Joel Teitelbaum

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Joel Teitelbaum
Born(1887-01-13)January 13, 1887
DiedAugust 19, 1979(1979-08-19) (aged 92)
SpouseChavah Horowitz (1904–1936)
Alte Faige Shapiro (1937–2001)
ChildrenEsther (−1921)
Rachel (−1931)
Roysele (−1953)
ParentsChananyah Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum
Chana Ashkenazi

Joel Teitelbaum (Hebrew: יואל טייטלבוים‎, Ashkenazi pronunciation: IPA: [jɔjl̩ teɪtɛlbɔjm]; 13 January 1887 – 19 August 1979) was the founder and first Grand Rebbe of the Satmar dynasty.

A major figure in the post-war renaissance of Hasidism, he espoused a strictly conservative and isolationist line, rejecting modernity. Teitelbaum was a fierce opponent of Zionism, which he decried as inherently heretical. His role as a Jewish community leader in Transylvania during the Holocaust remains controversial.[1]


Early life[edit]

Teitelbaum was born on January 13, 1887.[2] He was the fifth, and youngest, child and second son of Grand Rabbi Chananyah Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum and his second wife, Chana Ashkenazi. His father wed her in 1878, after receiving a permission from one hundred rabbis to enter another marriage; his first wife, Reitze – daughter of Rebbe Menashe Rubin of Ropshitz – was unable to bear children.[3]

Chananyah served as the rabbi of Máramarossziget (today Sighetu Marmației, Romania), the dean of the local Rabbinical seminary, and the leader of the eponymous Hasidic movement based in the city. He was the great-grandson of Moshe Teitelbaum, a disciple of the Seer of Lublin, who was one of the main promulgators of Hasidism in Hungary. The rabbis of the Teitelbaum family were known for their highly conservative stance, and their opposition to the Enlightenment, Neolog Judaism, and Zionism.

Joel was renowned for his intellectual capacities from a young age. At his bar mitzvah, he delivered a sermon of several hours concerning an issue from the Shabbat tractate in the Talmud. He was stringent in matters regarding ritual purity, and would lengthily prepare for prayer by meticulously cleaning himself.

Even before his wedding, he received letters of ordination from eight prominent rabbis, including Moshe Greenwald. In 1904, just several days before his father's death on 15 February, the 17-year-old married Chavah Horowitz, the daughter of Abraham Chaim Horowitz of Polaniec. They had three daughters, none of whom survived their father or had any children: The first, Esther, died in her youth, on 14 September 1921; Rachel died on 19 March 1931, shortly after her wedding. The last, Chaya Roisa (or Reysel), died on 23 October 1953.[4]

Teitelbaum's older brother Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum succeeded their father in all three of his posts. A small faction of Hasidim regarded Teitelbaum as the appropriate heir, and he was also supported by his mother. He then moved to his new father-in-law's residence in Radomyśl Wielki, and remained there for over a year.

On 8 September 1905, he settled in Szatmárnémeti, or Satmar in Yiddish. Despite his youth, supporters opened a study hall for him. He gradually began to attract a small local following. Journalist Dezső David Schön, who researched the Teitelbaum dynasty, wrote that Teitelbaum started to refer to himself as "Rebbe of Satmar" at that point. Subsequently, he had tense relations with the first to claim the title, Yisaschar Dov Leifer, son of Mordechai of Nadvorna. However, the latter died on 12 September 1906.

Rabbinical career[edit]

In 1911, Teitelbaum was invited by the Jewish community in Orshiva (now in Ukraine), then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to serve as their town's rabbi. During his stay there, he established a local seminary and spread the ideas of Hasidism among the populace. Upon the outbreak of World War I, he returned to Szatmárnémeti, where his old study hall gradually developed into a full-fledged seminary.

As a young rabbi, he clung to the positions of his father and grandfather: He forbade any contact with Zionists, including the religious Mizrachi, and supported Chaim Elazar Spira in his opposition to Agudath Israel. In the meantime, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved, following the war. Satmar and the rest of Partium and Transylvania became part of the Kingdom of Romania, under the terms of the Treaty of Trianon (1920).

