By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Satmar and Lubavitch (336 pages, Jewish Enrichment Press, 2017) is an impeccably researched, masterfully written work that explores the similarities and differences as well as the unique characteristics of the Satmar and Lubavitch communities.
Rabbi Chaim Dalfin crafted an excellent book that is both erudite and fascinating, comprehensive in scope, yet compelling. A prolific author and passionate Lubavitcher chassid, the author has conducted extensive research and real-time interviews with prominent individuals from both Chassidic communities.
With meticulous attention to each detail, he transports the reader back in time via dialogue and documents, as he enlightens, elucidates, and educates the reader in this richly satisfying study of two noble Chassidic dynasties, their treasured traditions, and their respective leaders — the spiritual giants and tsadikim — the Satmar Rebbe, Reb Yoel Teitelbaum, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Reb Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Satmar and Lubavitch is not a formal tome written from a detached perspective. Parting the curtains of the strong cultural divide that exists between the two communities, the author writes, “It is not our place to give out scores or rankings to different paths in Judaism. In the ancient words of the Talmud, ‘Every river has its own course.’”
Succeeding in his quest for objectivity and accuracy, this excellent book is a testament to Rabbi Dalfin’s extensive investigation, research, and analysis. A devout Lubavitcher chassid, raised in a family steeped in Lubavitch chassidus, he maintains his objectivity throughout, affording the reader an insider’s perspective of the two Chassidic dynasties.
Satmar and Lubavitch is no ordinary book. From beginning to end, Rabbi Dalfin captivates the reader as by assuming the dual role of historian and tour guide, affording us a rare and up-close insider’s perspective of each Chassidic community, and their travels from Satmar and Lubavitch’s respective origins in Hungary and Russia to their contemporary cultures in Williamsburg, Boro Park, Kiryas Yoel, and Crown Heights. Not only does he attempt to enlighten the reader regarding each group’s demographics and political, social, economic, and cultural aspects, we are — through the power of Rabbi Dalfin’s words and prosaic artistry — able to “experience” the exhilaration and pure, unadulterated joy and passion of each of these cultures. By eloquently sharing his own experiences, in his own community as well as a “visiting insider” to Satmar, the author shows his appreciation and understanding of the complexities, character, vision, purpose, and essence of each culture. I was so engrossed while reading the book, I found it difficult to put down. Particularly moving is the author’s poignant description of the tremendous chessed that is an integral part of Satmar:
“The Satmar community is known for their many acts of chessed, acts of loving kindness, to the larger community. Perhaps they are best known for their bikur cholim, an organization that not only provides delicious home cooked meals for hospital patients, but also provides the patient’s family with moral and logistical support. Their simple but powerful slogan is ‘ken ich helfen?’ (Can I help you?), and indeed, thousands of Jews, myself included, vouch for their genuineness and goodness. Thousands of glatt-kosher meals are distributed daily by an army of volunteers, free of charge.”
He adds, “Many years ago, while visiting the sick, I met these amazing women, dressed regally in their ultra-modest Satmar attire. They were carrying large amounts of food and stopped by the bed of every patient to say a few kind words. I do not think I will ever forget my feeling of amazement and appreciation of these special righteous women. This wonderful organization was the brainchild of none other than the late Satmar Rebbe and Rebbetzin.”
A major point the author asserts is that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was not a Zionist. “It is a common belief in the Satmar community that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was a Zionist, a supporter of Jewish nationalism,” Rabbi Dalfin writes. “Sadly, in recent years, this erroneous view has even crept into the Lubavitcher community, with many believing and even publicizing the view that … their Rebbe was a strong, pro-Zionist. As will be made clear in this work, nothing could be farther than the truth.”
The author states that both the Lubavitcher and the Satmar Rebbes were great lovers of the Jewish people and the Jewish land, Eretz Yisrael. “And they were both strongly opposed to Zionism. They disagreed regarding what practical steps must be taken to oppose it and to ensure that its false teachings remain outside of normative Jewish thinking and practice.”
By sharing personal experiences and providing documented dialogue and sources, Rabbi Dalfin illustrates the relationship between of each of these venerable Chassidic Rebbes and Israel. “I don’t believe the Satmar Rebbe was as anti-Zionistic as he is portrayed to have been,” Rabbi Dalfin told the 5TJT. “He put up ‘gedarim’ to prevent people from going farther. He used a lot of rhetoric because he believed that Zionism would lead to violence.”
Additionally, Satmar and Lubavitch delves into the distinct differences that exist between the Hungarian and Russian cultures.” They are as different as night and day, even to this day,” says Rabbi Dalfin. “I adopt each one’s paradigm and wear the hats of both a historian and an ‘insider.’”
Rabbi Dalfin wrote this book with the intent to promote understanding and build improve relationships between the Satmar and Lubavitcher communities. Indeed, he writes about both communities pooling their collective resources to build mikvaot and perform other mitzvot in a beautiful show of ahavas Yisrael and achdus.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.