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26 April 2006

the disputed succession of the Satmar rabbinate

Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum of Satmar dressed in a special Shabbat bekishe. Next to him is his son Zalman Leib Teitelbaum. (Wikipedia)

I have often described myself as the Huckleberry Finn of World Jewry. The closest I have been to a Hassidic rabbi was on a train ride to Toronto. The Intersection Set of languages he spoke and languages I spoke was the Null Set; my Hebrew is pathetic, he did not respond to my German, so he may not even have spoken Yiddish, and I can't speak any Slavic lingos, or Romanian, and certainly not Hungarian. I helped him schlep (Yiddish) his 40 hardbound Hebrew religious books out to the street and helped him into a cab and asked the Rastafarian cabbie to take him to an address handwritten on a scrap of paper.

So here is Huckleberry Finnstein helping you understand the disputed succession of the rabbinate of the Satmar Hasidim. Please direct all questions to Vleeptron, which will have either the wrong answers, or no answers whatsoever.

I was on much more solid footing when Vleeptron posted about evolving Talmudic Law concerning Jewish prayer and observation in Outer Space. (Tang is neither Kosher nor Trayfe, but Parve -- a non-animal product, and thus neutral within the dietary laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Drink all the Tang you want on your voyages between Earth and Vleeptron.)

The following, btw, is serious. Here in the West we've been constantly bombarded by news reports of sectarian divisions within Islam -- primarily simplified as the ferocious enmity between Shia and Sunni. At this moment in Iraq, this enmity is a matter of life, death and civil war.

And yet Sunni and Shia must all, at least once in their lives as Muslims, journey to Mecca to show their devotion to the Prophet Mohammed. The stewardship of the Holy Places of Islam -- still forbidden to all non-believers -- puts the monarchy of Saudi Arabia smack in the middle of the Shia/Sunni division, and if the Saudi royal family likes to ice skate, it's always on thin ice.

If we're skating on thin ice
Then we might as well dance

-- Jesse Winchester,
the Canadian folksinger
with the Mississippi accent

Far less reported about in the English-lingo Western press are the sectarian divisions within Judaism. Anyone who begins a sentence with "All Jews ..." or with "All Muslims ..." has pretty much just certified himself or herself an idiot. Making generalizations about the belief systems of all Muslims or all Jews is like herding cats. This generalization applies to Christianity and to Buddhism as well.

Theological divisions within Judaism play crucial roles in Israeli domestic politics, particularly in government policy toward or against Jewish settlement in the military occupied territories of the West Bank of the Jordan River. Most Sabras -- Jews born in Israel (a Sabra is a desert cactus) -- are relatively unobservant, what we would recognize in the USA or Canada as Reform Jews. They dress like Californians. They consider their life-risking multi-year commitment drafted into the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to be a sufficient commitment to Jewish theology. (Many Orthodox Jews believe they are religiously prohibited from serving in the IDF, but nevertheless push hard-butt Israeli government policies of military suppression and displacement of Palestinians.)

Many Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora believe Zionism -- the modern re-establishment of the ancient Jewish theocracy in Israel -- to be heresy. All Jews are not Zionists. And among Zionists, there are those who simply want a safe nation for Jews, and then there are those who want, among other things, to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem which was destroyed by the Romans, resanctify it, and you don't even want to know what comes after that. Take some Valium, Google "red heifer", and stand back.

Even traditional Christian antisemitism ain't what it used to be in the bad old days. In recent decades a bizarre and meshugineh intimate alliance has sprung up between fundamentalist Christians in the American South and ultra-Orthodox Jews, both bent on rebuilding the Temple.

Why, exactly, ultra-Orthodox Jews want to rebuild the Temple is unclear to Huckleberry Finnstein.

But the fundies want to help their Meshugineh Frumm Ultra-Orthodox Brethren rebuild the Temple because shortly afterwards, according to their theology, The World Will Erupt into The Mother Of All Wars between the forces of God and the forces of Satan the Antichrist, and shortly after that, THE WORLD WILL END, and Jesus will return, and the dead will climb out of their graves, and Vleeptron recommends you stock up on Valium and iodine pills now. Oy vey. (Yiddish = Ach Weg = Oh Woe)

~ ~ ~

Associated Press (headline: Newsday)
Tuesday 25 April 2006

Religious authorities announce
Satmar Hasidim leader

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK -- The leader of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect who died this week arranged for an organized succession by naming one of his sons as the next grand rabbi of the Satmar Hasidim, religious authorities announced Tuesday.

In his will, Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum, who died Monday at the age of 91, recognized Zalmen Teitelbaum, the third of his four sons, as the next rebbe, or grand rabbi.

"He shall occupy my position and succeed me without any shortfall, for effective immediately I have granted him the position," Moses Teitelbaum wrote in his will.

