The Civil War of the Satmars
May 6, 2006 10:27 AM   Subscribe

The War For Hasidic Williamsburg: Immediately after the recent death of the Satmar Grand Rebbe his two sons went to war over over which one will be the new leader of what is perhaps the largest Hasidic sect in the United States. This sect is extremely anti-modernist, even compared to other Hasidic groups, and it also strongly anti-Zionist. A former leader of the Satmars once blamed the Holocaust on the Zionist campaign for a Jewish homeland. But this internal battle is not the only threat to the community. The gentrification of Brooklyn (warning: pdf link) has both driven up the price of land, making it extremely difficult for the large families of the Satmar to obtain additional housing, and made it far more difficult for the youth to escape the corrupting moral values of the outside culture.
posted by spira (35 comments total)
Please note that the Satmars differ in many significant ways from the other major Hasidic group, the Lubavitchers. The Lubavitchers support the existence of Israel (though they don't consider themselves Zionists) and are far more engaged with the outside world. (The Satmars consider everybody else, including other Jews, to be irrelevant) Some Lubavitcher believe that their Grand Rebbe, who died in 1994, was the Messiah and they are still awaiting his resurrection.
posted by spira at 10:34 AM on May 6, 2006

Thanks for the link. I neighbour the Hasidic comunity in Montreal and any insight is always welcome.
posted by furtive at 10:43 AM on May 6, 2006

Absolutely fascinating—many thanks. I've been interested in the Satmars ever since my friend Allan (alevasholem), in the course of introducing me to the complex Jewish ethnography of NYC, said "And those ones who look like seventeenth-century Polish tax collectors, those are Satmars." The split in the community, with the attendant violence, is sad, but on some level these stories are irresistible, with their tangles of motives and conflicting ambitions and family quarrels.
posted by languagehat at 11:09 AM on May 6, 2006

Real estate being what it is perhaps they should consider getting a compound in the middle of nowhere, like other cults. I hear Utah is nice.
posted by Artw at 11:38 AM on May 6, 2006

You mean like Kiryas Joel?
posted by kickingtheground at 11:40 AM on May 6, 2006

Thanks for the post. I live on the edge of Boro Park, the other big Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, but might as well be 100 miles away, so clannish are the Hasidic communities here. It's good to get a glimpse into why these rebbenical successions are so turbulent.
posted by swift at 11:56 AM on May 6, 2006

yeah this stuff fascinates me. i went to High Holidays and Passover services at the Chabad house on Bedford when i lived in Williamsburg. They were probably Lubavitch--they were very nice and welcoming to other Jews (hell, probably to anyone--they're way into outreach). Having grown up pretty religious but still worlds away from Hassidism, this stuff always intrigues me. This Aaron dude needs to get over himself.
posted by rollerball at 12:08 PM on May 6, 2006

Very interesting, thanks.
posted by jamesonandwater at 2:02 PM on May 6, 2006

The Satmars consider everybody else, including other Jews, to be irrelevant

And thus they become irrelevant to me. Interesting and informative post spira.
posted by three blind mice at 2:49 PM on May 6, 2006

Isn't the description paragraph prejudicial of ALL non-Hasidic's?

"... made it far more difficult for the youth to escape the corrupting moral values of the outside culture."

Three things wrong with that pre-dispositioned statement ...

a) that other "cultures" are corrupt and only theirs is "pure."

b) the presumption of any "tradition" or "values' are right and correct for all times, all situations and in the context of other cultures (see MetaFilter SouthEast Asia story & links - are all traditions worth preserving?)

c) how does the murder fit into your description of their "tradition?"

Does the story really require blaming the rest of us for their choices & alleged problems?
posted by jbelkin at 2:51 PM on May 6, 2006

Maybe we can send Janet Reno in to deal with them. Once the cultists are dead, everybody wins.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:52 PM on May 6, 2006

jbelkin - I chose to word it that way so as to describe it from their perspective. It's certainly not my perspective.

Not that I think it's unusual for any group of people to blame everybody else for their problems. (I could claim that if it wasn't for all the non-Metafilterans in the word, our planet would be a great place. But I won't.) The Satmars, though, are unusual in the lengths they go to remain as separate as possible from the outside world.

