Satmar (Hasidic dynasty)

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Satmar (Hebrew: סאטמאר or סאטמר) is a Hasidic sect originating from the city of Satu Mare, Transylvania, where it was founded in 1905 by Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum. Following World War II it was reestablished in New York, becoming one of the largest Hasidic movements in the world. After Joel's death, he was succeeded by his nephew, Moshe Teitelbaum. Since the latter's death in 2006, the dynasty is split between his two sons, Aaron Teitelbaum and Zalman Teitelbaum.


1905 - 1946[edit]

Joel Teitelbaum bowing before King Carol II of Romania, 1936.

Upon the death of Chananya Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum, the Grand Rebbe of the Sighet Hasidic dynasty, in 1904, he was succeeded by his oldest son, Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum. A small fraction of his hasidim regarded his second son, Joel Teitelbaum, as the appropriate heir. The younger brother left Sighet. On 8 September 1905, he settled in Satu Mare (in Yiddish: Satmar), where he began to attract a small following in addition to his few old supporters. Hungarian journalist Dezső Schön, who researched the Teitelbaum rabbis in the 1930s, wrote that Joel started referring to himself as the "Rebbe of Satmar" at that time.[1] Sociologist Israel Rubin, who conducted a study of Satmar in Brooklyn, also stated that the sect was founded then.[2]

Joel's power base grew with the years. In 1911, he received his first rabbinical post, being appointed chief rabbi of Irshava. In 1921, the northeastern regions of Hungary, which were densely populated with Orthodox Jews, were ceded to Czechoslovakia and Romania under the terms of the Treaty of Trianon. Many Sighet hasidim, unable to regularly visit Chaim Zvi's court, turned to his brother instead.[3] In 1925, Teitelbaum was appointed chief Orthodox rabbi of Carei. On 21 January 1926, Chaim Zvi Teitelbaum died unexpectedly. While he was officially succeeded by his fourteen-year-old son, Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum (II), his followers accepted Joel as their leader, and he became the dynasty's head in all but name.[4]

In 1928, Joel was elected as chief Orthodox rabbi of Satu Mare itself. The appointment resulted in bitter strife within the Jewish community, and he only accepted the post in 1934.[5] In the antebellum years he rose to become a prominent figure in Orthodox circles, leading an uncompromisingly conservative line against modernization. Among other issues, he was a fierce opponent of Zionism and Agudat Yisrael.

On 19 March 1944, the German Army entered Hungary. The Jewish population, which was spared wholesale destruction prior to that time, was concentrated in the Satu Mare ghetto and deportations to the concentration camps ensued. Teitelbaum was saved by being included in the passenger list of the Kastner train. He reached Switzerland on the night of 7–8 December 1944, and soon immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine. He moved to the United States after a year,[6] arriving in New York aboard the MS Vulcania on 26 September 1946.[7]

1947 - 1979[edit]

Teitelbaum settled in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with a small group of followers, and set out to re-establish his sect, which was destroyed in the Holocaust. In April 1948, the Satmar hasidim founded "Congregation Yetev Lev", which was registered as a religious corporation.[8] Teitelbaum appointed Leopold Friedman (1904 - 1972), a former bank director, as the congregation's president, while he was declared supreme spiritual authority. After his death, Friedman was replaced by Leopold Lefkowitz (1920 - 1998).[9] The Grand Rebbe's policy was to maintain complete independence by refusing to affiliate or receive financial aid from any other Jewish group;[10] his hasidim established a network of businesses which provided an economic base for the community's own social institutions.[11]

The Satmar group grew rapidly, attracting many new followers. A 1961 survey established that its Williamsburg community included 4,500 people. From the 860 household heads, about 40 percent were neither Satmar nor Sighet hasidim in the prewar years.[12] In 1968, the sect was New York's largest Hasidic group, with 1,300 households in the city. In addition, there were many Satmars in other parts of the United States and worldwide.[13] As part of his vision of complete isolation from the outside world, Rabbi Joel encouraged his followers, many of whom were immigrants from former Greater Hungary who spoke German or Hungarian, to use Yiddish as their primary language. The sect had its own Yiddish-oriented education system and several publishing houses which provided extensive reading material.[14]

On 23 February 1968, Teitelbaum suffered a stroke which left him barely functioning. His second wife, Alte Feiga, administered the sect for the remainder of his life with the assistance of several Satmar functionaries.[15] In 1974, the sect began constructing the housing project Kiryas Joel in Monroe, New York for its members. It was accorded an independent municipal status in 1977.[16] On 19 August 1979, the Grand Rebbe died of a heart attack.