The chief Orthodox rabbi of Satmar, Yehudah Greenwald, died on 9 March 1920. Several of Teitelbaum's supporters advanced his name as a possible candidate for the vacant office, but he was opposed by the non-Hasidic (Ashkenazi) majority in the community, the modernists, and the Zionists, as well as by many Hasidim. Eventually, Eliezer David Greenwald (no relation to the former) was chosen. In 1922, after eight years outside the town, Teitelbaum returned to his community, Orshiva, then in Czechoslovakia.

On 29 March 1925, he was appointed chief rabbi of Carei. He moved to the city about a year afterwards. On 21 January 1926, his older brother Chaim Tzvi died unexpectedly of an intracranial hemorrhage. Tzvi's oldest son, Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum (II), was fourteen years old. Although many of his followers suggested that Joel should succeed his brother, custom prevailed, and the boy was given his father's three posts. Yekusiel Judah Gross of Berbești was brought to serve as his tutor and de facto chief rabbi of Sighet (now Sighetu Marmației).

However, most of the Hasidim turned to Joel, who became the dynasty's Rebbe in all but name. When he grew older, Yekusiel established a following of his own from among his father's loyal supporters, but his influence as rebbe never exceeded beyond the city limits.

On 20 May 1928, Eliezer David Greenwald of Satmar died, and Teitelbaum ran for the municipal rabbi's office again. An election committee established by the Orthodox community's board chose him to the post on 11 June, with nineteen members in favor, five against, and two abstentions. After a prolonged dispute with his opponents, the parties decided to hold an election among all members of the congregation. It took place on 9 August, and Teitelbaum received 437 votes in favor and 331 against.

The opposition did not accept the results. In a second vote, on 27 September, 779 approved of Teitelbaum, and only one rejected him. Chaim Freund, the community's president, and several other members of the board were close supporters of the rabbi, and his opponents accused them of rigging the vote throughout the election process by various means, including granting and withdrawing the right to participate according to criteria which benefited their candidate. Both sides sued their opponents in rabbinical courts, and complained to the civilian authorities. The parties presented their claims in lengthy pamphlets printed in 1929: Freund's faction issued a book under the name Milkhemes Mitzve haKhudosh (The New Commanded War), and the other one published Sfas Emes (Words of Truth).

Finally, following the continued refusal of many to accept Teitelbaum, his supporters established their own independent community on 10 December 1929, where he could serve as a rabbi. The fear of losing members' fees motivated the other party to negotiate. An agreement was reached on 11 June 1930, and Joel was invited to serve as Satmar's chief rabbi. He chose not to accept the nomination until he could rely on a sufficient support in the community board. He was content with his faction's status in the council only three and a half years later, and arrived in the city on 27 February 1934. With 334 students, his rabbinical seminary became Satmar's largest, having more pupils than the other three combined.

In August 1932, Teitelbaum visited Jerusalem. A small party there sought to appoint him as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the city, in the wake of Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld's death, but Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky eventually received the post. On 29 January 1936, Teitelbaum's first wife, Chava, died. On 20 August 1937, he remarried with Alte Faige Shapiro, the orphaned 25-year-old daughter of Avigdor Shapiro from Czestochowa, who was half his age.[5]

Rabbi Teitelbaum greeting King Carol II of Romania, 1936

Incident with King Carol II of Romania[edit]

In the winter of 1936, the Romanian king Carol II made a visit in the city of Satmar. A large parade consisting of thousands of soldiers and courtiers accompanied his arrival, and the municipality prepared a large stage upon which all the religious and municipal leaders of the town stood. Teitelbaum was accompanied by his son-in-law, Chananya Yom-Tov Lipa Teitelbaum, rabbi of Szemihály, and community leader Shmuel Rosenberg, and standing beside them were rabbis of the status quo and neolog communities, and other religious leaders.

When the king approached the stage, he surveyed all the people who stood on it, and started walking in Teitelbaum's direction, who was holding his rabbinical stick in one hand and his hat in the other. Two priests started walking towards the king, but he ignored them. Teitelbaum, suddenly noticing what was happening, saluted and said the blessing "Shenatan MiChvodo LiVnei Adam" (who gave from his honor to human beings). The king gave Teitelbaum his hand. The moment was documented by a Jewish photographer, and was published in the Romanian press. Several days later, the king was asked why he approached the Orthodox rabbi first, and he responded: "Immediately when I walked toward the stage, I surveyed all those who were standing on it. My heart was attracted to this rabbi due to his appearance that radiated spirituality (lit., Yiddishen geistlichen rabbiner)." The king's response was published in the country's Jewish press.[6]

World War II[edit]

In 1940, following the Second Vienna Award, Satmar again became part of Hungary.

