Sanctum

Spending close to a week in the center of Satmar’s spiritual empire provided no small number of surprises and shattered quite a few misconceptions. Sitting in the private chamber with the Rebbe Rav Zalman Leib, davening with both his minyan and in the shul on Rodney Street, participating in a Shabbos meal with the Rebbe, and a series of visits to the Satmar mosdos, highlighted the complexity of this little-understood Chassidus. Welcome to Satmar
photos Meir Haltovsky, Hershy Rubinstien

Beyond the Myths:

Inner
by Aryeh Ehrlich

Satmar’s

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wasn’t sure, as a guest from Eretz Yisrael who votes in Israeli elections and sends his children to schools funded by the Zionist government, what kind of a welcome I’d receive in the inner circle of the Chassidus that’s still engaged in a war against the Zionist entity currently ruling over Eretz Yisrael. But Satmar is much more than anti-Zionist politics. It is a kingdom of chesed, a world of congeniality, and an island of hospitality. As the double doors on 550 Bedford Avenue close behind me, I am greeted warmly by Rebbe Yekusiel Yehuda (“Zalman Leib”) of Satmar. Across the table, the Rebbe sits serenely, dressed in a shtreimel and a flowered beketshe embroidered with gold thread, in honor of the week of sheva brachos of his eldest grandson. The decor around him is basic. At the center of a long table stands a silver clock whose rhythmic ticking breaks the silence. An old brown chandelier hangs from the ceiling, casting a soft light over the interior of the room. Around the table are eight chairs and bookshelves laden with seforim; four doors lead to the various sections of the house. A Chassidus with the financial wherewithal of Satmar could allow much more luxury for its leaders, but obviously, Rebbe Zalman Leib prefers that the wealth stop at his threshold. Adjoining the Rebbe’s chamber is a combination living room and waiting room, where, minutes before my meeting in the Rebbe’s inner sanctum, I joined the ten chassidim who regularly daven Maariv in this outer room with the Rebbe, whose own prayers are silent and measured. The five days that I spent as a guest in this great spiritual empire brought me no small number of surprises and shattered quite a few misconceptions. Sitting with the Rebbe, davening in the shul on Rodney Street, participating in one public Shabbos meal with the Rebbe and another with a leading figure in Satmar (who made sure to invite some quick-witted young men who are well-versed in the “shitah hakedoshah” of Rav Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar ztz”l, so that they would solidly present Satmar’s worldview), and a series of visits to the Satmar mosdos, all exposed me to the complexity of this littleunderstood Chassidus. Satmar has its wealthy and its poor, it has its stubborn side and its soft side, and it has both passion and calm. It is at once rigidly anachronistic and surprisingly progressive. Welcome to the world of Satmar.

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1. Rebbe Zalman Leib with Rabbi Moshe Friedman, one of the best-known gabbaim in the chassidic world 2. The Beirach Moshe ztz”l (center) with his third son, Rav Zalman Leib (right), leader of the “blatt learners” 3. Father and son in a wedding dance for posterity

Crossing (Green) Lines Rabbi Mordechai Dovid Wieder, a confidant of the Rebbe who serves as his gabbai and is responsible for writing kvittlach, closed the door behind me. I stood alone, facing the leader of the Satmar Chassidus in Williamsburg. “Reb Aryeh is a guest from Eretz Yisrael, from the city of

Beitar,” Rabbi Wieder whispered, placing a folded note in front of the Rebbe. My name and the name of the city where I live were printed on the outside of the note, in large, elegant letters. Reb Mordechai Dovid also served the previous Rebbe, the Beirach Moshe of Satmar. He writes kvittlach and directs the stream of people into the Rebbe’s room with expertise and discretion. Above him on the chain of command is Rabbi Moshe Friedman, the meshamesh bakodesh of Satmar and one of the most well-known gabbaim in the chassidic world. A delicate smile tugs at the corners of the Rebbe’s lips. “What kind of kehillos are there in Beitar?” he asks surprisingly, a pair of compassionate eyes peering out from behind his black-rimmed eyeglasses. According to Satmar, living in such an area borders on provoking the nations of the world, which is forbidden by one of the three oaths on which the first Satmar Rebbe based his views. To my surprise, the Rebbe did not demonstrate any signs of displeasure. Instead, he went on to take an interest in what I do for a living. The Rebbe’s interest in family and livelihood is sincere and genuine. He will often offer his own assistance, and despite the power of