1980 - 2006[edit]

The main synagogue in Kiryas Joel

Teitelbaum was not survived by any children: all his three daughters died in his lifetime. After prolonged vacillations by the community board, his nephew Moshe Teitelbaum, Chaim Zvi's second son, was appointed as successor, in spite of Feiga's severe objections. He was proclaimed Rebbe on 8 August 1980, the first anniversary of his uncle's death by the Hebrew calendar.[17] The great majority of hasidim accepted the new leader, though a small faction called Bnei Yoel, which was unofficially led by Feiga, opposed him. The tense relations between both led to several violent incidents in the 1980s.[18]

In 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court held in the case of Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet that a school district whose boundaries had been drawn to include only Satmar children violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Until the late 1990s, the Grand Rebbe's heir apparent was his oldest son, Aaron Teitelbaum. In 1999, his third son, Zalman Teitelbaum, was recalled from his post as Satmar leader in Jerusalem and appointed chief rabbi in Williamsburg. He was later proclaimed the successor, and an often violent struggle between both brothers ensued. Aaron resided in Kiryas Joel, New York, where he was considered as the local authority, while Zalman held sway in Williamsburg.[19]

2006-present succession feud[edit]

Following the Grand Rebbe's death in 2006, both groups of followers announced their candidate was named successor in his will. Rabbis Hertzke Zweibel, Rosh Kollel in Williamsburg, and Yisroel Chaim Horowitz of the Satmar Congregation in Manchester, claimed they both heard Moshe choose Aaron as next Rebbe.

A printed will naming Zalman was read at the ceremony in which he was appointed Rebbe, on 25 April 2006.[20] A rabbinical court validated the document, though Aaron's faction contended the ruling, claiming the court was made up of the other brother's supporters.[21][22]

Aaron's party refused to accept his younger brother, stating that the Grand Rebbe must be chosen by the Satmar board of directors, as Moshe was.[23] Both sides commenced litigation in the New York State Supreme Court.[24]

Aaron spent the first Sabbath after his father's death in Williamsburg, a move seen as a possible attempt to establish a local following. Both groups held separate Sabbath services.[25][26]

On 12 July 2006, an appeals court in Brooklyn refused to rule on the dispute on First Amendment grounds. The legal arguments centered on the validity of each group's elections for the Board of Trustees of Congregation Yetev Lev D'Satmar. The ruling was that the conflict was an internal religious matter and therefore not subject to the court's authority.[27] The ruling was appealed to the highest New York court[28][29] and was upheld on November 20, 2007, re-affirming that the dispute is unjusticiable for the courts.[30]

The decision indirectly left Zalman in charge of all assets in Williamsburg. His party filed further litigation, requesting the court to essentially declare them as legal administrators in Williamsburg. their motions were repeatedly denied.[31] [32] Shortly after his appeal was denied, Aaron built his own synagogue in Williamsburg, Kehilas Yetev Lev D'Satmar, which was completed in only 14 business days.[33] He also opened schools for his supporters' children in the neighborhood, considered his brother's territory.

Satmar today[edit]

At the time of Moshe Teitelbaum's death, sources within the sect estimated it had 119,000 members worldwide, making it the world's largest Hasidic group.[34] A similar figure of 120,000 was cited by sociologist Samuel Heilman.[35] However, anthropologist Jacques Gutwirth estimated in 2004 that Satmar numbered about 50,000.[36] As of 2006, the dynasty controlled assets worth $1 billion in the United States.[34]

The two largest Satmar communities are in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Kiryas Joel, New York. There are also significant Satmar communities in Borough Park, Brooklyn and Monsey, New York. Smaller communities can be found in other North American cities such as Los Angeles, Lakewood, New Jersey, Montreal, in some European cities such as Antwerp, London and Manchester, in Argentina, Australia and Israel.

