With great fanfare and amid a festive atmosphere, the grand rabbi of the Satmar hassidic dynasty, Rebbe Zalman Teitelbaum, distributed some $5 million on Wednesday night to approximately 150 institutions in Israel that do not receive funding from the state due to their anti-Zionist ideology.
The rabbi was lauded by hundreds of his Hassidim as he entered the celebration hall to the sounds of ravishing music.
He made his way up to the central platform to sit at the center of the ranks of leading rabbis from the Satmar community.
The Grand Rabbi of the Satmar hassidim Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum arriving at the “Pure Shekel” event last night pic.twitter.com/pIAei3mfxQ
— Jeremy Sharon (@jeremysharon) November 21, 2019
A special new melody was composed for the occasion and put to the words of a song sung by a boys’ choir as the rabbi entered the hall.
The Yiddish words of the song were taken from those of Satmar’s founding grand rabbi, explaining that when the messiah comes, he will point to the children who studied in institutions that did not take money from the State of Israel and say, “These children helped bring the messiah.”
Teitelbaum is in Israel on a 10-day visit to meet and be greeted by his Hassidim, tour parts of the country, and to visit the Satmar communities in Israel, principally Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Beit Shemesh.
And of course, to distribute money.
The Grand Rabbi of the Satmar hassidim Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum last night at the “Pure Shekel” event pic.twitter.com/ES5dI5u1eq
— Jeremy Sharon (@jeremysharon) November 21, 2019
Teitelbaum distributed checks made out in shekels during the ceremony on Wednesday night – called the “Pure Shekel” – to the heads of the institutions selected to receive funding, who came up to the platform one by one to receive the money from the grand rabbi.
The money, The Jerusalem Post was told, is wired from New York to Israel, and the checks are then made out individually to the receiving institutions, which include schools, yeshivas and kollels (talmudic seminaries for married men).
The Satmar rebbe gives funds both to institutions belonging to the Satmar community, as well as those connected to the radical Eda Haredit association of various types of ultra-Orthodox and hassidic communities that have a similar anti-Zionist, isolationist ideology to that of Satmar.
Of late, money is also given to the Jerusalem Faction, a radical splinter group from the mainstream, non-hassidic “Lithuanian” ultra-Orthodox community.
Speaking to the Jerusalrm Post at the Pure Shekel event, Rabbi Moshe Friedman, a senior and highly trusted secretary to the visiting grand rabbi, said that the Satmar community believes that if you take money from the State of Israel then the community will inevitably be influenced by the state, and therefore Satmar declines any funding:
“So this is why we come to give support to the people here who are needy and don’t take money from the state,” he said.
Asked whether the messiah can come as long as the State of Israel exists, Friedman said no, and that the Zionist state must end in some way before the messiah can come:
“We hope of course that it should not come about through war or suffering – this is, of course, not something we want,” he said. “But somehow, the messiah will come.”
Bentzi Weiss, an informal coordinator in Israel’s Satmar community, also spoke about the ban on accepting money from the state due to the possibility that this support would eventually have an impact on the community:
“The [mainstream] ultra-Orthodox here know the state is making them more Israeli – it’s clear,” Weiss said. “Over the years, it has becoming stronger, and Satmar is struggling against this.”
Asked whether Satmar Hassidim living in Israel nevertheless benefit from the basic infrastructure the state provides, such as public transportation, roads, municipal services, health care, and police, Weiss said that this was unavoidable:
“When I breathe the air I know it’s polluted, but I have no choice,” he said.
Asked if he believed the state to be polluted, Weiss said “it’s not humane to call it polluted. It has a lot of blemishes, it has bad values and a bad culture.”
Weiss added that Satmar does not boycott Israel or Israeli goods in the manner of pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist groups:
“Satmar is not part of a boycott; this is not what we are about.”
The grand rabbi, who is in Israel until next Thursday, will spend Shabbat in Jerusalem with the local Satmar community, and visit holy sites in northern Israel. He will also visit Bnei Brak and spend two days in Beit Shemesh, where he will lay the cornerstone for a new Satmar center in the city.
The Satmar community in the US has always provided money to its branch in Israel, although the current grand rabbi set up the Pure Shekel fund seven years ago during his first visit to Israel after inheriting the leadership of the community.
He last visited Israel three-and-a-half years ago following the birth of a grandson.
At the mass gathering of Satmar Hassidim on Tuesday night, Teitelbaum spoke out harshly against the state and against the mainstream ultra-Orthodox community, which does accept government funding.
“They are strengthening the heretics and giving honor to the prime minister, and saying ‘you are our brother.’ And they are breaking the walls of isolation [between the ultra-Orthodox world and the outside]… they want to uproot the Torah and the practice of commandments.”
As for the ultra-Orthodox political parties, he said “they are selling the entire holy Torah to be part of the government.”
Satmar, which originated in Hungary at the beginning of the 20th century, is considered to be one of, if not the biggest and wealthiest of all hassidic communities, with the large majority of the community based in the US.
The dynasty has split into two branches, each led by a son of the previous grand rabbi, Moshe Teitelbaum. His second son, Rabbi Zalman, leads Brooklyn’s Williamsburg-based community, while his eldest son, Rabbi Aaron, leads the community based in Kiryas Yoel in upstate New York. Both communities claim their rebbe to be his father’s successor.
In Israel, there are some 700 Williamsburg Satmar families in Jerusalem and 250 in Beit Shemesh, as well as a community in Bnei Brak.
The anti-Zionist ideology of the Satmar hassidic community was formulated by its first leader, Grand Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, Moshe’s uncle, based on an esoteric section of the Talmud that says G-d made the Jewish people swear not to return to the Land of Israel until he sends the messiah.
Yoel Teitelbaum saw the Zionist movement and the State of Israel as an illegitimate attempt to force God’s hand into bringing the messiah, and so rejected it, urging his followers to have nothing to do with Zionism or the state.
Satmar and its institutions in Israel do not take money from the state for their educational institutions and other communal organizations, unlike the majority of the mainstream ultra-Orthodox community, nor do they vote in elections or run for Knesset.
Incident with King Carol II of Romania
In the winter of 1936, the Romanian king Carol II made a visit in the city of Satmar (Sighet). A large parade consisting of thousands of soldiers and courtiers accompanied his arrival, and the municipality prepared a large stage upon which all the religious and municipal leaders of the town stood. Teitelbaum was accompanied by his son-in-law, Chananya Yom-Tov Lipa Teitelbaum, rabbi of Szemihály and community leader Shmuel Rosenberg, and standing beside them were rabbis of the status quo and neolog communities, and other religious leaders.
When the king approached the stage, he surveyed all the people who stood on it and started walking in Teitelbaum’s direction, who was holding his rabbinical stick in one hand and his hat in the other. Two (christian) priests started walking towards the king, but he ignored them. Teitelbaum, saluted and said the blessing “Shenatan MiChvodo LiVnei Adam” (who gave from his honor to human beings). The king gave Teitelbam his hand. The moment was documented by a Jewish photographer and was published in the Romanian press. Several days later, the king was asked why he approached the Orthodox rabbi first, and he responded “Immediately when I walked toward the stage, I surveyed all those who were standing on it, my heart was attracted to this rabbi due to his appearance that radiated spirituality (lit. Yiddishen geistlichen rabbiner).” The king’s response was published in the country’s Jewish press.
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.