Joel Teitelbaum

Joel Teitelbaum
Born (1887-01-13)January 13, 1887
Sighet, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary
Died August 19, 1979(1979-08-19) (aged 92)
Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City, United States
Resting place Kiryas Joel Cemetery
Residence 500 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn
Occupation Rabbi
Known for Founder of the Satmar dynasty
Religion Orthodox Judaism
Spouse(s) Chavah Horowitz (1904–1936)
Alte Faige Shapiro (1937–1979)
Children Esther (−1921)
Rachel (−1931)
Roysele (−1953)
Parent(s) Chananyah Yom Tov Teitelbaum
Chana Ashkenazi

Joel Teitelbaum (Hebrew: יואל טייטלבוים, Ashkenazi pronunciation: IPA: [jɔjl̩ teɪtɛlbɔjm]; 13 January 1887 – 19 August 1979) was the founder and first Grand Rebbe of the Satmar dynasty. A major figure in the postwar renaissance of Hasidism, he espoused a strictly conservative and isolationist line, rejecting modernity. Teitelbaum was a fierce opponent of Zionism, which he decried as inherently heretical.


Early life

According to Satmar spokesman Rabbi Edgar Gluck, Teitelbaum was born on 13 January 1887.[1] He was the fifth and youngest child and second son of Grand Rabbi Chananyah Yom Tov Teitelbaum and his second wife, Chana Ashkenazi. His father wed her in 1878, after receiving a permission from one hundred rabbis to enter another marriage; his first wife, Reitze – daughter of Rebbe Menashe Rubin of Ropshitz – was barren.[2] Chananyah served as the rabbi of Sighet, the dean of the local Rabbinical seminary, and the leader of the eponymous Hasidic movement based in the city. He was the great-grandson of Moses Teitelbaum, a disciple of the Seer of Lublin who was one of the main promulgators of Hasidism in Hungary. The rabbis of the Teitelbaum family were known for their highly conservative stance and their opposition to the Enlightenment, Neolog Judaism and Zionism.

Teitelbaum was renowned for his intellectual capacities from a young age. At his Bar mitzvah, he delivered a sermon of several hours concerning an issue from the Shabbat tractate. He was stringent in matters regarding ritual purity, and would lengthily prepare for prayer by meticulously cleaning himself. Even before his wedding, he received letters of ordination from eight prominent rabbis, including Moshe Greenwald. In 1904, just several days before his father's death on 15 February, the 17-year-old married Chavah Horowitz, the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Chaim Horowitz of Polaniec. They had three daughters, none of whom survived their father or had any children: the first, Esther, died in her youth on 14 September 1921; Rachel died on 19 March 1931, shortly after her marriage. The last, Chaya Roisa (or Reysel), died on 23 October 1953.[3]

Teitelbaum's older brother Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum succeeded their father in all three of his posts. A small faction of hasidim regarded Teitelbaum as the appropriate heir, and he was also supported by his mother. He then moved to his new father-in-law's residence in Radomyśl Wielki, and remained there for over a year. On 8 September 1905 he settled in Szatmárnémeti, or Satmar in Yiddish. In spite of his young age, his supporters opened a study hall for him. He gradually began to attract a small local following. Journalist Dezső David Schön, who researched the Teitelbaum dynasty, wrote that Teitelbaum started to refer to himself as "Rebbe of Satmar" at that point. Subsequently, he had tense relations with the first to claim the title, Yisaschar Dov Leifer, son of Mordechai of Nadvorna. However, the latter died on 12 September 1906. The young rabbi soon acquired a reputation for zealotry: when the community leaders refused his pleas to relocate a women's ritual bath which was being built in proximity to a similar establishment for men, he and his supporters destroyed the construction site at night.

Rabbinical career

Rabbi Teitelbaum greeting Carol II of Romania, 1936

In 1911, Teitelbaum was invited by the Jewish community in Ilosva, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to serve as their town's rabbi. During his stay there, he established a local seminary and spread the ideas of Hasidism among the populace. Upon the outbreak of World War I he returned to Szatmárnémeti, where his old study hall gradually developed into a full-fledged seminary. As a young rabbi he clung to the positions of his father and grandfather: he forbade any contact with Zionists, including the religious Mizrachi, and supported Chaim Elazar Spira in his opposition to Agudath Israel. In the meantime, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved following the war. Satmar and the rest of Northern Transylvania were united with the Kingdom of Romania under the terms of the Treaty of Trianon (1920).

The chief Orthodox rabbi of Satmar, Judah Grünwald, died on 9 March 1920. Several of Teitelbaum's supporters advanced his name as a possible candidate for the vacant office, but he was opposed to by the non-Hasidic (Ashkenazi) majority in the community, the modernists and the Zionists, as well as by many hasidim. Eventually, Rabbi Eliezer David Grünwald (no relation to the former) was chosen. In 1922, after eight years outside the town, Teitelbaum returned to his community, now Irshava in Czechoslovakia.