his brachos and the efficacy of his advice, the Rebbe will often opt to help out in practical ways as well; he will make a telephone call, forge connections, and use his own influence when necessary. Satmar, I was told by the chassidim in the beis medrash on Rodney Street, demands from its adherents conservatism and involvement, both of them l’sheim Shamayim. The most disapproving facial expression that I encountered was when I dared to ask if I could bring a camera into the stronghold of the Chassidus. The very request, I was told, was unacceptable. The Rebbe is opposed to pictures, and no camera has ever crossed the threshold of his private home. I relented. In a few days, the Rebbe will be visiting Eretz Yisrael for the first time since he assumed the mantle of leadership. Rav Shaul Perlstein, the deputy rosh hakahal, said that the Rebbe will be coming with millions of dollars to distribute to mosdos in Eretz Yisrael that refrain from accepting government funding. The reason for the Rebbe’s trip is the wedding of the daughter of Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum, the Rebbe’s eldest son and his successor

as the leader of the Satmar community in Yerushalayim. But that also coincides with Israeli election week. At the request of the leaders of the Eidah HaChareidis, the Rebbe agreed to move up his arrival in order to participate in a mass rally against voting in the Israeli elections. In a surprising move, Delta Airways has altered its flight schedule in order to allow the Rebbe to come to JFK Airport after the conclusion of Shabbos according to the zman of Rabbeinu Tam. (The Rebbe does not travel on El Al, due to its Zionist affiliation.) This next Sunday, tens of thousands of people are expected to gather in the capital’s Kikar Shabbos to hear the Rebbe’s speech. The old Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel ztz”l, established the famous Keren Hatzolah to assist those institutions that function independently of the state and accept no government funding. Last week, during the final days before the Rebbe’s excursion, he was busy raising money for all these institutions — and not only Satmar mosdos, but for mosdos across the board, as long as they adhere to the philosophy of the Chassidus. One of the gabbaim was concerned that the Rebbe wouldn’t have

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time to prepare the many drashos he’s slated to deliver while in Eretz Yisrael, but the Rebbe, undaunted, replied with a story.... The Rebbe told a story of the famed Divrei Chaim of Sanz, Rav Chaim Halberstam. One of the highlights of the year was the kreppel Torah, the intricate and complex shiur the Rebbe would deliver at Kiddush on Shavuos to the scholars and yeshivah bochurim. One year, as Shavuos approached, the Rebbe was intensely busy raising funds for a vital cause and asked the gabbai to gather the town’s wealthier citizens in the beis medrash. Instead of the scholarly shiur, the Rebbe asked them to reach into their pockets and give generously, concluding, “And this is the kreppel Torah for this year.” Rav Zalman Leib shrugged. “These preparations, raising funds, will be the drashos for this trip.” One of Satmar’s philanthropists was asked to assist, and he brought the Rebbe a generous check. He then leaned close and suggested that he would add another check. “The Rebbe is going for his einekel’s chasunah, after all, and a zeideh tries to help his family; there are personal expenses too. I would like to add another amount for the Rebbe’s personal use.” The Rebbe didn’t hesitate. “Giving me funds with which to help other Yidden is the most personal thing you can do for me.” In Israel today, rumors abound that if a person hands in his teudat zehut (which he must present to vote) to Satmar on Election Day, he’ll receive $100. (Or is it $1,000?) “Patently false,” says one of the trip’s organizers. “It’s a media campaign, so in case the chareidi parties will make a poor showing, they’ll have what to blame it on.” He said that the Rebbe plans to spend Election Day in the Galil visiting mekomos kedoshim, out of sight of newshounds and out of earshot of media, as he used to do with his yeshivah during the years he served as rav of the Satmar community in Yerushalayim.

