The two Satmar Rebbes
The two Satmar Rebbes
The two Satmar Rebbes

Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World

By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum

The city of Satmar is in northeast Romania, eight miles east of the Hungarian border. The first recorded Jewish presence there is in 1623. Jews were expelled from the Satmar region in 1715 and returned in the 1820s. The first kehilla was established in 1849 and the first shul was built in 1857. After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, Satmar was annexed by Romania. In 1940, Satmar reverted to Hungary. After World War II, Satmar was under Communist rule until the 1989 Romanian revolution.

In 2011, Satmar’s population was 102,400, with only 34 Jews. In 1941, the Jewish population was 12,960, representing 25 percent. In May of 1944, 18,863 Jews were deported from the Satmar area to Auschwitz by the Nazis, of whom 14,440 were murdered. After World War II, some survivors returned to Satmar, but they were not welcomed and their stay was brief.

Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, zt’l (1886—1979), author of Divrei Yoel, was elected Rav of Satmar in 1934. In his earlier years, his mother foresaw that his strong personality would generate a following and eclipse his older brother, Rabbi Chaim Zvi Teitelbaum, zt’l (1880—1925), Sigeter Rav and author of Atzei Chaim, who had succeeded their father, Rabbi Chanania Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum, zt’l (1836—1904), Sigeter Rav and author of Kedushas Yom Tov. She sent him to Satmar, where he established a beis medrash and yeshiva in 1905. In 1911, he was appointed as Rav of Orshava in Ukraine, and in 1925, he assumed the rabbinate of Krula, on the Romanian-Hungarian border.

During the Holocaust, the Divrei Yoel was in Bergen-Belsen. Miraculously, he was included on the Kastner train that released 1,684 Jews from the bloody fangs of the Nazis to Switzerland in 1944. From there, he went to Jerusalem. Arriving in the United States 1947, he rebuilt his chassidic following.

Yahrzeit Gathering

One of the most visited Jewish holy places in the United States is the gravesite of the Divrei Yoel. On Friday, August 2, the 26th of Av, Satmar chassidim will mark the 34th yahrzeit of the Divrei Yoel. On that Friday, and on the preceding evening after 7:00 p.m., only men will be permitted into the Kiryas Yoel cemetery. On Thursday, August 1, the cemetery will be open exclusively for ladies from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Kohanim are warned that entry to the ohel for them is possible only through the upper gate, near the yeshiva. The lower gate pathway is too narrow for kohanim to use, thus precluding their entry through the cemetery itself. In order to prevent mixing, the upper gate is restricted to men only all year long. Ladies are permitted entry into the cemetery through the lower gate. Ladies are requested to be dressed appropriately, with proper head coverings.

Visitors are requested to not block the thoroughfare by stopping to recite Tehillim or any other lengthy prayers. No tables for solicitation, sales of seforim, or collections of charity are permitted within the ohel or anywhere inside the cemetery gates. Permission from the chevra kadisha is needed for positioning any table or station outside the gates. The use of any loudspeaker system is prohibited.

Two Halves Of Satmar

After the passing of Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, zt’l (1914—2006), who succeeded the Divrei Yoel, the previously monolithic Satmar community effectively was broken in two. Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum and Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum lead the two halves of Satmar, each half being independent and immense on its own. Rabbi Aaron occupies the pulpit in Kiryas Yoel that his venerated great-uncle, the Divrei Yoel, founding Satmar Rebbe, proudly established in the 1970s. In addition to Kiryas Yoel, followers of Rabbi Aaron maintain an expanding and entirely separate school system and a string of shuls in Williamsburg that function magnificently under his leadership. Both Rebbes have large followings in Boro Park, Monsey, Kiryas Yoel, Lakewood, and elsewhere.

Rabbi Zalman Leib occupies the pulpit originally established in Williamsburg by the Divrei Yoel upon his arrival in America in 1947. The successor to that pulpit upon the passing of the Divrei Yoel was his nephew, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, zt’l (1914—2006), author of Beirach Moshe. Rabbi Zalman Leib’s following in Kiryas Yoel, too, is considerable, and they, too, have established their own growing school system and string of shuls there.

