Moshe Teitelbaum (Satmar)
November 1, 1914|
|Died||April 24, 2006
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, USA
|Religion||Haredi – Hasidic Orthodox Judaism|
Moshe Teitelbaum was born on November 17, 1914 in Újfehértó, Hungary. He was the second son of Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum, author of Atzei Chaim, the previous Sigheter Rebbe. His mother Bracha Sima, hailed from the prominent Halbershtam family. Moshe and his older brother, Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum, were orphaned in 1926, when they were eleven and fourteen, respectively. Moshe was raised by family friends and relatives, including his uncle, Joel Teitelbaum, and his grandfather, Rabbi Shulem Eliezer Halberstam of Ratzfert.
Teitalbaum received rabbinical ordination and was appointed dean of the Karacscka yeshiva. In 1936, Teitelbaum married his cousin Leah Meir, daughter of Rabbi Hanoch Heinoch Meir of Karecska. In 1939, he became the rabbi of Senta, Yugoslavia (now Serbia).
In late spring 1944, the Hungarian government, assisted by Nazi forces led by Adolf Eichmann, began deporting Jews en-masse. Teitelbaum and his wife Leah were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where his wife and three children were killed, and he nearly died. Teitelbaum was then transferred to the Brabag plant in Tröglitz, and afterwards to Theresienstadt, where he was liberated in 1945.
The couple initially moved back to Senta, where Teitelbaum led a congregation before the war. When he found out that his brother Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum died in the Holocaust, he decided to fill his brother's position as rabbi of Sighet. Soon thereafter, they were forced to flee Communist persecution, leaving for Prague and then setting sail for New York, where they arrived in fall 1947. There Teitelbaum became known as the Sigheter Rebbe, leading Sighet Chasiddus, previously led by his ancestors. He initially established a beth midrash, Atzei Chaim Siget in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and later moved to Borough Park, Brooklyn in 1966.
Appointment to Satmar Rebbe
In 1979, Moshe's uncle Yoel died without a live heir to inherent leadership of Satmar. The most logical successor was his nephew Moshe, then at the age of sixty six. He was considered intelligent, a scholar, and a good speaker. There was some uneasiness about appointing Moshe because in the years prior he had limited contact with Satmar, led his own hasidic group, and did not necessarily have the same absolutist outlook, level of scholarship, intense piety, as his late uncle. Nevertheless it was understood that the community was better off with a leader and having Moshe as the Rebbe was the best for the community under the given circumstances. The Satmar Council of Elders was a thirteen-member lay-person body elected by Satmar hasidim. The Council unanimously decided on Moshe as their next Rebbe. Moshe could have turned down the appointment and remained as leader of his small Sighet sect, but leadership of Satmar promised far more power and prestige. The Council and Moshe then negotiated and planned the details on Moshe's official appointment. A few weeks later, on one day's notice, a general meeting in the main Rodney Street synagogue was announced. At the meeting, in which Moshe was not present, Sender Deutsch, leader of the Council announced the appointment as Moshe as new rebbe of Satmar.
Moshe refused to be accepted as the new rebbe within the first year of Joel's death. This was done as a sign of bereavement over his uncle who helped raise him when his father died and to allow the Satmar community to mourn and adjust to the transition. Moshe continued to live in Borough Park and lead his Sighet community.
Around August 1980 Moshe formally succeeded Yoel as the Satmar Rebbe in an elaborate "crowning" in Kiryas Joel, New York. At the ceremony, Moshe spoke and acknowledged that he cannot replace Joel, telling the chasidim not to expect from him what they received from Joel.
Some Satmar Hasidim did not accept him as the rebbe, including the Bnei Yoel (or Kagners, opponents), a group of hasidim that remained loyal to Joel's wife Fayga Teitelbaum. Moshe Teitelbaum and his aunt Fayga never had a good relationship. Tension between the two began back when Fayga married Yoel Teitelbaum. Fayga was Joel's second wife and Joel already had a grown daughter. The grown daughter and Fayga fought over control of the househeld, and Moshe sided with his cousin against his aunt. Later, when Yoel's daughter died, and Fayga failed to bear any children and an heir for Yoel, Moshe tried to convince Yoel to divorce Fayga and marry someone that can produce an heir.