From Yerushalayim to Williamsburg
Rebbe yekusiel yehuda (Zalman Leib) teitelbaum, 61, first rose to fame in satmar on the day his father, the beirach Moshe, became the satmar Rebbe in 1979. It was a day of transition, when darkness and light mixed — the day the first Rebbe, Rav yoel of satmar, passed away. Rebbe Zalman Leib’s chassidim relate that on the final Friday night that Rav yoel appeared publicly, he honored his nephew, Reb yekusiel yehuda, with bentsching over a kos. the following day, Rav yoel became bedridden with his final illness. that was when Rav Zalman Leib, the beirach Moshe’s third son, became his father’s right-hand man on issues of chinuch and was designated the rav of the sighet beis Medrash in boro park, a position that the beirach Moshe himself had held until he became the Rebbe. In 1984, Rav Zalman Leib was appointed to the position of rosh mesivta for the satmar youth, and he quickly began to flourish in that position. he delivered shiurim to groups of students and became known as a master of clarity. During those years, Rav Zalman Leib developed thousands of bochurim into lamdanim. At the time, it was said that his older brother, Rav Aharon, excelled in incisive analysis, but the “blatt learners,” those who swallowed up pages of Gemara and attained a wide breadth of knowledge, could be found by Rav Zalman Leib. Rav Zalman Leib served as rosh mesivta until 1997, when Rav Moshe Aryeh Freund, the gaavad of the Eidah haChareidis in yerushalayim and rav of the satmar chassidim in the city, passed away. After Rav Moshe Aryeh’s passing, satmar chassidim in yerushalayim asked the beirach Moshe for a new spiritual leader to guide them, and so he chose Rav Zalman Leib to move to yerushalayim and become the leader of the chassidim there. he was humble and had not yet revealed his greatness, yet soon he became beloved by the community, and the satmar chassidim of yerushalayim became his main admirers. During this time, his older brother, Rav Aharon, was serving as the rav of the massive satmar community in Kiryas Joel. In the summer of 1999, Rav Zalman Leib was requested by his father to take over the leadership of the community in Williamsburg, after his head gabbai Rabbi Moshe Friedman worked hard to advance his appointment. the chassidim of satmar always remember that Motzaei shabbos of Parshas Mikeitz, December 1999, when the official installation ceremony took place in a huge hall on the outskirts of Williamsburg. In 2006 the beirach Moshe passed away and Rav Zalman Leib took his place in Williamsburg. During the wedding of the Rebbe’s grandson, I met up with Reb Ezriel Glick, an elderly chassid who once served as the Divrei yoel’s shammash. I asked him about the division of the leadership in the Chassidus, and he had an interesting response. “the beirach Moshe told me, ‘I have two sons who are fit to serve as leaders — Reb Aharon and Reb yekusiel yehuda. I am giving the rabbanus to both of them. Everyone should go to whichever rebbe he desires; I can’t force anything on anyone.’” over the years, the huge community was split between the two brothers, with Rav Aharon developing his base in Kiryas Joel while the institutions in Williamsburg, including the beis medrash on Rodney street and most of the mosdos that had been built in the neighborhood by Rav yoel, fell under the aegis of Rav Zalman Leib. When issues related to Eretz yisrael are brought to him, the Rebbe generally calls his son, Reb Chaim hersh teitelbaum, who has taken over his previous position as the leader of the community in yerushalayim. he also often consults with Rav yitzchak tuvia Weiss, the gaavad of the Eidah haChareidis. the Rebbe once told the rosh yeshivah of satmar in Queens, Rabbi Naftali blumenfeld, “In most chassidic groups, a person who doesn’t follow the rebbe in every way, down to the smallest possible detail, receives no attention at all. by us, you will never hear of anything of the sort. Anyone who adheres to our holy principles will receive the full respect he deserves.” Recently, additional chassidic courts in Eretz yisrael — including those of Rachmistrivka and bohush — have been added to the circle of those supported by satmar philanthropists, due their disconnecting themselves from government funds.

Three Generations

The red brick house on Bedford Avenue seems regular enough from the outside, but those bricks were witness to three generations of Satmar Chassidus. The first resident was the Divrei Yoel of Satmar, the founder of the Chassidus on American shores, who purchased the home during the 1960s to be used as the Satmar beis medrash. It was here that the author of Vayoel Moshe laid the iron foundations of his fierce opposition to Zionism. This building is the cornerstone of the set of principles that views the State of Israel as the source of all the Jewish People’s woes. When Reb Yoelish passed away and the masses of Satmar chassidim lost the man whom they viewed as their father in the spiritual and material sense, his nephew, Rav Moshe Teitelbaum of Satmar — the Beirach Moshe — took his place. For close to three generations, the Beirach Moshe preserved the legacy of his illustrious uncle and continued carrying the torch while taking care to avoid introducing any innovations of his own. The only change that took place during

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4. No innovations. At the grave of Rav Yoel of Satmar 5. Two brothers, two kings. The Beirach Moshe flanked by his sons and future rebbes, Rav Zalman Leib (left) and Rav Aharon (right)

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the Beirach Moshe’s tenure was the result of natural development: Satmar’s numbers multiplied many times over, until it was the largest Chassidus in the world. From this house at the corner of Bedford and Ross there was launched a massive movement opposed to anything containing the slightest trace of Zionism, but that at the same time exemplified chesed, stood at the forefront of bikur cholim endeavors, and graciously welcomed Jews of any stripe who knocked on its doors. The third generation was the one in which Satmar split into two camps. Rebbe Yekusiel Yehuda (Zalman Leib) Teitelbaum, the Beirach Moshe’s third son, leads the group based in Williamsburg, while his older brother, Rebbe Aharon Teitelbaum, is based in Kiryas Joel in Monroe. Reb Lipa Teitelbaum, the Beirach Moshe’s second son, was his father’s assistant in his private life and is aligned with his younger brother in Williamsburg. Today in Williamsburg there are about 8,000 Satmar families, 5,500 of whom are followers of Rebbe Yekusiel Yehuda. As I made my way from one beis medrash to another, I encountered hundreds of outstanding yungeleit who believe with all of their hearts and souls that the most difficult struggle facing this generation is the nisayon of Zionism. Many of them have never visited Eretz Yisrael, and those who will join the Rebbe on his visit to Eretz Yisrael next week have been instructed by the Rebbe to learn repeatedly through the seforim of Al HaGeulah V’Al HaTemurah, the Maamar Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, and the drashah of Parshas Vayishlach 5717 from the writings of the Divrei Yoel of Satmar, in order to avoid being trapped, chalilah, in forbidden thoughts in praise of Zionism. Despite all this, many of them are intimately familiar with everything taking place in Eretz Yisrael. During my few days there, the Williamsburg residents kept me posted on the preelection political upheavals in real time.

