Jerusalem; son of Rabbi Zalman Leib
                • 8. Rabbi Yaakov Dov Ber Teitelbaum, Rabbi of the small but affluent Sighet Synagogue of Boro Park; son of Rabbi Zalman Leib
              • 7. Rabbi Shulom Eliezer Teitelbaum, Rabbi of a small Satmar Synagogue in Boro Park (15th Avenue), youngest son of Berach Moshe, affiliated with Rabbi Aaron.
              • 7. Rabbi Duvid Dov Berish Meisels, leader of the main Satmar Shul in Boro Park, affiliated with Rabbi Aaron; son-in-law of Berach Moshe; his wife Rebbitzin Chaya Meisels the eldest child of Berach Moshe, died in 1993 at age of 48, from cancer.
                • 8. Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Meisels, official leader of Rabbi Aaron's followers within the Satmar Congregation in Bnei Brak; son of Rabbi David Dov Berish Meisels of Boro Park.
                • 8. Rabbi/Activist Mordechai Aharon Meisels, leader of Congregation Ichud HaTalmidim D'Satmar of Williamsburg, affiliated with Rabbi Aaron; founder and administrator of Rofeh Cholim Cancer Society and a popular mohel in the Charedi community. son of Rabbi David Dov Berish Meisels of Boro Park.
              • 7. Rabbi Duvid Meisels, Satmar leader in Montreal, Canada; son-in-law of Berach Moshe.
              • 7. Rebbe Chaim Yehoshua Halberstam, Rabbi of K'hal Va'Yoel Moshe Satmar in Monsey; son-in-law of Berach Moshe

Family and successors

There were also several Teitelbaum in-laws who had small followings.

Rabbi Yoel and his first wife, Chava (née Horowitz) Teitelbaum (d. 1936), had three daughters; Esther (d. 1921); Rachel (d. 1931); and Chaya Ruza (d. 1953); all of whom died from natural causes during his lifetime. At the time of his death he had no living descendants. His surviving son-in-law and nephew, Rabbi Lipa Meir/Teitelbaum, (d. 1966), was first known as the Semihayer Ruv. He later moved to Israel, remarried and became the Rebbe of Sassov. He had three sons and a daughter from that second marriage: the current rebbes of Sassov, one who has a community in Israel called Kiryat Yismach Moshe, and one in Monsey, as well as a son and daughter in Jerusalem.

In addition, the Muzhayer Rebbe of Brooklyn, NY, another nephew of Rabbi Yoel, was also seen by some as a candidate to replace Rabbi Yoel as Satmar Rebbe. Ultimately, however, Rabbi Moshe became his recognized successor.

(See also: Bnei Yoel, a group of Satmar Hasidim who did not accept Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum as his uncle's successor and instead remained loyal to Rabbi Yoel's wife, the Rebbetzin Alta Feige Teitelbaum (1913-2001)), they were expelled and shunned by Rabbi Moshe. After the outbreak of the 2000 Succession Feud they became the first and strongest supporters of Rabbi Zalman).

Satmar history

Roots

The dynasty traces its roots to Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (1759-1841), rabbi of Sátoraljaújhely in Hungary. Himself an adherent of the Polish Hasidic leader Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Lublin (the Chozeh of Lublin), Rabbi Teitelbaum was instrumental in bringing Hasidic Judaism to Hungary. He authored the works Heishiv Moshe ("Moses Responded") and Yismach Moshe ("Moses [Shall] Rejoice"), and is commonly called by the title of the latter work. His descendants became leaders of the communities of Máramarossziget (now Sighetu Marmaţiei) (called "Siget" in Yiddish) and Szatmárnémeti (now Satu Mare) (called "Satmar" in Yiddish). He was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Eluzar Nissan Teitelbaum of Drobitsch, who was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum of Sighet, author of Yetev Lev.

Rabbi Chananya Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum, author of Kedushas Yom Tov, was rebbe in the town of Máramarossziget. He was the son of the author of Yetev Lev. He had two sons: Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum and Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum. The elder son, Chaim Tzvi, author of Atzei Chaim, succeeded his father as Rebbe of Máramarossziget. The younger, Joel, was rabbi in Ilosva (now Irshava, Ukraine) and later in Nagykároly (now Carei, Romania) (called "Kruly" in Yiddish), eventually moving to Szatmárnémeti where he became rabbi and formed the Hasidic community of Satmar and was considered to be one of the most dominating Hasidic rabbis in Hungary before world war II. He authored responsa and Jewish novellae under the title Divrei Yoel ("[The] Words [of] Joel") and polemics (mainly against both secular and religious Zionism) in VaYoel Moshe ("And Moses Swore") and Al HaGeula Ve'Al HaTemura ("About the Redemption and the Exchange"). Many of his sermons were printed under the title Chiddushei Torah: MaHaR"Y T"B.