In addition to Aaron and Zalman's two main congregations, Chaim Yehoshua Halberstam, chief rabbi of the Satmar community in Monsey, New York, became its local leader. Unlike the two brothers, Halberstam does not lay claim to the entire sect, though he conducts himself in the manner of a Hasidic Rebbe, accepting kvitlach and holding tish. Another son, Rabbi Lipa Teitelbaum. established his own congregation and calls himself Zenter Rav, named after the town Senta, Serbia, where his father served as Rabbi before World War II.


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, Joel Teitelbaum decreed that his hasidim are not to approach the Western Wall and other holy places now under Israeli rule, feeling it would show support for it. The sect's members in the country also refuse to take any social benefits or to vote in the elections, and negatively view other Haredi groups that do so. Their institutions in Israel are funded by 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 Chabad Lubavitch, Ger, Klausenberg, Bobov, Breslov and Belz, in part because of the different groups' positions towards Zionism and the State of Israel. There have also been conflicts in New York between Satmar and Lubavitch Hasidim, in particular over the latter's alleged proselytizing in Satmar areas.[37]


Before World War II, many Orthodox rabbis believed that God had promised to return the Jewish people to the Land of Israel by means of the actions of the Jewish Messiah alone, stating any Jewish efforts to facilitate this redemption would be punished.[38] Instead of accepting benefits from the State of Israel, Rabbi Joel encouraged his followers to form self-sufficient communities. He recorded his views on Zionism in his polemical 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 death he set up the Keren Hatzalah fund to help those Jews who refrain from taking money from the Israeli Government.[citation needed]

Although it was certainly not the only reason for his opinion, one of the core citations from classical Judaic sources cited by Rav 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"[39]

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.[40]

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:

" 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."[41]

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 either hostile to Orthodox Judaism, or were 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 the fulfillment of that prophecy.[citation needed]

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;[citation needed] 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 the State of Israel, many of them live in and visit Israel (as Rabbi Teitelbaum did, many times).[citation needed] 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).[citation needed]

Satmar and Neturei Karta[edit]

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 regions of the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[42]

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.[43] 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 International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust organized by the Iranian government.[44] The Edah HaChareidis posted signs in support of Zalman's stand, but they later reversed themselves, apparently because they came to believe that the NK had not actually denied the Holocaust after all.[citation needed]

The newspaper Der Blatt, published by adherents of one of the Satmar factions, that of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, refused to denounce the actions of Neturei Karta, fearing that such denunciation could be interpreted as a softening of Satmar opposition to Israel, 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."[citation needed]

Satmar institutions[edit]

Charitable institutions[edit]

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 all 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, helping them to resist any financial help from the Zionist government. It was founded by Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum shortly before his death.

Educational institutions[edit]

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.[45] In most places, the girls' schools are called Beis Rochel and the yeshivas Torah VeYirah.

Rabbinical organizations[edit]

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 and marital issues.


Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum also gave permission and later encouraged his followers to publish a Haredi Jewish weekly newspaper in Yiddish called Der Yid[citation needed]. The slogan of the newspaper (translated from Yiddish) is "Der Yid- The Organ of Independent Orthodox Jewish Identity". 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, and 2) To give the Satmar Community the opportunity to read and understand their Rebbe's views. The newspaper has since been sold and is currently privately owned and operated.

The readership of the newspaper grew to 50,000 copies per week[citation needed].