Prior to the Holocaust, Teitelbaum ignored the threats to the Jews of Transylvania, and failed to engage in the preparation of rescue and aid plans. As the situation of Hungarian Jews became dangerous, Teitelbaum equipped himself and his closest circle with certificates or visas that would facilitate their escape to Palestine or the United States, while he thwarted all attempts at cooperation between the heads of the ultra-Orthodox communities and the Zionist organizations, which could have helped the rest of the Jewish community to escape. His daughter settled in Jerusalem, while he openly called on his followers to avoid immigrating to Palestine.[1]

Teitelbaum's attempts to leave Hungary were part of a broader general phenomenon, which attracted criticism, even then, of rabbis and other public figures fleeing the country. When the Germans invaded Hungary, Teitelbaum's closest associates sought a safer way to smuggle him out by bribing two junior officers, drivers of a Red Cross ambulance, who agreed to drive a group of Jews to Kolozsvár (today Cluj-Napoca) in return for money. The travelers included his family, and several wealthy families who paid most of the costs. The attempt failed, and Teitelbaum was arrested and sent to Kolozsvár Ghetto. Faced with harsh living conditions, he asked his followers to try to transfer him to Budapest, or back to the ghetto of Satmar, where Jews were housed in residential buildings, but they were unable to fulfill his requests. Baron Fülöp von Freudiger, director of the Orthodox congregation in Budapest, selected eighty rabbis and other prominent figures, and paid for their inclusion in the passengers' list of the Kastner train, which was to depart the state for a neutral country. Teitelbaum put himself on the list, despite the fact that the evacuation was organized by a Zionist group.

On 30 June 1944, once negotiations with the Germans had been concluded, the passengers boarded a freight train that was planned to proceed to Switzerland, but was eventually diverted to Bergen Belsen. The group was held in a special section, in better conditions than those of other groups. Although the group included several notable figures, Teitelbaum was given special consideration. The group's physician exempted him from roll calls, and volunteers performed the tasks imposed on him. With the help of Kasztner and SS officer Herman Krumey, the final arrangements were made, and Teitelbaum was transferred to Switzerland with some Jews from the group. Upon his arrival in Switzerland, he was accorded preferential treatment by the authorities. Eventually, he decided to immigrate to Palestine, but as his institutions became bankrupt, he left and settled in the United States.[1]

United States[edit]

In August 1945, several hundreds of the Kastner train's passengers, Teitelbaum among them, left Switzerland for the port of Taranto in Italy. On the 30th, they boarded the ship Ville d'Oran, which arrived in Haifa in the morning of 2 September. During his stay in the British Mandate of Palestine, he resided in Jerusalem, at the house of his nephew and son-in-law, Lipa Meir Teitelbaum.

After a year, the Satmar Rebbe emigrated to the United States. He arrived in New York on the second day of Rosh HaShana (27 September) 1946, aboard the motor vessel Vulcania. He settled in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with a small group of supporters.[7]

In late April 1948, the Satmar Hasidim established "Congregation Yetev Lev", named after his grandfather, which was registered as a religious corporation. The community's regulations, accepted in April 1952, decreed that Teitelbaum was not a salaried office holder, but the supreme spiritual authority over the members.

In 1951, although not a resident of Israel, Teitelbaum was appointed to the ceremonial office of President of the anti-Zionist Congregation of God-Fearers in Jerusalem. After the death of Zelig Reuven Bengis on 21 May 1953, he also succeeded him as the God-Fearers' Rabbinical Court chairman. He visited the state every few years.[8]

In 1955, Teitelbaum founded the Central Rabbinical Congress, which he headed for the remainder of his life. From the early 1960s, the rabbi's envoys sought to establish a rural settlement, in which the congregants could be secluded from the outside world. They eventually managed to purchase territory in Monroe, New York, where they built Kiryas Joel (Town of Joel). The first families settled there in 1974.[9]

On 23 February 1968, Teitelbaum suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed and barely functioning. His wife, backed by several sextons and other functionaries, became the behind-the-scenes power in Satmar.[4] In the early hours of 19 August 1979, he complained of aches, and was evacuated to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he suffered a myocardial infarction and died at approximately 08:00 AM. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral in Kiryas Joel. He was succeeded by his nephew, his older brother's second son, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum.[8]


Opposition to Zionism[edit]

Teitelbaum was famous for his vocal opposition to Zionism in all arenas. He encouraged his followers in Israel to form self-sufficient communities, without assistance from the State of Israel, and forbade any official engagement with it.