World War II period

Many Satmar Hasidim were murdered and dispersed during World War II and the Holocaust, though the group's destruction was less complete than many other Hasidic dynasties. Though widespread shootings and deportations had already killed 70,000 Jews under Ferenc Szálasi's Arrow Cross regime, which took over power from Miklós Horthy's and allied with Nazi Germany. The first deportations of Jews and death marches to the extermination camps in Hungary did not begin until the spring of 1944, when 436,000 Jews were rounded up by the Hungarian authorities and German SS Troops in 56 days from May through July and deported to Auschwitz. In June 1944, Rabbi Teitelbaum became one of a group of 1640 people whose release from Hungary was ironically negotiated with Adolf Eichmann by the Zionist leader Rudolf Kastner, who had been authorized to negotiate the escape of a small number of people, mostly Zionists, but also including a small number of prominent rabbis along with other wealthy Jews who had paid an exorbitant fee to be on the rescue train, nicked named "Noah's ark". Rabbi Teitelbaum was a passenger on the Kastner train bound for Switzerland, which was re-routed to Bergen-Belsen for six months before being allowed to continue to the Swiss border as originally planned. Criticism has been leveled against Rabbi Teitelbaum for having advised his flock not to emigrate to British controlled Palestine before and during the war years due to his opposition to the Zionist ideology whereas he was rescued by a Zionist mission.

The 21st of Kislev 5705 (1944), the day that Rabbi Teitelbaum crossed the border into Switzerland and was saved from the Nazis, is celebrated to this day as a joyful holiday among Satmar Hasidim worldwide. After the war, Rabbi Teitelbaum spent time in the Displaced Persons camp of Feldafing, the first camp exclusively for Jewish ex-prisoners, where he offered support and encouragement to the many orphaned young people who survived the Holocaust.

After World War II

After leaving the camps, Rabbi Teitelbaum emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine, where he founded a network of yeshivas in a number of cities. However, he soon came into financial difficulties and subsequently left for New York City to raise money for his growing institutions. Shortly after his arrival to New York the state of Israel was founded which he vehemently denounced. After living in New York for a year, his American followers convinced him to stay, largely due to political changes occurring in the Holy Land concerning the founding of the state of Israel. In 1953 after the death of Rabbi Zelig Reuven Bengis, Rabbi Teitelbaum became the fourth Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem's anti-Zionist Edah HaChareidis community; however, he remained in New York, giving input and guidance to his followers and colleagues in Jerusalem through personal communications and his advisers. Following the establishment of the state of Israel he did visit several times the latest in 1959.

In New York, after initially settling on the lower east side of Manhattan, Rabbi Teitelbaum established the foundations of a community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, beginning in the early 1950s, under the name Congregation Yetev Lev. Rabbi Teitelbaum's efforts to rebuild the movement also resulted in the acquisition of land in upstate New York during the 1970s, which was named Kiryas Joel where the rebbe had lived in his last few years. Other Satmar communities sprang up in London, Manchester, Montreal, Buenos Aires, Antwerp, Bnei Brak, and Jerusalem, where they continue to have a strong presence in the Edah HaChareidis.

Rabbi Teitelbaum was not survived by any children: his three daughters died in his lifetime, and he never had sons. He was succeeded by his nephew, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, author of Berach Moshe, the late Rebbe of Satmar, who had been the Chief Rabbi of Senta (Serbian: Сента or Senta, Hungarian: Zenta) before World War II. After the war, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum returned to his father's town of Sighet, where he set up Jewish religious institutions. After being warned of Communist opposition to religion in Romania, Rabbi Teitelbaum fled to America, founding the Sighet Synagogue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. In 1966, Rabbi Moshe moved to a new synagogue in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, and was known as the Sigheter Ruv ("rabbi") of Boro Park until 1980. After his uncle's passing, the board of directors of the central Satmar congregation, with the overwhelming support from the vast majority of satmar hasidim, asked him to be the new Satmar Rebbe. He told them to wait one year before formally crowning him, and he was formally installed as the new Satmar Rebbe in 1980, on the first anniversary of his uncle's death.

Since his coronation, Rabbi Moshe was opposed by some dissidents in Satmar, (called "kegeners" or "misnagdim" - opponents), including the Bnei Yoel, a group of Satmar Hasidim that did not accept Rebbe Moshe believing that no one could replace the old rebbe and instead remained loyal to Rebbe Yoel's widow, the Rebbetzin Alta Feige Teitelbaum.

Shortly after Rabbi Moshe's sons began fighting over future leadership of Satmar, the vast majority of Bnei Yoel became the main backers of Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum's camp, seeing an opportunity to return to the community and, to some extent, the leadership. Rabbi Zalman welcomed them with open arms since most of Rabbi Moshe's loyalists were backing his rival brother Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum.

Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum served as the Grand Rabbi of Satmar worldwide for almost 27 years until he died on April 24, 2006. He was buried next to his late uncle in the Kiryas Joel cemetery.