As Satmar Rebbe
Moshe's start as Satmar Rebbe was marked with more controversy. Soon after becoming Rebbe, Moshe appointed his son Aaron as the chief rabbi and rosh yeshiva of the Satmar congregation in Kiryas Joel, New York essentially giving him authority over all the community's affairs. The residents of Kiryas Joel at that time resented the appointment of Aaron, having issues with his personality and controlling nature. Moshe also removed Yoel's established personnel from positions of authority and replaced them with his loyalists.
Concerns about Moshe's level of piety also mounted. Likely false rumors circulated that in the negotiations between the Council and Moshe prior to Moshe ascending as Rebbe, Moshe made numerous compensation demands, including demands that property be placed in his name and special fees for high holiday services. Other likely false rumors claimed that Moshe was engrossed in business, had a stock market ticker-tape in his house, and was busy promoting his real estate investments.
As Rebbe, Moshe recognized his stature relative to the stature of his uncle Yoel and considered himself a "custodian" of what Joel created. He stated "we must not blaze new trails, but study the teachings of my uncle." He continued many of the customs enacted by Yoel. The differences between Yoel and Moshe were noted in that unlike the more mystical Yoel, Moshe was more practical and plain spoken. Moshe did not speak out against Zionism as often as Yoel, though that may be due to the fact that it did not have the same ideological draw during Moshe's tenure. Some complained that Moshe was not as charitable as Yoel, though that may be because Moshe did not raise as much charity funds as the more charismatic Yoel.
In 1989 tensions between Moshe and the Bnei Yoel were exacerbated. In an April 1989 Passover speech Moshe referred to the Bnei Yoel as "infidels." He later enacted a rule that new residents had to obtain permission from village leaders before moving in. In September Moshe stated that one who rented an apartment to a new resident who did not obtain permission to move in "has to be chased as if he were a murderer." In 1990, the two groups erupted in violence when a supporter of Fayga tried to erect a gate outside her home. A melee erupted, hundreds of angry Hasidim poured into the streets, three men were dragged from a car that was then set on fire, and three police officers were injured. Supporters of Alta Fayga in Kiryas Joel claimed that they have been physically attacked and profanities were written on their sidewalk.
Under Moshe's helm, from 1980 until 2006, Satmar doubled in size to around 100,000–120,000 followers, the largest Hasidic group in the United States. At the time of his death, Satmar's real estate holdings were valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Moshe Teitelbaum was the author of a five-volume Hasidic commentary on the Bible entitled Berach Moshe.
In May 1999, Moshe Teitelbaum appointed his third son, Zalman Teitelbaum, as the local leader of the Williamsburg congregation. Until then he was the leader of Satmar in Jerusalem. This was seen as a signal from Moshe that Zalmen was to become Chief Rabbi after his death.
Prior to May 1999, it was assumed that after the death of Moshe Teitelbaum, Satmar would be led by Aaron Teitelbaum, the eldest son. He was his father's representative in communal affairs and assumed his father's responsibilities when his father traveled.
Moshe's appointment of Zalman as the local leader caused factions to form around Aaron and Zalmen. Aaron supporters claimed that Moshe was "swayed by his advisers" to appoint Zalmen because the advisers were concerned they would lose influence under Aaron's regime.
Moshe's will named Zalmen as his successor but Aaron supporters claim that the will was invalid as it was instructed after Moshe already had dementia in 1997.
On April 24, 2006, at the age of 91, Teitelbaum died of cancer. Tens of thousands of members of the Jewish community attended his funeral and burial procession in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and later in Kiryas Joel, New York. Eulogies in the main Satmar synagogue in Williamsburg were said by all the rebbe's children or their husbands in order of their respective ages. Teitelbaum was buried near his uncle Joel in the sect's cemetery in Kiryas Joel.
Moshe was survived by his wife; four sons, Aaron, Lipa, Zalmen Leib, and Shulem; two daughters, Bracha Meisels and Hendy Halberstam. At the time of his death he had at least 86 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. At the time of his death, his first son Aaron and third son Zalmen Leib each claimed leadership of Satmar. The second son Lipa was the leader of a small congregation Zenta-Beirach Moshe Shul in Williamsburg. His son in law Rabbi Chaim Shia Halberstam was a Satmar rebbe in Monsey, New York.
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- פתגמין קדישין תכ"ג
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