But the decision, announced by the Satmars' Rabbinical Court, is unlikely to settle the divisive issue of succession that has pitted Zalmen Teitelbaum, 54, against the eldest brother, Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum of Kiryas Joel in upstate New York.

That is because the 58-year-old Aron Teitelbaum has thousands of his own followers who believe he is the rightful successor.

The brothers have been feuding over the question for years. In 2004, a judge in Brooklyn refused to rule in the sons' dispute over the heir to the Satmar sect, saying the matter was for the grand rabbi to decide.

In his will, Moses Teitelbaum also directed that "not one of my descendants or among the persons within the community shall challenge or commit any act to diminish the powers of the above-mentioned appointment."

Moses Teitelbaum led the Satmar congregation in Brooklyn after the death of Grand Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum in 1979. He helped guide the fast-growing Satmar Hassidim in Brooklyn, Israel and other spots around the world.

The Satmar Hasidic sect has between 65,000 to 75,000 disciples in the United States, with almost all of them living in New York state. The biggest congregations are in Williamsburg [Brooklyn] and the town of Kiryas Joel, about 45 miles northwest of New York City.

Moses Teitelbaum was buried in Kiryas Joel early Tuesday after a service in Williamsburg that drew thousands of followers filled with intense grief.

In 1999, Moses Teitelbaum summoned Zalmen Teitelbaum back from Jerusalem, where he was serving as the Satmar chief rabbi. Upon his return, the father named the son chief rabbi of the Satmars' main synagogue in Williamsburg.

"Leaders of the Satmar community expressed the fervent hope that with the naming of Rabbi Zalmen Teitelbaum as Grand Rabbi, divisions which have afflicted this community in recent years will now heal," according to a Satmar statement released Tuesday.

Richard Schwartz, an adviser to the followers of Aron Teitelbaum, disputed the court's decision.

"The will is not the vehicle for establishing succession if history is to be our guide," Schwartz said.

Schwartz also claimed that Moses Teitelbaum was not in a lucid state of mind when he wrote the will and Satmar tradition says the eldest son should be the designated successor.

- 30 -

* * *

from Wikipedia

Rabbi Moshe (Moses) Teitelbaum (1 November 1914 - 24 April 2006) was a Hasidic rebbe and the world leader of the Satmar Hasidim, which is believed to be the largest Hasidic community in the world, with some 100,000 followers.

Early life

Moshe was the youngest son of Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum, the previous Sigheter Rebbe, and brother of author of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum. His mother's name was Bracha Sima. He authored the Atzei Chaim. Moshe and his brother, Yekutiel Yehuda Teitelbaum, were born in Sighet, then Hungary, now Romania, and were orphaned in 1926, when they were eleven and fourteen, respectively. Moshe was raised by family friends and relatives, including his uncle, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, and his grandfather, Rabbi Shalom Eliezer Halberstam of Ujfeherto.

In 1936, he married his cousin Leah Meir, daughter of Rabbi Hanoch Heinoch Meir of Karecska, where Moshe worked as a rosh yeshiva [head of a religious school]. In 1939, he became the rabbi of Senta (presently in Yugoslavia; then Hungary).

In late-spring 1944, the Hungarian government, assisted by Nazi forces led by Adolf Eichmann, began deporting Jews en-masse. Rabbi Moshe and his wife were sent to Auschwitz, where Leah died. Moshe was then transferred to Theresienstadt [near Prague, Czechoslovakia], where he was liberated in 1945.


After the war, Rabbi Moshe married the daughter of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum of Volovo, and moved back to Sighet. Fleeing Communist persecution, the couple eventually immigrated to New York City, where Rabbi Moshe became known as the Sigheter Rebbe. Moshe initially established a beth midrash, Atzei Chaim Siget in his uncle Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum's Satmar enclave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and later moved to Boro Park. He succeeded his uncle as Satmar rebbe following his death in 1979.

Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum was the author of a Hasidic book called Berach Moshe. He left behind eight children and over eighty-six grandchildren, many great grandchildren, and one great-great granddaughter, born earlier on the day that he died.

Death and succession

On 24 April 2006, at the age of 91, the Rebbe passed away. Over 100,000 members of the Jewish community attended his funeral and burial procession. Eulogies in the main Satmar synagogue in Williamsburg were said by all the Rebbes’ children or their husbands in order of their respective ages. The Rebbe was buried near his uncle, the previous Rebbe, in the sect's cemetary in Kiryas Joel.

Two of Rabbi Moshe's sons, Rabbi Aaron and Rabbi Zalman, are likely candidates to succeed their father. Rabbi Aaron's followers are mainly in Kiryas Joel, New York while Rabbi Zalman's followers are mainly in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A major split has developed among the Satmar Hasidim as to who will become the leader of the Satmar sect. The split is believed to have originated in 1999, when the present Rebbe bypassed his oldest son in a key appointment that was seen, by some, as a stepping stone for the movement's leadership.


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