Satmar today

For a detailed account on the dispute about the succession the last Rebbe see: Satmar succession feud

After the passing of Rabbi Moshe; three of his sons established their own independent sects with their own followers and institutions. Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum was declared by his followers as successor and Grand Rabbi of the Satmar dynasty, his primary residence is in Kiryas Joel, NY, Rabbi Lipa Teitelbaum became the Rav and owner of the small Zenta-Beirach Moshe Shul in Williamsburg continuing to do administrative work in United Talmudical Academy the Williamsburg Satmar School System, one of the most complicated jobs in the community. Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum was declared by his followers as successor and Grand Rabbi of the Satmar dynasty and lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Satmar and politics

The Satmar Hasidic movement has become known for its social isolation from all forms of secular culture and for its opposition to all forms of religious, secular, and political Zionism. After the Six-Day War in 1967 Reb Yoel told pious Satmar Hasidim not to approach the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, feeling it would show support for the secular government that claimed to have liberated it. This is true of other so called "holy places" that Satmar Hasidim do not visit, partly in protest of the secular Zionist government, which they view as an abomination. (Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum visited the Wall before the founding of the State and fainted from its holiness), but his adherents still do not visit it. Satmar Hasidim also refuse to take any social benefits from the Israeli government, and often view negatively other Haredi groups that do so. Their institutions in the Holy Land are funded from private donations solicited abroad.

Some of Satmar's more conservative and isolationist tendencies have resulted in long-standing feuds and enmities with other Haredi groups and Hasidic groups, particularly Ger, Chabad-Lubavitch and Belz, in part because of the different groups' positions towards Zionism, the State of Israel, and what involvement and relationships with the Israeli government are appropriate. Some of these disputes can be originally traced to specific conflicts between small groups of rabbis and thinkers in Eastern Europe during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and in New York and Israel in the twentieth century that later developed into larger ones between the respective communities.

Satmar opposition to Zionism

The Satmar's vehement position against Zionism was refined and officially formulated by Joel Teitelbaum, though it did not originate with him.

Before World War II all Hasidic rabbis, as well as almost all other prominent Orthodox leaders (including Rabbi Joel's father, Rabbi Chananyah Yom Tov Lipa), believed that God had promised to return the Jewish people to the Land of Israel by means of the actions of the Jewish Messiah, and that any activity on behalf of the Jews themselves to create or instigate this redemption would be punished. Instead of accepting benefits from the State of Israel, Rabbi Joel instead encouraged his followers to form self-sufficient communities in the Holy Land. He recorded a wide scope of his views on Zionism in his scholarly work Vayoel Moshe, published in 1958 and in a second book "Al Hageulah V'al Hatamurah" published in 1967 in the wake of the Six-Day War. Shortly before his passing he set up the Keren Hatzalah fund to help those Jews who refrain from taking monetary support from the Israeli Government.

Although it was certainly not the only reason for his opinion, one of the core citations from classical Judaic sources cited by Reb Yoel for his opposition to modern Zionism was that of the Three Oaths mentioned in the Talmud (Kesuboth 111A) which discusses a passage from the Song of Songs in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in which God made the Israelites promise "to wait for Him before arousing His love":

"King Solomon in Song of Songs thrice adjured the 'daughters of Jerusalem' not to arouse or bestir the love until it is ready.' The Talmud explains that we are bound by three strong oaths not to ascend to the Holy Land as a group using force, not to rebel against the governments of countries in which we live, and not by our sins, to prolong the coming of moshiach

A variant interpretation of the three oaths has the third oath being that God would not allow the non-Jewish world to "excessively" persecute the Jews. Rabbi Teitelbaum expressly held that the oaths were not dependent upon one another.

In VaYoel Moshe Teitelbaum explicitly declared that, from the time of the very inception of the Zionist movement in the 1890s, the Zionists violated the three oaths, and thereby caused the Holocaust, as well as all wars, terrorism, and violence in modern Israel, and most anti-Semitism around the world since that time, as a result:

"...it has been these Zionist groups that have attracted the Jewish people and have violated the Oath against establishing a Jewish entity before the arrival of the Messiah. It is because of the Zionists that six million Jews were killed."

In keeping with the three oaths, Satmar Hasidim were strongly opposed to the creation of modern Israel through violence and antagonism against gentile nations such as the Ottomans and Britain. In the years following the Holocaust, Rabbi Teitelbaum undertook to maintain and strengthen this position, as did many other Torah Jews and communities. Rabbi Teitelbaum declared that the State of Israel was a violation of Jewish teachings. This was both because of the Zionists' violation of the traditional belief that Jews must wait for the Messiah to re-create Israel, and also because its founders included many personalities who were both hostile to Orthodox Judaism, or simply indifferent to it. Rabbi Teitelbaum believed the creation of the State of Israel, against the oaths described in Ketubot, constituted a form of impatience. In keeping with the Talmud's warnings that impatience for God's love and redemption can lead to grave danger, the Satmar Hasidim have often interpreted the constant wars and terrorism in Israel as fulfilment of that prophecy.

Rabbi Teitelbaum saw his opposition to Zionism as a way of protecting Jewish lives and preventing bloodshed. Most Haredi rabbis may agree with this idea; however, the general view of Agudath Israel is that, despite this, for all practical purposes, efforts can be made to prevent Israel from becoming even more anti-religious through participating in the Israeli government, seen by the Agudah as a form of "damage-control." Rabbi Teitelbaum however, felt that any participation in the Israeli government, even voting in elections, was a grave sin, because it contributed to the spiritual and physical destruction of innocent people. He felt that by voting one had a hand in these sins. Thus, he was officially opposed to the views of Agudath Israel, and the Satmar movement continues to refuse membership in the Agudath Israel organization or party. The Satmar view is that only the Jewish Messiah can bring about a new Jewish government in the Holy Land, and even if a government declaring itself religious would be formed before the Messiah, it would be illegitimate due to its improper arrogation of power, and it would still pose a danger to Jewish life.