Standing With the Crowd Satmar is known for its rig-

orous isolation from those who do not follow its path. Yet when there are communal causes that require collaboration between different communities, Satmar says it does join forces with the other circles that make up the whole of chareidi Jewry. “The Rebbe ztz”l [the Divrei Yoel] used to stand together with all of the chareidi circles when religious issues were at stake,” said the Rebbe’s spokesman. “The Rebbe ztz”l once organized a national kinus and invited rabbanim from every sector in order to discuss contemporary religious issues. Whether it was desecration of graves, the forced conscription of girls, and so forth — we went along with the others. We separate ourselves from them when they trample our mesorah, and we collaborate with them when they wish to benefit Klal Yisrael. “Just recently, based on the ruling of the beis din here, Satmar participated in Klal Yisrael’s Asifa, along with thousands of others. There were certain rules and stipulations made in order to ensure that the Asifa would meet the parameters of our tradition, including that no speeches be made in their impure tongue [modern Hebrew],

and that no speakers with Zionist leanings be permitted to speak. But we went. And baruch Hashem, we achieved great things. There was a worldwide tumult regarding the prohibition of Internet, with which people here had previously allowed themselves to be very lenient.” The decision for Satmar to take part in the Asifa was not reached easily. It followed extensive discussions and consultations with the members of the Satmar beis din. There were two conflicting considerations: the needs of the generation on the one hand, and the fact that Satmar does not usually join forces with other groups that do not adhere to its principles, on the other. Many in Satmar identified with the view of Rebbe Aharon, who felt the Asifa wasn’t in line with their mesorah. And despite the pressure from their own communities, the Skulener Rebbe, together with Lakewood mashgiach Rav Mattisyahu Salomon, paid the Rebbe a visit at home and spoke fervently of the need for all of Klal Yisrael to join forces against the scourge that has made devastating inroads into the Torah world. For the Rebbe, the only cause whose importance rivals that of the struggle against Zionism is the battle against the dangers of the Internet — for which he has established a committee called the Vaad Mishmeres, which is responsible for monitoring Internet use in the community, protecting it from breaches of propriety, and providing kosher alternatives. Last Shavuos, the Rebbe went so far as to announce in a drashah before Akdamus that whoever maintained unfiltered Internet would be permanently thrown out of the kehillah. The Rebbe has personally raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish an office staffed with technicians who make computers and telephones Internet-free. Satmar decision-makers presented the Asifa organizers a list of detailed conditions that would allow Satmar to promote and participate in the Asifa — although it was assumed those conditions would be too extreme for the mainstream participants and the organizing committee. Those conditions stipulated that all speeches would be in Yiddish (with simultaneous English translation); that no rabbanim who promoted or were affiliated with Zionism in any way would be permitted to speak; that Satmar would have the right to appoint speakers of its own; and those speeches would clearly state Satmar’s position that the Torah forbids establishment of a state in Eretz Yisrael before Mashiach’s arrival, and list the state’s policies that contradict halachah. To their surprise, the Asifa’s organizing committee agreed to adhere to all those conditions — to the satisfaction of the Satmar beis din. The members of the Satmar beis din, all of whom served as dayanim during the lifetime of Reb Yoelish, include Rav Yisrael Chaim Menashe Friedman, Rav Shlomo Leib Weinberger, Rav Zalman Leib Piloff, Rav Moshe Menachem Tirnauer, and Rav Chaim Dovid Katz. In the end, the Rebbe uncharacteristically expressed full support for the Asifa. He even went so far as to issue a letter of support, knowing full well that such a step was likely to elicit protests from various elements in the Satmar camp.

At the request of the leaders of the Eidah haChareidis, the Rebbe agreed to move up his arrival in order to participate in a mass rally against voting in the Israeli elections

A blessing for US President Ronald Reagan

For the Rebbe, the only cause rivaling the struggle against Zionism is the battle against the dangers of Internet. With his support for the Asifa, 10,000 Satmar chassidim streamed to Citi Field
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“The oilem has a tremendous respect for the Rebbe,” says Reb Shabsi Kestenbaum, a sharp-witted yungerman from Williamsburg. “When the Rebbe came out in favor of participating in the Asifa, everyone followed, despite the fact that there had previously been some passionate disputes on the subject.” During the days preceding the event, a close group of chassidim were in the Rebbe’s chamber, and one of them wondered aloud if it was really the Satmar way to participate. The Rebbe asked the young man to hand him his telephone, and — seeing he had no choice — the chassid uncomfortably obliged. The Rebbe handed the phone to an electronics whiz, who studied the unfiltered device as the chassid watched helplessly. Finally, the Rebbe handed it back with a smile. “Dont worry about ‘the derech.’ You can go to the Asifa,” he said pointedly. According to the chassidim, the Rebbe actually saved the Asifa. Shortly after his support for the event was announced, masses of chassidim descended on the ticket sale locations. About 10,000 Satmar chassidim streamed to Citi Field stadium where the Asifa was held, yet the Rebbe refused a request by the planning committee to speak. “I don’t want people to think I’m promoting my own honor,” the Rebbe explained.

