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April 26, 2006

The Satmar Sect

Generally, you hear about this sort of thing occurring in the past tense. Deeply fundamentalist religious sect, muddied lines of familial succession, violent split between advocates of the two sons, and all the rest. But for the 100,000 person strong Hasidic Satmar sect, it's happening now.

The other night, their Grand Rebbe, Moses Teitelbaum, died, at 91. Aaron, his oldest son, was expected to succeed the father, but Teitelbaum came to judge him as headstrong and impetuous, incapable of handling such responsibility. So the father split the congregation, handing the base of Williamsburg to a younger son, Zalmen. The brothers grew into bitter rivals, refusing to speak for the next seven years. So did the community, which fractured into partisans of the two siblings, called "Zalis" and "Aaronis". The groups have emerged warring gangs, battling for control of an organization that's a political, social, and economic machine with assets totaling more than a billion dollars. Over the last decade, there've been brawls and bombings, torched cars and detonated homes. Last year, a Satmar member who runs a nightclub recruited his black bouncers for a brawl in a Williamsburg synagogue.

Meanwhile, the sect itself continues to explode in membership. It's fervently anti-Zionist (a former Grand Rebbe blamed the Zionists for the holocaust), and the two brothers are battling for control in court. And, to be clear, I have no interesting points to make on this, it's just a fascinating story.

April 26, 2006 | Permalink


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Succession battles are soooo much fun. Bloody!

Coming to a TV near you: The battle for Bu$hCo: corpcons versus theocons vs neocons. Will it look like Iraq or Israel or Italy (coalition building)?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 26, 2006 11:09:58 AM

Wow, Jews are gangstah.

Posted by: Dustin | Apr 26, 2006 11:43:34 AM

Those guys are nuts... but that bit about the black bouncers was awesome! I don't think that's kosher under the halachic code, though. Maybe a more educated Jewish reader than I am can say what the talmud says about hiring mercenaries.

Posted by: Alan | Apr 26, 2006 12:59:06 PM

The Satmars are behaving shamefully, but given the history it should come as no surprise that things were going to end up like that.

As my grandmother would say, "What a shande..."

Posted by: fiat lux | Apr 26, 2006 1:39:18 PM

I don't know what the Talmudic law on hiring mercenaries is, but I wouldn't be surprised if there is one. I can't be sure if non-Jewish soldiers ever fight in the Israelite army, though I imagine Uriah the Hittite, the former husband of King David's wife Batsheva, was not really Israelite. Looking at things historically, I would be shocked if Israelite armies did not have at least some mercenaries. As for the Talmud, there are rules about the Shabbos-goys, gentiles hired to perform various tasks on the Sabbath. Perhaps the Satmar Hasidim were going to do their own fighting, but the battle-time came after Sundown on Friday?

Posted by: Dave | Apr 26, 2006 1:44:13 PM

My law firm represented a part of the Brooklyn Satmar community in a major class action a few years ago. Two anecdotes:

We had weekly status conferences with the clients on Thursdays. We suggested that a few dates be shifted because upcoming Thursdays would hit Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years'. They weren't aware of those holidays, and had only a hazy notion that most Aericnas don't go to wrok on certian days. On the other side, it was dififcult to convince judges to shift Court appearances on the many many days that Satmars consider holy.

One of my partners was invited to a major comunity banquet, where leaders and also politicians would be speaking. He expected it would be dull, but only after he got there did he realize that all the Satmar speakers would pontificate only in Yiddish. He figured that Governor Pataki's at least would be understandable. Governor Pataki, not being a fool, adressed the crowd in his native Hungarian, a common language among Satmars. Everyone under 50 had been born in the United States.

Posted by: arthur | Apr 26, 2006 1:45:06 PM

Ah, the healing power of religion...

Posted by: glennrwordman | Apr 26, 2006 5:57:10 PM

soon, there might be a golem conjured from the mud, and what will happen then.....

Posted by: jacqueline | Apr 26, 2006 7:01:12 PM

Perhaps the Satmar Hasidim were going to do their own fighting, but the battle-time came after Sundown on Friday?


Streetfighting Hasidim? It's like "West Side Story" meets "Fiddler on the Roof".

Oh, and the Jews have always been gangstah: Meyer Lansky, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Murder, Inc....

Posted by: ajay | Apr 27, 2006 5:53:05 AM

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