While the Satmar Hasidim are opposed to the existence of a state of Israel, many of them live in and visit Israel (as Rabbi Teitelbaum did, many times). They see opposition to Zionism as an expression of love of the Holy Land, protecting it from the defilement of bloodshed and war (and not only from secularism, as many assume).

Satmar and Neturei Karta

The Satmar Hasidim's opposition to Zionism has at times led to comparisons and confusion with the small and controversial Haredi activist group Neturei Karta. While there are ideological similarities between the two groups, they have significantly different historical backgrounds. Satmar's views, as formulated and espoused by Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, were essentially continuations of earlier dynastic teachings about Judaism and the modern world, and are presently maintained by later generations of the Teitelbaum family; keeping the movement's ideology in line with the dynastic hierarchy. By contrast, Neturei Karta, formally created in 1935, was the result of several small and partially ad-hoc coalitions between various groups of marginalized anti-Zionist, mostly non-Hasidic, Haredi Jews living in what was then Palestine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

While Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum originally supported Neturei Karta's activities in the 1940s and 50's, as led by the late Rabbi Amram Blau, this alliance seems to have cooled or been annulled. Although certain Neturei Karta members or Satmar Hasidim may claim dual membership, Satmar and Neturei Karta are not affiliated with one another. In December 2006, one of the Satmar Rebbes, Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, issued a statement, published in Der Yid, strongly condemning seven Neturei Karta followers who went to Teheran, Iran to participate in the Holocaust denial conference organized by the Iranian government. The Edah HaChareidis posted signs reflecting the statement from Rabbi Zalman Leib, however, they later retracted this statement, when it was recognized that those participants denied denying the Holocaust, and the statement was based upon misinformation.

However the Satmar newspaper Der Blatt, published by adherents of Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, refused to denounce the actions of Neturei Karta, fearing it would send the wrong message to the public as if they have come to peace with any part of the Zionist philosophy, and also believing that since Satmar has no affiliation with Neturei Karta they are under no obligation to support nor denounce them. One prominent member of Rabbi Aaron's faction even publicly denounced those who denounced them as "slanderers of the honorable zealots."

Satmar institutions

Charitable institutions

The Satmar Hasidic movement is famous for its many charitable organizations, which were founded by Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum and his wife, Rebbetzin Alte Feiga Teitelbaum. The Satmar Bikur Cholim ("visiting the sick"), founded in 1957 by Alte Feiga, the Satmar Rebbetzin, is highly respected for helping Jewish people, regardless of affiliation, when they are ill in a hospital, taking care of their needs, such as kosher food and other accommodations, both religious and general, as well as the needs of their families who visit them. Rav Tuv is a charitable organization to help Jewish refugees from over the world, originally founded by Teitelbaum in the 1950s to help Jews in the Soviet Union. Today, the organization mostly helps Jews from Iran and Yemen, however many Russian and South American Jews are also helped. Keren Hatzolah is a charitable fund to support yeshivas and the poor in the Holy Land, and helping them resist any financial help from the zionist government, founded by Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum shortly before his passing.

Educational institutions

Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum founded a network of large educational institutions, both yeshivas and girls' schools, and if the Satmar schools in New York were a public school system, it would be the fourth-largest system in New York state, after those of New York City, Buffalo and Rochester. In most places the girl's schools are called Beis Rochel and the yeshivas Torah VeYirah.

Rabbinical organizations

In 1953, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum founded a major rabbinical association known as the התאחדות הרבנים דארה"ב וקאנאדא - Hisachdus HaRabanim D'ARHA"B V'Canada or the Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States and Canada (CRC), working hand in hand with the עדה החרדית Edah HaChareidis, Jerusalem's Orthodox Jewish Congress. Among their many works are various rabbinical services, including kashruth supervision considered to be one of the better kosher supervisions in the Jewish world.

The function of the Congress is to discuss new issues concerning the spirituality or kashrus of the Haredi Jewish community. Usually this is discussed with rabbis of different sects and neighborhoods. They discuss issues regarding Zionism, how to deal with issues regarding the State of Israel's actions and laws that are targeted against the Jewish religion. At these meetings rabbis of the Satmar sect are mostly present, they have a rabbinical court that deals with civil, monetary, marital issues.

Newspapers

Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum also gave permission and later encouraged his followers to publish a Haredi Jewish weekly newspaper in Yiddish called Der Yid. The goals in its publication were 1) to have a newspaper in accordance with proper Jewish values, that would only publish news considered appropriate for Orthodox Jews. 2) To give the Satmar Community the opportunity to read and understand their Rebbe's views. However, the slogan of the Newspaper states (translated from Yiddish), "Der Yid-The Organ of Independent Orthodox Jewish Identity", it has since been acquired and is currently owned and run by a private owner.