THE REBBE AND THE VOTE
With the upcoming elections stirring the hearts of those chareidim who were taught that they are obligated to vote, a visit to the satmar sanctuary becomes an occasion that alone justifies the transatlantic journey. With the sword of secularism dangling over the heads of yeshivah students, a strong chareidi presence in the Israeli legislature seems to be the surest way to combat the campaign to empty the yeshivos. Doesn’t that seem logical? No, according to a member of the Rebbe’s inner circle who is skilled at giving over the nuances of the Rebbe’s philosophy. “show me one area in which the chareidi representatives in the Knesset have accomplished anything, other than securing funds — about which it is said that bribery blinds the eyes of the wise. “During the most recent administration,” he adds, “the Emanuel episode took place, and everyone saw that there is nothing to gain from having chareidim in the legislature. the public adopted the policy of satmar, and everyone went out into the streets to protest. parents allowed themselves to be placed in prison for the sake of hashem’s honor. “When the integrity of educational institutions was threatened by the ‘core curriculum,’ we did not see that those chareidi representatives succeeded in doing anything. the edict against chareidi education in Eretz yisrael still hangs over their heads, and the representatives are remaining silent. “the decree to draft the bnei hayeshivos is also still in force. other than crafting far-reaching compromises that damage chareidi Judaism, those representatives achieve nothing.” With such an anti-Zionist stand on one hand, how does the Chassidus relate to the extremists on the other side, those that meet with the enemies of the Jewish people — terrorist organizations, Ahmadinejad, and the like? Does this have a place in Rav yoel’s legacy? “these people take the pure name of satmar in vain!” the chassid says emphatically. “our holy Rebbe, the Divrei yoel, used to say that they cause even more destruction than the Zionists themselves. We make every effort to divest ourselves of all of those extremist groups. When they went to Iran, the satmar beis din issued a sharp letter against them.”

Open Hearts Notwithstanding its rigid policy of separation, there is no group like Satmar when it comes to hachnassas orchim and generosity. “Satmar,” says the Rebbe’s meshamesh as he writes down my name for a brachah, “symbolizes original, authentic Yiddishkeit, the genuine version of Yiddishkeit that was not swayed by the winds of change. It is the Yiddishkeit of the Chasam Sofer and his talmidim. It is characterized by pleasantness and kindness, coupled with an adamant refusal to give in to the dictates of contemporary trends.” On one hand, the chassidim are insular, but on the other, so many spend their days in the working world and interface constantly with secularism and modernity. The chassidim say one of the things that protects them most is their chassidishe levush, in which they take great pride. There isn’t a chassid who would attend any kind of business meeting without wearing the traditional garb. No one has ever felt he lost out as a result. In fact, although Satmar has no official kiruv institution, it might loosely be called the first kiruv movement. When the Divrei Yoel came to America after the war, he drew close every single Jew he met, even those who had traveled far from the Yiddishkeit of their youth. Over the years, the Rebbe ztz”l established various organizations such as Rav Tov, which facilitated the escape of hundreds of Jews from Iran and other countries of peril; this included financing legal papers, travel expenses, interim expenses in Vienna and other HIAS centers, and travel and setup costs in America. Yet the Rebbe gently channeled them to schools that were right for them, not insisting they join the Satmar community. The Rebbe ztz”l also established a school for Moroccan and other immigrant girls in Bnei Brak which is still funded by Satmar, but has no connection with the Chassidus. Likewise, organizations such as Mikvah USA, which funds construction of mikvaos across the country, have no affiliation

he pledged to raise the funds for an apartment, paid a top physician $100,000 to handle the case, and persuaded the newlywed’s estranged wife to stay in the marriage