Also, this is their approach not just to non-Hasidics, but to other Hasidics too.
posted by spira at 3:37 PM on May 6, 2006

The posted comment suggesting that this g roup like other cults ought to find real estate in the boonies. And where do you think the Scientologists or the Unification Church (Moonies) et al can be found?
posted by Postroad at 3:41 PM on May 6, 2006

Unlike the Moonies or the Scientologists, these guys don't want to recruit. So they don't have the same incentives to stay in urban centres.

In some ways they're more like the Amish. A more open attitude to technology, but the same conscious decision to remain apart from the secular world.

I find a certain schadenfreude in reading stories like this. I have read quite lot of stuff over the last few years, thanks to my sister, describing Hasidim and their piety in reverential terms, and this is a refreshing though sad antidote. The more they try not to be like the rest of us, the harder the worse aspects of our nature struggle to come out.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:08 PM on May 6, 2006

They don't recruit? Well, they don't recruit gentiles, but they still recruit Jews, according to a recent AskMeFi. (I'm not sure if these people were Satmars, though.)
posted by landtuna at 5:14 PM on May 6, 2006

No, those are Lubavitchers. Big difference, and it's not just the hats.
posted by languagehat at 5:16 PM on May 6, 2006

Wow, I've never seen a Wikipedia edit war that's half in Yiddish before.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 5:55 PM on May 6, 2006

Not being Jewish - I just don't get it.

But I don't get the Amish, either. Or Jehovah's Witnesses.
posted by rougy at 7:36 PM on May 6, 2006

But I don't get the Amish, either.
posted by rougy at 10:36 PM EST on May 6 [!]

You don't need to get the Amish. You just need to recognize that they are a font of good things, like funnel cake and nice furniture.
posted by unreason at 8:01 PM on May 6, 2006

unreason - good one.

I'm only 3/4ths through the article, and I have to say it's a pretty trippy read. The part where they brought bouncers in to raid a rival temple and were KO'ing the guys in the dais.

Let me repeat - I don't get it.
posted by rougy at 8:11 PM on May 6, 2006

You might get the Amish better if you read the history of the Anabaptists. My ancestors were Mennonites, aother branch of Anabaptists. In Europe, the Anabaptists were persecuted and tortured to death. Then they moved to Pennsylvania.
posted by Goofyy at 12:13 AM on May 7, 2006

Metafilter: persecuted and tortured to death. Then they moved to Pennsylvania.
posted by zaelic at 3:57 AM on May 7, 2006

persecuted and tortured to death. Then they moved to Pennsylvania

...where they longed for the Old Country!

rougy: It's just like the Wars of the Roses, or that horrible mess when everybody in your family had to choose sides with Grandpa Fred or Aunt Rose, except with shtreimels.
posted by languagehat at 6:07 AM on May 7, 2006

So once again we see a cult community flee persecution in the Old Country, only to set up their own tyranny (with all its discontents) here in the New World. Three cheers for Religious Freedom! Those Satmars and their bickering, what a comedy for atheists.

Already the Hasidim were as fragmented as the Baptists. So now maybe Aaron's bunch should splinter off and call itself the Satmar Hasidim Red Flag or perhaps the Satmar Hasidim-General Command? [Cue Emo!]
posted by davy at 9:39 AM on May 7, 2006

Serious questions: are Hasidim stuck with the "dynasty" they're born into, or can say a Satmar change to become a Bobov? And can a Satmar who's dissatisfied with the present regime/s start a new one, say by setting up a new synagog and adopting a new style of hat? A lot of the old Hasidic dynasties started that way, when they weren't started simply by a rebbe moving to another village; I gather the "geographical solution/s", "colonizing" another Brooklyn neighborhood and/or starting another upstate "hasidistan", ain't likely.
posted by davy at 12:59 PM on May 7, 2006

I think they should give it to the guy with the wackiest ringlets. Because that would make sense.
posted by Decani at 4:59 PM on May 7, 2006

Granted, the article just gave bits and pieces of the whole story, but if I had to make a call, based on what I read, I think Aaron is out of line and making a powerplay that may not be in the best interest of all concerned.
posted by rougy at 8:39 PM on May 7, 2006

As a chassidic Jew (sidecurls and all) although not a satmar, I can tell you that there are several on MeFi...

and many of your charactarizations are wrong... not that I know enough about the Amish or the Mormons, and I probably have them wrong too...