Before World War II, most Hasidic rabbis, as well as many other prominent Orthodox rabbis and leaders, believed that God had promised to return the Jewish people to the Land of Israel under the leadership of the Moshiach, who would arrive when the Jewish people had merited redemption. While awaiting the Messiah, the Jewish people were to perform the mitzvot, and were not to antagonize or rebel against the Gentile nations of the world. In the years following the Holocaust, Teitelbaum undertook to strengthen this position.

In Teitelbaum's view, the founding of the modern State of Israel, founded by secular as well as religious Jews, rather than the Moshiach, violated a Jewish commandment that Jews should wait for the Messiah. Moreover, Teitelbaum taught that the existence of the Zionist State of Israel was actually preventing the Messiah from coming.[10]

Three oaths[edit]

The core citations from classical Judaic sources cited by Teitelbaum in his arguments against Zionism are based on a passage in the Talmud. Rabbi Yosi b'Rebbi Hanina explains (Kesubos 111a) that the Lord imposed "Three Oaths" on the nation of Israel: a) Israel should not return to the Land together, by force; b) Israel should not rebel against the other nations; and c) The nations should not subjugate Israel too harshly.

According to Teitelbaum, the second oath is relevant concerning the subsequent wars fought between Israel and Arab nations. He views the Zionist State of Israel as a form of "impatience", in keeping with the Talmud's warnings that being impatient for God's love leads to "grave danger". The Satmar Hasidim explain that the constant wars in Israel are a result of ignoring this oath.

Teitelbaum saw his opposition to Zionism as a way of protecting Jews and preventing bloodshed. Although some Haredi rabbis agree with this idea, the general view of Agudath Israel and many other Haredi rabbis is that, for all practical purposes, through participating in the Israeli government, efforts can be made to promote religious Judaism in Israel. Teitelbaum, however, felt that any participation in the Israeli government, even voting in elections, was a grave sin, because it contributes to the spiritual and physical destruction of innocent people. He was openly opposed to the views of Agudath Israel, and until the present time, Satmar refuses to become a member of the Agudath Israel organization or party. The Satmar view is that only the Jewish Messiah can bring about a new Jewish government in Eretz Israel, 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".

While the Satmar Hasidim are opposed to the present government of Israel, many of them live in and visit Israel. Teitelbaum himself lived for about a year in Jerusalem, after his escape from Europe, but before the establishment of the State of Israel, and visited Israel after moving to the United States.

Other opinions[edit]

Teitelbaum was very stringent in many particulars of Jewish law. He argued with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein over the proper height of a mechitza (divider between men and women in the synagogue). Feinstein held that the mechitza need go only up to the shoulders of the average woman, while Teitelbaum opined that the mechitza should not allow women to be seen at all.

Teitelbaum was very opposed to the use of a tube for metzitza during circumcision of a baby boy, and felt that this change in the procedure would spiritually lead to more promiscuity.

Teitelbaum encouraged all married Hasidic men to wear ceremonial fur hats. Although these were not worn by most Hasidic men in Hungary before the war, Teitelbaum felt that in America, it was more important for people to look very different from the rest of the population, in order to prevent assimilation, which was more rampant in America than it had been in Hungary.

Teitelbaum held that boys and girls shouldn't meet more than two or three times before getting engaged.

Teitelbaum stressed the importance of tznius. He was a strong proponent of the Hungarian Hasidic custom for married women to shave their head every month before immersion in the mikveh (ritual bath). He strongly opposed the wearing of wigs by married women. He felt that this was prohibited on Jewish legal ground; he wanted women to cover their hair with something else instead, such as a turban. He insisted that all Satmar women and girls wear thick, brown stockings with seams. The stockings had to be at least 90 denier. Due to the lack of availability of such stockings, Teitelbaum encouraged one of his Hasidim to manufacture the stockings. The stockings are called "Palm", the English translation of Teitelbaum's last name.