with Satmar — although the donors are primarily Satmar chassidim. The Divrei Yoel of Satmar infused his chassidim with the message of communal responsibility, and this trait was passed down to his great-nephew, Rebbe Zalman Leib. During the hours when he sees the public, the current Rebbe dispenses wisdom and tangible assistance to anyone who seeks it — you don’t have to be a Satmar chassid for the Rebbe to be your advocate. The Rebbe’s driver reported an incident that sums it up. The Rebbe asked to be driven to NYU Medical Center to visit a patient, yet when they entered the room, it was obvious to the driver that this young man, hooked up to tubes and wires and unable to talk, was not “one of theirs.” That didn’t stop him from almost knocking over his IV drip and flailing his arms in excitement when he saw the Rebbe. After the driver brought the Rebbe back to Williamsburg, he was curious to find out what relationship this young man had with the Rebbe, and so he headed back to Manhattan to speak with the man’s escort in his hospital room. The driver heard the following story: This young man was a recently married Breslover from Beit Shemesh, whose father promised an apartment but never came through. Meanwhile, just two months after the wedding, the young man came down with a rare illness that settled in his back, and his young wife, lacking both an apartment and a healthy husband, wanted out of the relationship. He was broken when he arrived at the Rebbe’s doorstep to pour out his woes, but the Rebbe soon put him back on his feet. He pledged to raise the funds for an apartment, paid a top physician $100,000 to handle the case, and persuaded the newlywed’s estranged wife to stay in the marriage, even sending her a plane ticket to New York to be with her husband until he recuperated. But for all the success of three generations of Satmar Rebbes on American shores, you’d never know it by the entourage — or lack thereof — accompanying the Rebbe. While other chassidic groups focus attention on their rebbes, Satmar chassidim refrain from cultivating extreme adoration for their leaders. From their perspective, the Rebbe is a rav and spiritual leader, but there are no stories of wonders and miracles performed by the Rebbe, no anecdotes about the halo of kedushah that surrounds him. And it is rare to find the Rebbe surrounded by an eager crowd of followers vying to approach him as he comes and goes. Because it has become so massive, rarely is there a gathering where all of Satmar

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“during the last chasunah, we found out that his glasses were broken. We asked him why he hadn’t told us about it before the chasunah. he answered, ‘Did I have time?’ ”
is gathered together in one venue. The exception is the 21st of Kislev, the date of the rescue of Rav Yoel ztz”l, celebrated by thousands of chassidim since his lifetime. On this day, all of Satmar takes off from work to gather in a massive hall on the outskirts of Williamsburg or Crown Heights, and the two streams alternate using the two halls in the area that are capable of holding such a massive crowd. from the other mosdos. But the burden is still very heavy. There is at least one building of our mosdos every two blocks in Williamsburg, yet we still suffer from a lack of adequate space. “Each of the 11 Satmar batei medrash in Williamsburg has its own dayanim and gabbaim. Every shtiebel has a beis hora’ah. And the entire network is managed from this office. The Rebbe is in charge of it all, and we act on his behalf.” In this building, which was purchased during the lifetime of the Divrei Yoel, all Satmar’s battles are waged. Every proclamation, every ban, every call to the public, and every letter of support emanates from here. Here, Rabbi Jacobowitz says, is where the batei medrash are run, the conventions ofyungeleit are organized, the collection of membership dues is processed, guidance for chassanim is arranged, chavrusas are set up, and the Vaad HaKashrus, the butcher shop, the mikvaos, and the matzoh bakery are all run. And there is something else that happens here, too: Jobs are arranged for the yungeleit of the kehillah. “True, our resources are small,” Rabbi Jacobowitz admits. “All the Satmar communities throughout the world come knocking on this door.” The Satmar Rebbe, he adds, is involved in every detail. “That includes this check,” he says, pointing to a check for half a million dollars that is sitting on his desk. “Everything goes through the Rebbe. Before the holidays in Tishrei, we had seven meetings in his office. On Chol HaMoed, we had a private meeting in his succah.” With so many obligations and limited resources, have the two streams thought about collaborating? Rabbi Jacobowitz’s answer is hesitant. “There are some connections on issues of religious observance, such as kashrus, tzniyus, and the Internet,” he says. But six years after the split, it seems that there is still a long way to go before the two come together again at the beis medrash on Rodney Street. According to Jacobowitz, the Rebbe refuses to move the center of his Chassidus to a different location, since this is the place where his forebears davened. Near the Rebbe’s home stands a large building that was erected in the final years of the Beirach Moshe’s life. This building is capable of holding about 10,000 chassidim, but the last bit of construction has been held up due to legal entanglements. “On Kol Nidrei night,” says Rabbi Jacobowitz, “the Rebbe walked between the chassidim carrying the sefer Torah of the Divrei Chaim