But I have many non Chassidic and Non Jewish friends and business associates, and although I don't go to Bars or nonkosher resturaunts, I manage to do just fine....

We all know that the media loves a sensation. The fight between Aron and Zalmen, to an outsider might make it seem that Aron is the bad guy... and Zalmen the good guy...

but that is all media spin, depending on which 17 year old the reporter spoke to... They are both respectable rabbis and the "fight" boils down to a simple question:

If your father instructed all his three children to each get 33% of his estate. a year later he is diagnosed as having alzheimers and two years later he signs a will stating that one child (The one he lives with) should get 100% of his money...

would you say

A) That was dads will and I respect it?


B) he was sick and manipulated?

That my dear MetaFilterites, is what it boils down to....

All the satmars (a vast majority, anyway) want to do the "right thing". question is, what did Grand Rebbe Moses of Blessed Memory, Really want?

If a journalist wants to write a story explaining how media spin on a insular community and how the world at large can me misled by some incorrect reporting, it would be a true kiddush hashem to explain that there is basis for the disagreement....

and a judge will decide if in fact, the rebbe was infirm when signing will #2 saying Zalmen is the heir...

as an aside, for my own curiousity, if the pope would become mentally ill and excommunicate all but one of the bishops in the church, would that be accepted?
posted by Izzmeister at 9:18 AM on May 8, 2006

Thanks very much for that informed perspective, Izzmeister (love the moniker!). It's easy to guess that an article must be skewed, but impossible to know just how unless you get another view.
posted by languagehat at 11:31 AM on May 8, 2006

I would like to hear some elaboration on young Chassidic women eyeing artist types that was mentioned in the first article.
posted by dobie at 1:02 PM on May 8, 2006

Yasher koach, reb Izzmeister. In Hungary my usual hang is with the Kazinczy shul crowd, which is Mako minhag but attracts a lot of Satmar, so I play the music their weddings. Hasiidm are like the Japanese - strange until you get to know them, then completely normal folks dealing with normal life from then on in. Outsiders don't recognize that. (OK, my girlfriend is Japanese from Tokyo, and she is pretty well accepted by the Hasids I know, welcomed at brises and ceremonies, weddings, etc. She knows not to try and mix with the men, the and the younger Hasidic women all want to learn how to make kosher sushi (yes - there are jewish laws about kosher sushi, particularly the seaweed wrapping!) It helps that she speaks a bit of Yiddish... )

Dobie: next chance you get try and see Pearl Gluck's film "Divan: The Couch." Perele Gluck was raised Satmar but had to leave the community when her parents divorced. She examines the life on ex-hasidic Jews in New York and Hungary based on her epic attempts to buy her grandfather's couch on which famous Satmar Rabbis slept. It's a ganze shpas (yiddish for it's a gas) and addresses your question directly....
posted by zaelic at 1:40 PM on May 8, 2006

Thanks Izz and everyone else. I was hoping to get a different perspective.
posted by rougy at 5:51 PM on May 8, 2006

Rougy, what they mean is that their teenage taughters can see into the windows on the "artists", since they don't use windowshades.. and being that they dress, err, sort of not exactly "1930 style" clothing, chassidic families wanting to keep their insular way of life do not particularly enjoy when million dollar condos with half (of fully) nude people walk around in literally their backyard, causing their peaceful and simple "pure thoughts" to be muddled with bleeding-edge-whats-hip-in-2005.
posted by Izzmeister at 6:52 PM on May 8, 2006

Dear Izzmeister, it's so good to have an informed view from someone best-placed to know. I hope you'll post more when these things come up.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:08 PM on May 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

and being that they dress, err, sort of not exactly "1930 style" clothing, chassidic families wanting to keep their insular way of life do not particularly enjoy when million dollar condos with half (of fully) nude people walk around in literally their backyard, causing their peaceful and simple "pure thoughts" to be muddled with bleeding-edge-whats-hip-in-2005.

Then chassidic families ought to seriously consider the wisdom of living in fucking New York, I'd venture. Still, keep patronising those women, dude. And no, I'm not anti-semitic. I'm anti-retarded-bullshit.
posted by Decani at 4:44 PM on May 10, 2006

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