The Specter of Satmar

How did a small Transylvanian movement become the most powerful player in worldwide ultra-Orthodoxy?


A celebration on the anniversary of the escape from Hungary in 1944 of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the first Satmar rebbe. Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.
A celebration on the anniversary of the escape from Hungary in 1944 of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the first Satmar rebbe. Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.
Eli Spitzer
COLUMN
May 16 2022
About Eli

Eli Spitzer is a Mosaic columnist and the headmaster of a hasidic boys’ school in London. He blogs and hosts a podcast at elispitzer.com.

A specter is haunting American Jewry—the specter of Satmar. The fiercely anti-Zionist ḥasidic sect, whose strongholds are Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Kiryas Joel in upstate New York, now numbers something in the order of 70,000 globally, with fast-growing communities in England, Belgium, Israel, and Canada, among other countries. More than sheer numbers, however, Satmar exerts an influence, bordering on dominance, over the entire ḥasidic world outside Israel. Numerous smaller sects exist semi-officially under its jurisdiction, and even larger ones have to doff the cap. Such is the preeminence of Satmar over the ḥasidic world that outside observers sometimes find it hard to distinguish between Ḥasidim in general and Satmar in particular, genuinely confused about where the borders between the two lie.

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More about: Haredim, Jewish World, Religion & Holidays, Satmar, Ultra-Orthodox