The readership of the newspaper grew to 50,000 copies per week.

In 1989 competition arose when a former employee of Der Yid began publishing his own newspaper titled The News Report. The publisher, Mr. Albert (Abraham) Friedman, has set out to publish a newspaper with similar values of the Satmar Rebbe, with an emphasis on giving greater in-depth analysis and more accuracy in news reporting, his newspaper was also seen as much more tolerant of other hassidic sects.

Today there are several weekly and monthly publications that claim to share the Satmar Rebbe's objectives. Der Blatt, established in 2000, is owned and run by a follower of Grand Rabbi Aaron. Both are privately owned. Recently, many Satmars took the stand that Der Yid and Der Blatt are not following in the values that the grand Satmar Rabbi had established, but rather are driven by their own political agendas and by profit motivation.

Satmar philosophy and teachings

Hasidic literature of importance to Satmar

In addition to those books revered by all Hasidim, the main Hasidic books revered by the Satmar sect are Yismach Moshe, Yetev Lev, Rav Tuv, Kedushas Yom Tov, Divrei Yoel, Chiddushei Torah Maharit"b, Berach Moshe and then the main books Vayoel Moshe, Al HaGeula V'Al HaTemura. The latter two books were written as the main resource of information on how to deal with Zionism and the State of Israel. Rabbi Joel was careful not to be particular about which books his Hasidim should study because he did not want to exclude any Hasidic teachings, for he felt that all Hasidic books should be studied, often encouraging his students to study Be'er Mayim Chaim, Kedushas Levi, Bnei Yisoschor, Noam Elimelech,and other works, never specifying one over the other. Rabbi Joel taught that many of the foundations of Hasidism can be found in the medieval Jewish work Chovos Halevavos, by Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pakudah (11th century, Spain), which preceded Hasidism by many centuries. In addition to Hasidic teachings, the teachings of the Chasam Sofer are also greatly revered in Satmar.

The way of the Baal Shem Tov

Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum taught, based on the teachings of Rabbi Chaim of Sanz, that even though the enthusiasm that the Baal Shem Tov brought to Jewish life is still felt in the Jewish Community, the teachings and the way of the Baal Shem Tov had been slowly become forgotten. When asked to explain this, he responded:

The Skverer said, "Nobody follows the right way except me." The Vizhnitzer says, "Nobody follows the right way except me." And the Gerer the same. And I say, nobody has the right way including me. I don't have the right way either.

The following story took place during the Jewish festival of Sukkos:

One time, a rabbi, a descendant of the Holy Baal Shem Tov, may his memory protect us, joined our Rebbe's Tish at a meal during the intermediate days of the festival of Sukkos. Amidst their conversation, our Rebbe asked this Rabbi "Honored guest, I have heard that you are a descendant of the Holy Baal Shem Tov, perhaps you could tell me something about the way of the Baal Shem Tov?" (It is well known that when the holy book "VaYoel Moshe" was published, in which our Rebbe writes that the path of the Baal Shem Tov has been forgotten, many well known people, who claim themselves under the flag of the "Way of the Baal Shem Tov", yet they do not truly know nor understand what this is, raged against him, and cast arrows of anger over this statement), and this Rabbi answered our Rebbe that he does not know. Our Rebbe said that the way of the Baal Shem Tov is not dependent upon one's minhagim (customs), but is rather a way of serving the Blessed Creator. However, we do know one of the customs of the Baal Shem Tov, may his merit protect us, that he enacted the recitation of the Psalm "Give thanks" (Psalm 107) before the afternoon prayers on the eve of the Sabbath. [One time our Rebbe told one Rabbi that he desired to write a special work to explain the concept of the "Way of the Baal Shem Tov", unfortunately we were not worthy of this book's light.]

Satmar succession feud

In 1999, a major turn of events transpired in Satmar with respect to the future succession of the late Rebbe. The - until then unthinkable - idea of splitting up the dynasty into two separate sects, started to circulate and gain momentum.

Up to 1999, the wide perception within the community was that after the death of Rabbi Moshe, Satmar would remain one united sect under one rebbe, presumably Rabbi Aaron, since he is the eldest son, and being the leader of Kiryas Joel, he held the highest post in Satmar, besides his father. There was no real talk about any other candidate besides Aaron.

Suddenly, things changed in a hurry. Around May 1999, it was announced that Rabbi Moshe decided to change course completely and place his third son, Rabbi Zalman, as the local leader of the Williamsburg congregation, a new position that never existed.

The then leaders of Satmar, which mainly supported Rabbi Aaron, and always fought for the unity, pride and power of Satmar, were devastated and in shock. They have always been the most loyal and closest allies of Rabbi Moshe, and believed that is not the real true wish of the Rebbe. Rabbi Aaron supporters in Williamsburg were stripped of their positions. Rabbi Aaron's followers scrambled to reverse it; initially they attempted for about a year to settle it at a Beth Din, but disagreements as to which Jewish tribunal is qualified to judge this case, stalled it. Then secular court litigation ensued, with little to no success.