On 29 March 1925, he was appointed chief rabbi of Carei. He moved to the city about a year afterwards. On 21 January 1926, his older brother Chaim Tzvi died unexpectedly of an intracranial hemorrhage. Tzvi's oldest son, Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum (II), was fourteen years old. Although many of his followers suggested that Joel should succeed his brother, custom prevailed and the boy was given his father's three posts. Rabbi Yekusiel Judah Gross of Berbești was brought to serve as his tutor and de facto chief rabbi of Sighet (now Sighetu Marmației). However, most of the hasidim turned to Joel, who became the dynasty's Rebbe in all but name. When he grew older, Yekusiel established a following of his own from among his father's loyal supporters, but his influence as Rebbe never exceeded beyond the city limits. He married his uncle's daughter Rachel, who died soon after.

On 20 May 1928, Rabbi Eliezer David Grünwald of Satmar died, and Teitelbaum ran for the municipal rabbi's office again. An election committee established by the Orthodox community's board chose him to the post on 11 June, with nineteen members in favor, five against, and two abstentions. After a prolonged dispute with his opponents, the parties decided to hold an election among all members of the congregation. It took place on 9 August, and Teitelbaum received 437 votes in favor and 331 against. The opposition did not accept the results. In a second vote, on 27 September, 779 approved of Teitelbaum and only one rejected him. Chaim Freund, the community's president, and several other members of the board were close supporters of the rabbi, and his opponents accused them of rigging the vote throughout the election process by various means, including granting and withdrawing the right to participate according to criteria which benefited their candidate. Both sides sued their opponents in Rabbinical courts and complained to the civilian authorities. The parties presented their claims in lengthy pamphlets printed in 1929: Freund's faction issued a book under the name Milkhemes Mitzve haKhudosh ("The New Commanded War") and the other one published Sfas Emes ("Words of Truth").

Finally, following the continued refusal of many to accept Teitelbaum, his supporters established their own independent community on 10 December 1929 where he could serve as a rabbi. The fear of losing members' fees motivated the other party to negotiate. An agreement was reached on 11 June 1930, and Joel was invited to serve as Satmar's Orthodox chief rabbi. He chose not to accept the nomination until he could rely on a sufficient support in the community board. He was content with his faction's status in the council only three and a half years later, and arrived in the city on 27 February 1934. With 334 students, his rabbinical seminary became Satmar's largest, having more pupils than the other three combined.

In August 1932, he visited Jerusalem. A small party there sought to appoint him as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the city, in the wake of Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld's death, but Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky eventually received the post. On 29 January 1936 Teitelbaum's first wife, Chava, died. On 20 August 1937 he remarried with Alte Faige Shapiro, the orphaned 25-year-old daughter of Rabbi Avigdor Shapiro from Czestochowa, who was half his age.[4]

World War II

In 1940, following the Second Vienna Award, Satmar again became part of Hungary. While the local Jewish population suffered persecution in the following years, they were spared from wholesale extermination. Teitelbaum organized aid for Jewish refugees who arrived illegally from the territories occupied by Germany, providing them with shelter and forged documents.

In March 1944, the German Army entered Hungary. On 3 May, the Jews of Satmar were herded into a ghetto. The rabbi was hidden by his followers inside a bunker. The same day, a Hungarian officer who was bribed beforehand transported him, his wife, and several personal assistants to Kolozsvár in an ambulance. They intended to cross the border into Romania. They arrived there late at night and were soon arrested by the Royal Hungarian Gendarmerie, which placed them in the local ghetto.

Baron Fülöp von Freudiger, director of the Orthodox congregation in Budapest, selected eighty rabbis and other prominent figures and paid for their inclusion in the passengers' list of the Kastner train, which was to depart the state for a neutral country. Teitelbaum was among them. On 10 June, he and his small group arrived in Budapest aboard a special train which carried those from the Kolozsvár ghetto who were included in the list. The Kastner train left Budapest on 30 June, but was stopped en route and diverted to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on 9 July. In the following months, Rudolf Kastner negotiated the travelers' release with Adolf Eichmann. They were held in the camp under relatively good conditions and were supplied with sufficient nutrition. The rabbi had brought along a stock of kosher food, and his wife cooked it for him. He did not eat the rations supplied to the other prisoners. The leaders of the group, afraid that the rabbis' traditional beards would provoke the guards to abuse them, requested them to shave. Teitelbaum merely wrapped a towel around his head and pretended to be suffering from a toothache.[5]