Teitelbaum prohibited the ownership of a television. This was in the 1950s, when TV was still heavily censored for promiscuous content. He bought and oversaw his own Yiddish language newspaper, Der Yid, for two reasons: First, he felt that the other Yiddish newspapers at the time contained articles that were prohibited to read – because of their promiscuous content, and because they didn't respect Haredi leaders. In addition, Teitelbaum wanted a platform from which to spread his ideas.


Some of the works Teitelbaum authored himself, or otherwise compiled by students:

  • Vayoel Moshe (1958), explaining his belief that Zionism is prohibited by halakha (Jewish law)
  • Al HaGeulah VeAl HaTemurah (1967, with N. Y. Meisels), further explaining his belief that Zionism is prohibited, in light of the Six-Day War
  • Divrei Yoel, on the Chumash, Talmud, and Jewish festivals
  • Kuntres Chidushai Torah, on the Chumash
  • Kuntres Chidushai Torah, on the festivals
  • Shu"t Divrei Yoel, responsa on halakha
  • Dibros Kodesh, sermons given at shalosh Seudos
  • Agados Maharit, on the Talmud
  • Tiv Levav, on the Chumash
  • Rav Tuv, on the Chumash

Teitelbaum authored a brief introduction to the Talmudic tractate Shabbat for a Holocaust-era printing in Romania. There are collections of his speeches entitled Hidushei Torah MHR"I Teitelbaum.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Keren-Kratz, Menachem. "The Satmar Rebbe and the Destruction of Hungarian Jewry: Part 1". Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  2. ^ "Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum Dies at 92; Leader of the Satmar Hasidic Sect; Opposed State of Israel Moved to Brooklyn in 1946". The New York Times. August 20, 1979. Retrieved 2012-02-02.
  3. ^ Rabinowicz, Tzvi M. (1996). The Encyclopedia of Hasidism. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. pp. 484, 488. ISBN 1-56821-123-6.
  4. ^ a b Sherman, Moshe D. (1996). Orthodox Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook. Greenwood. pp. 209–211. ISBN 978-0-313-24316-5.
  5. ^ Martin, Douglas (June 13, 2001). "Faiga Teitelbaum, 89, a Power Among the Satmar Hasidim". The New York Times. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
  6. ^ "Ask about Item". Winners Auctions.
  7. ^ "Rav Yoel Teitelbaum – The Satmarer Rebbe". OU, The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Archived from the original on 2005-07-29.
  8. ^ a b Rubinstein, Avraham. "Teitelbaum". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik (Ed.), Vol. 19., Macmillan Reference USA, Detroit 2007. pp. 582–83. Retrieved 2012-02-02.
  9. ^ Berenbaum, Michael; Skolnik, Fred, eds. (2007). "Kiryas Joel". Encyclopaedia Judaica. 12. Detroit: Macmillan Reference. pp. 191–192. Retrieved 2012-02-02.
  10. ^ Vayoel Moshe, Three Oaths, Chapter 69. Teitelbaum quotes Sanhedrin 98b: "Rabbi Hama, son of Hanina, said: The son of David will not come until even the pettiest kingdom ceases [to have power] over Israel." Rashi explains that this means the Jews won't even have the least amount of sovereignty. Since the Messiah won't arrive while Jews have any sovereignty, the State of Israel prevents the arrival of the Messiah. (However, elsewhere, Teitelbaum implicitly allows for the Messianic Kingdom to immediately replace the State of Israel, without any sovereign holding power in between. See Teitelbaum's Divrei Yoel on the Pentateuch, Vol. 3, Page 250.)

Further reading[edit]

  • Farbstein, Esther, Sermons Speak History: Rabbinic Dilemmas in Internment between Metz and Auschwitz. Modern Judaism, May 2007
  • Meisels, Dovid. The Rebbe. The extraordinary life and worldview of Rabbeinu Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe. Distributed by Israel Book Shop, Lakewood, New Jersey, 2010. ISBN 978-1-60091-130-9
  • Weisshaus, Yechezkel Yossef. 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
  • Rabbi Chaim Moshe Stauber The Satmar Rebbe The life and times of Rav Yoel Teitlbaum zt"l-a close talmid's personal recollections. Distributed by Feldheim. ISBN 978-1-59826-764-8

External links[edit]