The Satmar split, drastically and permanently changed the dynamics of the Satmar dynasty. Instead of being a united global entity, headquartered in Williamsburg, Brooklyn led by one Rabbi; it is now split into two independent sects. One led by Rabbi Aaron with his congregation and institutions in Williamsburg, Kiryas Joel and Borough Park Brooklyn, and the second led by Rabbi Zalman who took over all the assets in Williamsburg.

Background to the conflict

There are conflicting reports about how the disagreement first started. Rabbi Zalman's supporters say that Rabbi Aaron's leadership-style in Kiryas Joel, described as "totalitarian", made him a significant number of enemies. Although the role of the late Rabbi Moshe's personal assistant and gabbai, Mr. Moses Friedman, is very clear in initiating the conflict.

Rabbi Aaron's supporters, on the other hand, deny that Rabbi Aaron’s leadership style is at all different from his brother's or father's. They also claim that Mr. Friedman has become increasingly powerful due to the rebbe's illnesses and saw Rabbi Aaron as a threat. Rabbi Aaron's followers believe that Mr. Friedman supported Rabbi Zalman in order to embarrass Aaron and threaten his support in Williamsburg, and is largely motivated by his own self-interest.

Both sides agree that Mr. Friedman has been instrumental in elevating Rabbi Zalman as Rabbi Aaron's rival to inherit the dynasty. With Mr. Friedman's help, Rabbi Zalman, who had previously been of relatively minor standing, began rising through the ranks, and was eventually appointed rabbi of the Satmar congregation in Williamsburg in 1999, seen by many as an indicator that he could potentially be chosen as his father's successor, not Rabbi Aaron.

Though both sides are claiming that they are the majority, there was never any scientific study that would proof that one side has more followers or support within the Satmar community. Except, in Kiryas Joel where village elections are being held regularly for local village government positions and votes are reportedly being casted along party lines, the Aarons are consistently defeating the Zalmans by roughly a margin of 60 to 40 percent, the latest one on June 4, 2008. The Aarons are arguing that the Kiryas Joel result is reflecting there standing in the rest of the Satmar communities especially in Williamsburg.

The main argument points of Aaron's followers is that the Satmar congregation was unconventionally and maliciously split into two congregations for the sole purpose to systematically oust the then leaders of the Williamsburg congregation who supported Rabbi Aaron, by doing that, the Aarons argue, Zalman garnered a lot of outside support of people which their only agenda was to break the so called 'Satmar Monopoly' or the 'Aaron Dictatorship' , while the majority of the Congragation members and leaders were suddenly left out cold in Williamsburg. Furthermore, the Aarons argue, that all of the Zalman supporters in Williamsburg have no standing or right of claiming any leadership in Williamsburg since they are new-comers who joined the Zalman camp for the sake of 'split' . On the other hand the main argument point of Zalman's followers is that the split, even though it’s uncomfortable, was still vital and worth while, because Aaron is such a harsh person that it had to be established an alternative to him, and letting him lead the entire congregation would be devastating and unacceptable.

There is also a big disagreement as to what the real wish of the late Rebbe Moshe was. Though, both sides agree that up to the eruption of the split, at about the age of 85, Rabbi Moshe unequivocally wanted that the congregation should remain one and under the sole leadership of Rabbi Aaron. The followers of Rabbi Zalman argue that Rabbi Moshe simply changed his mind and decided to split up the community. But Rabbi Aaron's followers argue that it’s absurd and irrational to believe that Rabbi Moshe would suddenly change so drastically his mind while throughout his life up to the age of 85 he repeated several times that he cares for the congregation so much because upon the arrival of the Messiah, he wants to return it to his uncle Rabbi Yoel, the same as he got it.

In any event, it seems that the support for Zalman is not motivated by love towards Zalman but mainly by hatred towards Aaron, and their strong believe that there must be an alternative Rabbi to Aaron. Most of Zalman supporters do not necessarily revere Zalman or feel that he is the most qualified person to succeed the Grand Rebbe post, rather their long hatred and revenge or jealousy toward Aaron motivates them to support Zalman. The core supporters of Zalman are the same group who also fought the leadership of Rabbi Moshe, which is called 'Bnei Yoel'.

In contrast to Zalman supporters, Aaron supporters are true believers in his character, holiness and his qualifications, they all revere him and study his speeches and guidance. The core supporters of Aaron are the same who have always been loyal to his father Rabbi Moshe.

Ironically, Zalman supporters who have historically been against Rabbi Moshe are now lecturing the Aaron supporters for not obeying Rabbi Moshe’s wish and accusing them of rebelling against their own Rabbi/Father.

Death of Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum

Following the previous rebbe's death in April 2006, both groups of followers announced that their favorite was (or would be) named Rabbi Moshe's successor in his will. Initially Rabbi Aaron's supporters claimed that they had a verbal will, dated from 1996, in which the rebbe is purported to have passed the leadership to Rabbi Aaron. This was first announced by Rabbi Hertzke Zweibel, Rosh Kollel of Satmar Kollel in Williamsburg, who claimed that the rebbe had conferred the will upon him as a witness. Rabbi Zweibel read this will at a large public gathering of Rabbi Aaron's supporters in Williamsburg. Rabbi Yisroel Chaim Horowitz Rabbi of the Satmar Congregation in Manchester, England also claimed that the rabbi conferred a similar will to him on a separate occasion in 1997.

