Hasidic People: A Place in the New World

By Jerome R. Mintz | Go to book overview

12
The Succession in Satmar

The Council of Elders

A month after the death of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum in August 1979, the thirteen members of the Council of Elders of Satmar met to name his successor. The Council is an elected body, with elections normally held every three or four years (although no vote had been held since the Rebbe's stroke eleven years earlier). The president of the Council was Leo Lefkowitz, the secular leader of the community; the executive vice president was Sender Deutsch, the publisher and editor of Der Yid, a Yiddish newspaper sometimes referred to by its opponents as the Pravda of the Satmar community.

As is customary there were no preparations for succession made in advance of the Rebbe's death. Although the need for rabbinic succession has weighed heavily in every dynastic court since the inception of Hasidism, no true follower of a Rebbe would discuss the possibility of his Rebbe's dying before the coming of the Messiah. The pattern of succession is clear: the new Rebbe chosen is almost always the son of the deceased Rebbe. Possibilities for a power struggle exist, particularly if the Rebbe has many sons or no sons at all so that the court must look to a son-in- law, a relative, or an outstanding disciple. The situations surrounding the succession of a Rebbe have been as varied and as complex as family life itself, and decisions have turned on struggles within rabbinic families and between court factions, and on emotions as generous as love and willingness to sacrifice, or as onerous as jealousy and avarice.

Perhaps to a very few it seemed that the Satmar court could continue as it had during the Rebbe's illness, with the Rebbe's representatives in charge and with the memory of the deceased Rebbe kept in sharp focus. The Bratslaver Hasidim never selected a new leader after the death of their Rebbe in 1810. But they are known as the "Dead Hasidim," and their prestige and influence have declined with each yortsayt (anniversary of death). 1 The Satmar Hasidim revered their Rebbe as much as the Brat-

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