On His Shoulders It’s a Friday afternoon in Williamsburg with only an hour until Shabbos, but the streets are still bustling with activity. The communal fleish gesheft adjacent to the central beis medrash on Rodney Street is filled to capacity. In grocery stores, children are making their families’ final purchases before Shabbos. Most of the mikvaos in the neighborhood are still half empty; the mikveh traffic will begin only as shkiyah approaches. A little more than an hour after shkiyah, the minyanim will come together in the local batei medrash and begin Ashrei, according to the minhag of many chassidim. At this hour, I enter the office of Rabbi Yehuda Eliezer Jacobowitz, the secretary and director general of the Satmar kehillah. Despite the imminent arrival of Shabbos, at his modest office on Rodney Street, it seems like a regular weekday. The office from which the entire kehillah is run looks like it’s in an abandoned building. It is sparsely furnished and decorated, and there is a leak in the ceiling and a groaning air conditioning unit mounted in the window. The modesty of the office belies the steady flow of money through the fingers of the man who sits here. Rabbi Jacobowitz is a busy man, and our conversation is interrupted repeatedly. “Half a million ... a million and a half,” he haggles with anonymous people on the other end of the phone. Every conversation begins, “A gitn Erev Shabbos. Have you eaten toamei’ah yet?” Now we see the true dimensions of Satmar. Its educational institutions in Williamsburg occupy 20 buildings. Ten thousand children are enrolled in schools under the aegis of the Rebbe. Over 1,000 are learning in the yeshivah gedolah, and according to Rabbi Jacobowitz, the enrollment in Satmar’s schools grows by about 500 students every year. “The Rebbe,” Rabbi Jacobowitz relates, “separated the material management from the spiritual, and he separated the yeshivah gedolah

of Sanz. It was pikuach nefesh; the crowding was horrendous. On Motzaei Yom Kippur, when he came home, the Rebbe told us, ‘The Kohein Gadol used to hold a celebration when he left the kodesh unharmed. When I went up to the aron kodesh for Kol Nidrei, I looked around and saw the huge crowd that had gathered here. I was terrified by the size of the congregation. Therefore, I will also be making a celebration after having left the sanctuary unharmed.’ “The Rebbe is completely devoted to his chassidim,” the community manager relates. “The Rebbe takes care of the yungeleit in his community and places them even before his own children. During the last chasunah, we found out that his glasses were broken. We were in shock. We asked him why he hadn’t told us about it before the chasunah. He answered, ‘Did I have time?’ “Every day,” Jacobowitz continues, “the fax machine in the Rebbe’s home prints out hundreds of letters and pleas for help with both individual and communal problems. The struggles of the Eidah HaChareidis of Yerushalayim are fought here: against the destruction of graves, chillul Shabbos, the draft, shmittah desecration, and the arrests of senior officials in the Eidah HaChareidis. All of these faxes are brought to the Rebbe’s home. A few months ago, while the Rebbe was holding a dinner in his home on behalf of the Yetev Lev institutions in Yerushalayim, the red telephone rang. On the line was Reb Yitzchak Shlomo Blau, the secretary of the beis din of the Eidah HaChareidis. He had bad news: ‘Reb Amram Shapira, the secretary of the Gaavad, has been arrested!’ The Rebbe went out in a series of protests and declared that he was appalled at the Israeli government’s move. ‘They are not after the gabbai; they’re after the Gaavad himself!’ was his position.” One of the most complex tasks to fall on Rabbi Jacobowitz was the purchase of the cemetery in Kiryas Joel, Monroe. The Satmar chassidim of Williamsburg were unable to bury their dead in the cemetery Satmar had been using for the past few decades. Then the Rebbe ordered his chassidim to cease the conflict and to purchase a large plot of land near the cemetery, which would serve the chassidim of Williamsburg. The purchase, for $5 million, was concluded in a flash, donated by Reb Avraham Ber Jacobowitz, a prominent Satmar philanthropist and the first to be buried in the new cemetery. “When we went to inform him that the deal had been concluded, the Rebbe was in Kiryas Joel,” Jacobowitz relates. “On his table was a pile of halachah seforim that deal with the halachos of sanctifying a cemetery. He was pacing back and forth, and when he saw me, he understood that the deal had been closed and exclaimed, ‘I can tell you one thing — a great weight has been lifted from my heart. The older members of the kehillah were coming to me and asking what type of burial they would have after 120. Now I have an answer for them.’ ”