However, a public reading of a later, printed will, signed by the rebbe and dated 2002, and signed by two witnesses stated that Rabbi Moshe had chosen Rabbi Zalman to succeed him. Rabbi Aaron's supporters responded by claiming that the Rebbe was known to be suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's disease many years before he signed it. Furthermore, the 1996 version of the will states that all future versions of a will should be considered nullified, because Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (then eighty years old) was of the opinion that someone over eighty years of age is no longer fit to change his will, according to the rabbi's interpretation of Jewish law.

The printed will was read at the coronation ceremony for Rabbi Zalman in the Rebbe's house in Williamsburg on the afternoon of April 25. Zalman was given further support by a Satmar beit din, or rabbinical court, in Williamsburg, which agreed with his reading of the will, and named him the legitimate successor. Rabbi Zalman's critics mock the idea of this Beit Din having any legitimacy, claiming this Beit Din was created by the Zalman camp solely for this purpose, so the ruling is neither surprising nor seen as authoritative by all Satmar Hasidim.

Rabbi Aaron and his followers remained defiant following Rabbi Zalman's coronation, declaring that "The Grand Rebbe's will does not determine succession. Only the Satmar Board of Directors can make that decision. That's how the Grand Rebbe himself was selected. And that's how his successor will be selected. Both sides have announced that they will be filing further litigation in the New York State Supreme Court.

Regardless of any decisions, it seems that the followers of both rabbis will each accept their leader as the new Grand Rebbe of their respective congregations. However, one of them may take a new title.

Rabbi Aaron spent the first Sabbath after his father's death in Williamsburg, setting up a tent in the playground of a local public school. Some analysts have hypothesized that this could indicate that Rabbi Aaron has plans to move to Williamsburg on a permanent or semi-permanent basis to exert further pressure on his brother and gain more followers from among Rabbi Zalman's power base. Others characterized the move by both brothers as a "showdown" meant to demonstrate their relative strength, particularly Aaron, by coming out in force in his brother's territory with followers from both Kiryat Joel and Williamsburg.

Others, however, downplayed the event, saying that Rabbi Aaron had already planned to be in Williamsburg before his father's death to celebrate the birth of his first great-grandchild. Both groups held separate Sabbath services three blocks apart, and the day passed without incident.

Beth Din (Jewish Court)

Many attempts has been made to settle the case at a Beth Din; it is unclear as to why it has failed. Both sides have blamed each other. Since early 2002, about 6 months before the first court litigation had been filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court, the Aaron faction had subpoenaed the Zalman faction to a Beth Din in Brooklyn, but they refused the subpoena.

According to a written statement by Rabbi Samual Fried, the Zalman head representative at the Beth Din, he wrote "no outside Beth Din who has no knowledge of the ins-and-outs of the Satmar congregation (TAHALICHES HAKEHILA) is allowed to judge this case. Since the Grand Rabbi has the final word, no one can go against his word", hence, they suggested that some of the congregation's own Rabbis should decide the case.

But the Aaron faction strongly disagreed; they believed that only a neutral, experienced, independent Beth Din is the most appropriate panel to sit on the case. In a written statement by Rabbi Zalman Grauz, the Aaron head representative at the Beth Din, he wrote "it is absurd, unfair, unjust and against the Jewish Law to force a civil dispute to be decided be personnel who - with all due respect - has zero experience in presiding over Jewish civil cases, are paid employees of the Zalman congregation, and more overly have a long time ago publicly shunned the Aaron faction in a written decree, naming the Aaron's a Union of Traitors (kesher bogdim)".

Both sides, standing firm with their position, forced the Beth Din's attempt into a stalemate. To this date the Aaron’s are occasionally putting full page ads in the newspaper begging the Zalman's to come to a neutral Beth Din, while the Zalman's are accusing the Aaron’s of committing the grave sin of going to a secular court (holeach bearcaos).

New York courts decline to adjudicate

On July 12, 2006, an appeals court in Brooklyn on first amendment grounds refused to rule on the legal issues pertaining to the Teitelbaum brothers' dispute. One decision upheld a lower court decision which refused to issue a ruling in the congregation election controversy, and the other overturned an earlier judge's arbitration in favor of Aaron, ruling that the conflict was an internal religious matter and therefore outside the scope of the court. The ruling was appealed to the highest New York court and was upheld on November 20, 2007, re-affirming that the dispute is unjusticiable for the courts. The ruling indirectly left Zalman as the de-facto in charge of all the assets in Williamsburg.

Though the ruling in no way stated that any side has more rights then the other over the assets, to the contrary, the court specifically declined to give any side clear ownership. But, since there were no practical way to remove the Zalman supporters from control, it was seen as a victory to the Zalman supporters. Many observers have claimed that this latest legal development could prove to be a major turning-point in the brothers' struggle over the community and its property, though it is highly doubtful whether Aaron and his supporters will withdraw their claims to the Williamsburg territories. It also remains unclear whether the new decisions will solidify the split between the two Satmar communities, or give Zalman's faction increased momentum to make a consolidation attempt of Satmar under his leadership.