With the 2009 clarification in New York State Court of the control of the cemetery in Kiryas Yoel being vested with Rabbi Aaron, the original cemetery has more than doubled in size. The ohel there remains the nucleus of the cemetery. Rabbi Zalman Leib’s followers have established an adjoining cemetery in Kiryas Yoel. A recent decision in the ongoing battles in secular courts directed the parties to resolve their differences in beis din. In the last few weeks, a permit was granted to the followers of Rabbi Zalman Leib to proceed with construction on the framework structure of the disputed new shul at 540 Bedford Avenue. The permit was contested and canceled, conforming to previous court rulings directing resolution through a beis din.

In the years when the entire Satmar community was united under one leadership, two calendar dates demonstrated the size and the glory of Satmar. On the 21st of Kislev, Satmar celebrated the escape of the Divrei Yoel from the Nazis in 1944. The seudos mitzvah, commemorating the event with as many as 30,000 participants, were held in gigantic facilities such as the Jacob J. Javits Center and the Williamsburg Armory. When the 21 Kislev event was held at the Javits Center, chassidim were ferried by boat from Williamsburg up the Hudson River to the steps of the enormous convention facility.

Another important day on the Satmar calendar is the yahrzeit of the Divrei Yoel. Considerably more than 100,000 Jews converge during the summer yahrzeit and pray in the ohel where the Divrei Yoel is buried. In addition to containing the gravesite of the Divrei Yoel’s widow, Rebbetzin Alta Feiga Teitelbaum, a’h (1912—2001), the burial chamber also contains the Beirach Moshe, whose yahrzeit is on the 26th of Nissan. Rebbetzin Alta Feiga’s yahrzeit is on the 11th of Sivan. Rebbetzin Pessel Leah Teitelbaum, a’h (1922—2010), Satmar Rebbetzin of the Beirach Moshe, who passed away on 23 Tammuz, July 5, 2010, is buried alongside her husband.

During the course of the day, thousands of people will pass through the ohel. Many shed tears in earnest prayer, beseeching the Rebbe to intercede on their behalf for good health, good shidduchim, or good livelihood, for themselves and their loved ones. Many deposit carefully written kvitlech (petition requests).

In the good old days of Satmar’s unity, the Beirach Moshe held the yahrzeit tisch in the huge main shul of Kiryas Yoel. When the schism between the brothers began to develop in 1999, while the father was still alive, the Beirach Moshe conducted the yahrzeit tisch late afternoon near his summer residence in Swan Lake, after visiting the ohel during the day. Rabbi Aaron, the older son and then Kiryas Yoel Rav, conducted his yahrzeit tisch in the main shul of Kiryas Yoel. After the Beirach Moshe passed away, the yahrzeit tisch continued to be conducted separately by the two sons in the two separate locations.

This year’s schedule will conform to that of 2010, when the yahrzeit was also on a Friday. On Friday morning, the day of the yahrzeit, Rabbi Aaron will daven Shacharis in the yeshiva adjacent to the cemetery. He will conduct a l’chayim tisch immediately after Shacharis for the students of the yeshiva as well as for the huge crowd that will join on the special day. Rabbi Aaron will deliver divrei Torah and then, together with the entire assembly, visit the gravesite. The seudas yahrzeit will be conducted in the main shul in Kiryas Yoel on the preceding Thursday evening, beginning at 7:00 p.m.

Rabbi Zalman Leib will conduct the seudas yahrzeit in the Vayoel Moshe Hall on Larkin Drive in Kiryas Yoel. At the very end of the meal, Rabbi Zalman Leib will, together with the entire assembly, visit the gravesite at approximately 1:00 a.m. Rabbi Zalman Leib will remain in Kiryas Yoel to conduct tefillos and tisch for Shabbos Parashas Re’eh, August 2—3, at the Vayoel Moshe shul and remain until Wednesday, August 7. v

Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the Rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and Director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. Rabbi Tannenbaum can be contacted at


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