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, 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 hasidic sects.[citation needed]

Today, there are several weekly and monthly privately owned publications that claim to share the Satmar Rebbe's objectives. For example, Der Blatt, established in 2000, is owned and run by a follower of Grand Rabbi Aaron.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dezső Schön. Istenkeresők a Kárpátok alatt: a haszidizmus regénye. Múlt és Jövő Lapés Könyvk, 1997 (first edition in 1935). ISBN 9789638569776. pp. 286-287.
  2. ^ Israel Rubin. Satmar: Two Generations of an Urban Island. P. Lang, 1997. ISBN 9780820407593. p. 42.
  3. ^ Yitsḥaḳ Yosef Kohen. Ḥakhme Ṭransilṿanyah, 490-704. Jerusalem Institute for the Legacy of Hungarian Jewry, 1988. OCLC 657948593. pp. 73-74.
  4. ^ Yehudah Shṿarts. Ḥasidut Ṭransilvanyah be-Yiśraʼel. Transylavanian Jewry Memorial Foundation, 1982. OCLC 559235849. p. 10.
  5. ^ Schön, p. 320.
  6. ^ David N. Myers. "Commanded War": Three Chapters in the "Military" History of Satmar Hasidism. Oxford University Press, 2013. pp. 25-26.
  7. ^ Retrieved on
  8. ^ Rubin, p. 47.
  9. ^ Jerome R Mintz. Hasidic People: A Place in the New World. Harvard University Press, 1992. ISBN 9780674041097. p. 31
  10. ^ George Kranzler. Hasidic Williamsburg: A Contemporary American Hasidic Community. Jason Aronson, 1995. ISBN 9781461734543. p. 112-113.
  11. ^ Mintz, pp. 32-34.
  12. ^ Rubin. pp. 47, 262.
  13. ^ Jerome R. Mintz. Legends of the Hasidim. Jason Aronson, 1995. ISBN 9781568215303. p. 42.
  14. ^ Bruce Mitchell. Language Politics And Language Survival: Yiddish Among the Haredim in Post-War Britain. Peeters Publishers, 2006. ISBN 978-9042917842. pp. 54-56.
  15. ^ Mintz, p. 85.
  16. ^ Mintz, p. 207.
  17. ^ Mintz, pp. 126-128.
  18. ^ Kranzler, p. 229.
  19. ^ Chasidic Split Colors Satmar Endorsement (07/27/2001) from The Forward ; Satmar wedding leads to brawl (12 May 2002) ; Fistfights on Rodney Street (3 October 2002) ; Tempers, bones snap in Hasidic infighting (10/26/2004)
  20. ^ Satmar Rav Dies; His Son, Rabbi Zalman, Chosen to Succeed Him.
  21. ^ "Briefs: Religious authorities announce new Satmar Hasidim leader". Israelinsider. 2006-04-26. Retrieved 2008-06-30. 
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ NY1: Top Stories
  24. ^ Newman, Andy (2006-04-25). "Dispute Over Rabbi's Successor Heats Up". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  25. ^ The War for Hasidic Williamsburg – New York Magazine
  26. ^ "New York City News – Breaking News in New York – NY Daily News". Daily News (New York). [dead link]
  27. ^ Zalman faction wins big in ruling
  28. ^ New York State Court 1
  29. ^ New York State Court 2
  30. ^ NYS Court of Appeals
  31. ^ Brooklyn Court decision denying Zalmans request
  32. ^ Brooklyn decision upheld by appelate
  33. ^ In Brooklyn, Hasidim build shul in a flash
  34. ^ a b Michael Powell. Succession Unclear After Grand Rebbe's Death. Washington Post, 26 April 2006.
  35. ^ Associated Press. Moses Teitelbaum, 91; Rabbi Was Spiritual Leader of Orthodox Sect. Los Angeles Times, 25 April 2006.
  36. ^ Jacques Gutwirth. La renaissance du hassidisme: De 1945 à nos jours. Odile Jacob, 2004. ISBN 9782738114983. p. 69.
  37. ^ Mintz, Jerome R. Hasidic People: A Place in the New World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-674-38116-5
  38. ^ Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Volume 71, Issue 2. University of London. School of Oriental and African Studies. 2008, p. 200
  39. ^ Three Oaths
  40. ^ Anti-Zionism
  41. ^ Vayoel Moshe
  42. ^ Orthodox Anti-Zionism
  43. ^ "Parshas Nuso". Dibros Kodesh. 1961. "And those who come with a facade of N.K..." 
  44. ^
  45. ^ [2], New York Times, April 25, 2006

External links[edit]