Rabbi Aaron builds parallel empire in Williamsburg

Almost immediately after the court decision, 2006, Rabbi Aaron began plans to construct a synagogue in Williamsburg. Building began in mid-September. Aaron's followers were eager to finish the construction as quickly as possible, and hired several shifts of round-the-clock laborers, as well as Satmar volunteers who only rested for the Sabbath. The synagogue was completed within a short time, though it is unclear whether it took two or three weeks (Moshe Indig, one of Aaron's spokesmen, who called the fast construction a miracle, claimed it took only 14 days).

Zalman followers reportedly dismissed Aaron's shul as "The Home Depot shul", which led Aaron-supporters to suggest that there are plans to dramatically expand the synagogue over the next several years. It is unclear what the impact that Aaron's new synagogue, built in the heart of what many consider to be Zalman's territory, will have. It is also unclear whether Aaron plans to spend more time in Brooklyn to support his followers there, or will remain primarily in Kiryas Joel.

In another significant move by Rabbi Aaron, which indicates his intention to build a parallel empire in Williamsburg. On September 2006, which is the beginning of a new school year, Rabbi Aaron followers opened a new school for boys and girls in Williamsburg. In a speech that Rabbi Aaron gave right before the opening of the school, he said that the cost of buying buildings and hiring all the staff for the new school is a whopping $50 million dollars. Roughly 3,000 students switched from the old school and enrolled to the new school, which is about 40% of the established school ran by Rabbi Zalman. It is believed that more students will follow suit, since many are still hesitating to switch to a new unproven school.

Also, reports are circulating within the Satmars that Rabbi Aaron's followers are vehemently pursuing to buy or build a new mansion resident in the heart of Williamsburg so that Rabbi Aaron can comfortably and honorably reside in Williamsburg for half a year, presumably during the winter months. If this holds true - which most observant have long predicted - then at some point Rabbi Aaron will for all practical purpose be just as the “Williamsburg” Rebbe as Rabbi Zalman, being that he lives there and has all religious institutions in Williamsburg.

Current status

Although, apparently, both sides have gradually come to terms that Satmar is now split into 2 independent sects with no side in position to claim exclusivity nor superiority of the Satmar dynasty, still, to this date there has been no official peace agreement or any sort of public conciliatory announcement between the two sides, the 2 brothers are avoiding meeting each other, they do not attend to each other's simchas ("joyous events"), nevertheless by October 2006, there had been a dramatic decrease in public tensions between the brothers and their communities, for the simple reason that both sides ran out of strategically and viable moves to gain advantage against each other. There were no reports of any fighting during the Sukkot holiday and the weddings of both rebbes' children (Zalman's in Williamsburg, and Aaron's in Kiryas Joel). Rabbis formerly known to be attached with one side over the other attended both weddings, though it appears that most of Zalman's supporters stayed away from the Kiryas Joel wedding. This does not necessarily suggest by any mean that the seven year conflict may be calming down, or will lead to a genuine reconciliation in Satmar but rather simply a "cold peace" between both groups. It is widely believed that the moment any side sees an opportunity to gain power over each other they will seize it with out any hesitation and tension may re-ignite. As recent as in May 2007 the newspaper 'Der Yid' (a publication owned by Rav Zalman) wrote a lengthy and hateful editorial piece smearing and ripping down Rav Aron personally and calling him the extreme derogatory word: 'rusha' (a word only used for great sinners).

Historical context of Hasidic schisms

Schisms in the Hasidic dynastic succession are not a recent development, although there has been a growing number of them in the past ten to fifteen years as many of the previous pre-war or immediately post-war generations, particularly leaders, have died. It is customary for Hasidim to have many children, of course, and the issue is also complicated by the tendency among Hasidic leaders who lost families in the Holocaust to remarry and start new ones. All of this has helped create an atmosphere where younger siblings (or sons-in-law) feel more confident about making moves for leadership, as there is a greater possibility that they will be accepted by their community (or sizeable segments of it), compared to earlier periods when the majority might have followed the oldest son simply out of tradition. This can also be linked to a growing tendency of some Hasidic groups, such as Vizhnitz, Biala, Rachmastrivka, and Spinka to divide their territories and followers between relatives, in part in order to lower friction, particularly when they are significantly separated by geography.

Notes

Bibliography

  • Yechezkel Yossef Weisshaus.THE REBBE. A Glimpse into the Daily Life of the Satmar Rebbe Rabbeinu Yoel Teitelbaum. Translated by Mechon Lev Avos from Sefer Eidis B'Yosef by Rabbi Yechezkel Yosef Weisshaus. Machon Lev Avos. Distributed by Israel Book Shop, Lakewood New Jersey, 2008. ISBN 978-1-60091-063-0

See also

External links and sources

Conflicts between Teitelbaum brothers

Satmar and Zionism

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