While a first contingent of Kastner train prisoners was released in early August, Teitelbaum was in the second group, which left Bergen Belsen on 4 December. On the night of 7–8 December 1944, their train arrived near Kreuzlingen in neutral Switzerland. George Mantello arranged for the rabbi to receive a visa and arranged for his release from internment in Caux. He rented a luxurious apartment in Geneva for him and his wife.[5]

United States

In August 1945 several hundreds of the Kastner train's passengers, Teitelbaum among them, left Switzerland for the port of Taranto in Italy. On the 30th they boarded the ship Ville d'Oran, which arrived in Haifa in the morning of 2 September. During his stay in the British Mandate of Palestine, he resided in Jerusalem, at the house of his nephew and son-in-law Lipa Meir Teitelbaum.

After a year, the Satmar Rebbe emigrated to the United States. He arrived in New York on the second day of Rosh HaShana (27 September) 1946, aboard the motor vessel Vulcania. He settled in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with a small group of supporters.[6] In late April 1948 the Satmar hasidim established "Congregation Yetev Lev", named after his grandfather, which was registered as a religious corporation. The community's regulations, accepted in April 1952, decreed that Teitelbaum was not a salaried officeholder but the supreme spiritual authority over the members.

In 1951, although not a resident of Israel, he was appointed to the ceremonial office of President of the anti-Zionist Congregation of God-Fearers in Jerusalem. After the death of Zelig Reuven Bengis on 21 May 1953, he also succeeded him as the God-Fearers' Rabbinical Court chairman. He visited the state every few years.[7] In 1955 he founded the Central Rabbinical Congress, which he headed for the remainder of his life.

From the early 1960s, the rabbi's envoys sought to establish a rural settlement, in which the congregants could be secluded from the outside world. They eventually managed to purchase territory in Monroe, New York, where they built Kiryas Joel (Town of Joel). The first families settled in 1974.[8] On 23 February 1968, Teitelbaum suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed and barely functioning. His wife, backed by several sextons and other functionaries, became the behind-the-scenes power in Satmar.[3] In the early hours of 19 August 1979 he complained of aches and was evacuated to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he suffered a Myocardial infarction and died at approximately 08:00 AM. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral in Kiryas Joel. He was succeeded by his nephew, his older brother's second son, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum.[7]


Opposition to Zionism

Teitelbaum was renowned for his vocal opposition to Zionism in all arenas. He encouraged his followers to form self-sufficient communities without assistance from the secular State of Israel and forbade any "official" engagement with it.

Before World War II, most Hassidic rabbis, as well as many other prominent Orthodox rabbis and leaders, believed that God had promised to return the Jewish people to the land of Israel under the leadership of a Jewish Messiah, who would arrive when the Jewish people had merited redemption. While awaiting the Messiah, the Jewish people were to perform the mitzvot and were not to antagonize or rebel against the gentile nations of the world. In the years following the Holocaust, Teitelbaum undertook to strengthen this position.

In the view of Teitelbaum's followers, the founding of the modern State of Israel, founded by secular as well as religious Jews rather than a Jewish Messiah, violated the fundamental Satmar vision that Jews should wait for the Messiah. Moreover, the Satmar Rebbe taught that the existence of the Zionist State of Israel was actually preventing the Messiah from coming.[9]

Three oaths

Further information: Three Oaths

The core citations from classical Judaic sources cited by Teitelbaum in his arguments against modern Zionism are based on a passage in the Talmud. Rabbi Yosi b'Rebbi Hanina explains (Kesubos 111a) that the Lord imposed "Three Oaths" on the nation of Israel: a) Israel should not return to the Land together, by force; b) Israel should not rebel against the other nations; and c) The nations should not subjugate Israel too harshly.

According to Teitelbaum, the second oath is relevant concerning the subsequent wars fought between Israel and Arab nations. He views the Zionist State of Israel as a form of "impatience" and in keeping with the Talmud's warnings that being impatient for God's love leads to "grave danger". Satmar Hasidism explains that the constant wars in Israel are a result of ignoring this oath.

Teitelbaum saw his opposition to Zionism as a way of protecting Jewish lives and preventing bloodshed. Although some Haredi rabbis agree with this idea, the general view of Agudath Israel and many other orthodox rabbis is that for all practical purposes, through participating in the Israeli government, efforts can be made to promote religious Judaism in Israel. Teitelbaum, however, felt that any participation in the Israeli government, even voting in elections, was a grave sin, because it contributes to the spiritual and physical destruction of innocent people. He was openly opposed to the views of Agudath Israel, and until the present time, the official Satmar movement refuses to become a member of the Agudath Israel organization or party. The Satmar view is that only the Jewish Messiah can bring about a new Jewish government in Eretz Israel, and even if a government declaring itself religious would be formed before the Messiah, it would be illegitimate due to its improper arrogation of power.