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A Day in His Life The aroma of a just-extinguished Havdalah candle filled the home of Reb Shmuel Teitelbaum, the Rebbe’s shammash, when I entered his home on Motzaei Shabbos. Since 1999, when Rebbe Zalman Leib was appointed by his father to serve as leader of the Williamsburg kehillah, Reb Shmuel Teitelbaum has been the Rebbe’s constant companion. He spends anywhere from eight to ten hours with the Rebbe, while the rest of the day is spent receiving hundreds of calls — from urgent requests for a name to be submitted for prayer, to medical emergencies, and pressing communal matters that cannot be delayed. The Rebbe’s day begins at 5:30 a.m., when the Rebbe’s longtime chavrusa, a maggid shiur in the Satmar yeshivah, comes to the Rebbe’s home. “Even if the Rebbe went to sleep only at three, he’ll get up at five and go to the mikveh,” Rabbi Teitelbaum relates. The Rebbe and his chavrusa learn the sugyas being studied in the yeshivah in Queens where the Rebbe is rosh yeshivah, along with halachah and Chassidus. Then the Rebbe closets himself in his room until Shacharis, which he davens in Queens with the bochurim. Rabbi Teitelbaum goes through the Rebbe’s day. “The Rebbe leaves his home at 8:15 and
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heads for Queens. At 8:45 he arrives in the beis medrash, and he davens there until 10:00. He then sits down, clad in his tallis and tefillin, to recite Tehillim and to learn his daily Chumash with Rashi. The Rebbe remains in his room in the yeshivah until 3:30 in the afternoon. Once in a while, he enters the beis medrash, speaks with the rebbeim, participates in assemblies, and keeps track of the bochurim. He delivers a shiur in the yeshivah once a week. Every problem, individual and communal alike, is brought to his door. He administers tests and serves as a maggid shiur for the oldest level. He eats lunch, cooked by the Rebbetzin and sent from Williamsburg every day, in his room in the yeshivah. After Minchah at 3:30, he returns to Williamsburg.” During the nine weeks of summer vacation, the Rebbe stays with his talmidim in the summer camps in the Catskill Mountains, davening with them three times a day and having every Shabbos seudah with them. While he sees the public at night, the Rebbe devotes the hours between 3:30 and 6:00 to meetings dealing with communal issues. During those hours, his home is visited by askanim, rabbanim¸ principals of schools, and representatives of the Eidah HaChareidis. In recent months, the Rebbe has been swamped with questions about New York’s new regulations regarding bris milah. He has been meeting often with askanim involved in the struggle, among them Rabbi Moshe Duvid Niederman, Satmar’s “foreign minister.” Recently, the Rebbe attended a conference of rabbanim along with his brother, Rebbe Aharon, in an effort to find some resolution to the Health Department’s agenda. “The Rebbe has an uncanny ability to dissect a problem down to the smallest details,” Rabbi Niederman told me during a visit to his office. “It is known in Satmar that an askan who hasn’t done his homework is better off not going to the Rebbe at all. Quite often, the Rebbe won’t go to sleep until the matter at hand has been resolved. Influential people who are close to the Satmar Rebbe are accustomed to receiving phone calls from the Rebbe at any hour, no matter how early or late. “The Rebbe interrupts these meetings, no matter how important, when he gets word that the first chassan for whom the Rebbe is supposed to serve as mesader kiddushin that evening is already waiting in the street. The Rebbe is meticulous about not having a chassan and kallah wait for him, so he often leaves in the middle of an urgent conference.” Rabbi Teitelbaum relates that the Rebbe attends three, four, or five weddings every night. Williamsburg alone contains ten simchah halls, and there are weddings every day in Monroe and in Boro Park, as well, but the Rebbe travels to those simchahs less often. “Every

year, 400 couples get married in our Satmar community, and every chassan and kallah goes through the Rebbe.” To help these new couples, one of the Rebbe’s most sacred projects is to find ways for people to save money while still protecting their dignity. Among his first tasks when appointed as rav in Williamsburg under his father the Beirach Moshe was to create an innovative chasunah loan and gemach plan. The Chasunah Package includes a shtreimel, jewelry, linens, pots and pans, and all the other basics for a ridiculously small token sum. In addition to offering high-quality goods, all chassidim who purchase these items through the plan and stick to the other takanos are eligible for an additional $10,000 loan. Satmar was the pioneer in this, and today many kehillos around the Jewish world have implemented such a plan. Furthermore, the Rebbe personally raised large sums to build two chasunah halls that could compete with the for-profit ones in decor, aesthetics, and convenience, for a fraction of the price. The Satmar Rebbe’s drashos, which have been collected in a series of seforim entitled Mahari’i Tav, demonstrate his broad knowledge base, yet according to his shammash, the only real time the Rebbe has to prepare is on Friday, when he sits alone in his room and pores over his seforim. One of Rabbi Teitelbaum’s jobs is to write the kvittlach, the notes that chassidim bring when they come to the Rebbe. “I write the person’s name, followed by his mother’s name, and add ‘for health of the body and soul.’ Many of those who visit the Rebbe ask for simple advice along with his blessings. The Rebbe is very practical and he gives sage advice in every realm. Sometimes the Rebbe will stop a person in the beis medrash and ask what happened with regard to a certain subject that they discussed. The Rebbe also has an uncanny ability to settle disputes between partners and to resolve problems in shalom bayis. Women can come to the Rebbe together with their husbands, or with the Satmar Rebbetzin, or one of the gabbaim.” A visitor who enters the Rebbe’s room need not fear that he’ll find himself under scrutiny about his spiritual state. On the contrary, the emphasis of the Rebbe’s interest will be on his material wellbeing, his livelihood, and his children. Occasionally the Rebbe may inquire, almost as a side point, about whether he maintains set times for talmud Torah, but the main question will be regarding how he is managing materially. “Our tzaddikim held that if a person’s gashmiyus is good, then his ruchniyus will follow it,” explained Rabbi Teitelbaum. “The Vayoel Moshe never asked a person if he was learning or what type of spiritual condition he was in; he always took an interest in the person’s parnassah. That was the tradition he received from his rebbeim.” —

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