While the Satmar Hasidim are opposed to the present secular government of Israel, many of them live in and visit Israel. Teitelbaum himself lived for about a year in Jerusalem after his escape from Europe, but before the establishment of the State of Israel, and visited Israel after moving to the United States.

Other opinions

Teitelbaum was very stringent in many particulars of Jewish law. He argued with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein over the proper height of a mechitza (divider between men and women in the synagogue). Feinstein held that the mechitza need go only up to the shoulders of the average woman, while Teitelbaum opined that the mechitza should not allow women to be seen at all.

Teitelbaum was very opposed to the use of a tube for metzitza during circumcision of a baby boy, and felt that this change in the procedure would spiritually lead to more promiscuity.

Teitelbaum encouraged all married Hassidic men to wear ceremonial fur hats. Although these were not worn by most Hassidic men in Hungary before the war, Teitelbaum felt that in America it was more important for people to look very different from the non-Jews, in order to prevent assimilation, which was far more rampant in America than it had been in Hungary.

Teitelbaum held that boys and girls shouldn't meet more than two or three times before getting engaged.

Teitelbaum stressed the importance of tznius for women. He was a strong proponent of the Hungarian Hasidic custom for married women to shave their head every month before immersion in the mikveh (ritual bath). He strongly opposed the wearing of wigs by married women. He felt that this was prohibited on Jewish legal ground; he wanted women to cover their hair with something else instead, such as a turban. He insisted that all women and girls wear thick, brown stockings with seams. The stockings had to be at least 90 denier. Due to the lack of availability of such stockings, Teitelbaum encouraged one of his hasidim to manufacture the stockings. The stockings were called "Palm," the English translation of Teitelbaum's last name.

Teitelbaum prohibited the ownership of a television. This was in the 1950s, when TV was still heavily censored for promiscuous content. He bought and oversaw his own Yiddish language newspaper, Der Yid, for two reasons: First, he felt that the other Yiddish newspapers at the time contained articles that were prohibited to read—because of their promiscuous content and because they didn't respect haredi leaders. In addition, Teitelbaum wanted a platform from which to spread his anti-Zionist ideas.


Teitelbaum's works include collections of responsa and novelae (scholarly contributions to Talmudic debates) entitled Divrei Yoel and Al HaGeulah V'Al HaTemurah. This was written with the help of the late Rabbi N.Y. Meisels. He authored a brief introduction to the Talmudic tractate Shabbos for a Holocaust-era printing in Romania. His exposition of his belief that Zionism is prohibited by Halakha ("Jewish law") is entitled VaYoel Moshe. There are collections of his speeches entitled Hidushei Torah MHR"I Teitelbaum.

See also


  1. "Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum Dies at 92; Leader of the Satmar Hasidic Sect; Opposed State of Israel Moved to Brooklyn in 1946". The New York Times. August 20, 1979. Retrieved 2012-02-02.
  2. Rabinowicz, Tzvi M. (1996). The Encyclopedia of Hasidism. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. pp. 484, 488. ISBN 1-56821-123-6.
  3. 1 2 Sherman, Moshe D. (1996). Orthodox Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook. Greenwood. pp. 209–211. ISBN 978-0-313-24316-5.
  4. Martin, Douglas (June 13, 2001). "Faiga Teitelbaum, 89, a Power Among the Satmar Hasidim". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  5. 1 2 Keren-Kratz, Menachem. "The Satmar Rebbe and the Destruction of Hungarian Jewry: Part 1". Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  6. "Rav Yoel Teitelbaum – The Satmarer Rebbe". OU, The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
  7. 1 2 Rubinstein, Avraham. "Teitelbaum". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik (Ed.), Vol. 19., Macmillan Reference USA, Detroit 2007. pp. 582–583. Retrieved 2012-02-02.
  8. Berenbaum, Michael; Skolnik, Fred, eds. (2007). "Kiryas Joel". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Detroit: Macmillan Reference. pp. 191–192. Retrieved 2012-02-02.
  9. Vayoel Moshe, Three Oaths, Chapter 69. Teitelbaum quotes Sanhedrin 98b: "Rabbi Hama son of Hanina said: The son of David will not come until even the pettiest kingdom ceases [to have power] over Israel". Rashi explains that this means the Jews won't even have the least amount of sovereignty. Since the Messiah won't arrive while Jews have any sovereignty, the State of Israel prevents the arrival of the Messiah. (However, elsewhere Teitelbaum implicitly allows for the Messianic Kingdom to immediately replace the State of Israel without any sovereign holding power in between. See Teitelbaum's Divrei Yoel on the Pentateuch, Vol. 3, Page 250.)

Further reading

External links

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