Belz – Satmar Reconciliation
On Monday, January 17, a distinguished group of Belzer chassidim visited the ohel in Kiryas Yoel. The group approached the gravesites of Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, zt”l (1886-1979), founding Satmar Rebbe and author of Divrei Yoel, and, his nephew and successor, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, zt”l (1914-2006), Satmar Rebbe and author of Beirach Moshe.
At each gravesite the group gave charity, lit candles, recited Tehillim, and read aloud a letter from Rabbi Yesochor Dov Rokeach, Belzer Rebbe in Jerusalem, seeking forgiveness, as outlined in the Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 606:1 and Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 2:9-10.
Included in the delegation were Belzer dayanim Rabbi Moshe Shimon Bineth, Rabbi Asher Eckstein, Rabbi Mordechai Galitzky, Rabbi Shimon Wolf Klein, Rabbi Shalom Pesach Langsam, Rabbi Wolf Ber Lerner, Rabbi Tuvia Watenstein; Belzer leaders Rabbi Ezriel Hecht, Rabbi Yosef Langsam, Rabbi Gavriel Menzer, and Rabbi Moshe Yosef Moskowitz. The letter was read by Rabbi Shimon Wolf Klein, the Rebbe’s gabbai.
Though no explanations were given, much unofficial speculation has been offered. There is still anger over a speech given in Jerusalem by the Belzer Rebbe on Motzaei Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah 1981, shortly after the passing of the Divrei Yoel. The Belzer Rebbe was 33 years old at the time and had been serving as Belzer Rebbe since 1966.
Belzer Rebbe, Early Years
Born in 1948, today’s Belzer Rebbe married Rebbetzin Sarah, the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, Bnei Brak Vishnitzer Rebbe. At the time of the wedding, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua’s father, Rabbi Chaim Meir Hager, zt”l (1887-1972), Vishnitzer Rebbe and author of Imrei Chaim, was still alive. The Belzer Rebbe resided in Bnei Brak for one year. In 1966, he moved his residence to Jerusalem, where he assumed leadership of the growing Belzer kehilla. In 1972, the Vishnitzer Rebbe passed away and Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua succeeded his father as Vishnitzer Rebbe in Bnei Brak.
Childless for several years after their marriage, the Belzer Rebbe and Rebbetzin visited the United States to seek the blessing of the Divrei Yoel and, presumably, to seek medical assistance. In 1975 they had a son, Aaron Mordechai, their only child. The two names are in honor of the child’s great-uncle, Rabbi Aaron Rokeach, zt”l (1880-1957), fourth Belzer Rebbe, as well as of the child’s grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai Twersky, zt”l (1902-1949) Bilgorayer Rav.
Belz-Eidah Hacharedis Differences
In 1981, the Belzer kehilla established its own beis din and kashrus certification. In effect, the Belzer kehilla seceded from the Eidah Hacharedis of Jerusalem, which was then a coalition of Toldos Aaron (today Toldos Aaron and Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok), Satmar, Dushinsky, etc. The move toward independence on the part of Belz and its then-realignment with the Agudah, Ger, Vishnitz, etc., was loudly condemned.
That year, when the Belzer Rebbe visited New York, the police, fearing violence, discouraged him from visiting Williamsburg. The Belzer Beis Medrash in Williamsburg had been ransacked and hundreds of chassidishe youths were stationed on roofs along the Belzer Rebbe’s expected route of entry. The Belzer Rebbe chose to forgo the Williamsburg visit.
The Divrei Yoel passed away on Sunday, August 19, 1979. In addition to serving as Satmar Rebbe, he also served as chief rabbi and president of the Eidah Hacharedis. The Beirach Moshe, as nephew, Sigeter Rav, and obvious successor, was not anointed as Satmar Rebbe until months later. In addition, until the first yahrzeit the Sigeter Rav chose to be called the Satmar-Sigeter Rebbe.
In 1979 the Divrei Yoel had invited Rabbi Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss, zt”l (1902-1989), Manchester av beis din and author of Minchas Yitzchok, to join the Eidah Hacharedis as rosh beis din. When the Divrei Yoel passed away, the Eidah Hacharedis appointed Rabbi Weiss as its chief rabbi. The position of president was given to the Beirach Moshe. Today, Rabbi Tuvia Yitzchok Weiss (no relation), former rosh beis din of Antwerp, is the chief rabbi of the Eidah Hacharedis; Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch is the rosh beis din, and Rabbi Dovid Soloveitchik, Brisker rosh yeshiva, is the current president.
Reportedly, the Belzer Rebbe has long sought to reconcile with his brother-in-law, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe. They are sons-in-law of the aging Bnei Brak Vishnitzer Rebbe, as is Rabbi Dovid Twersky, Skverer Rebbe. The old adage applies here: Those that know are not speaking, and those who are speaking do not necessarily know. Some are hinting that the Satmar Rebbe welcomes the Belzer Rebbe’s current outreach but declined to reciprocate until forgiveness was asked of the Divrei Yoel and the Beirach Moshe in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch.
Now that the Belzer Rebbe has formally, in adherence with Shulchan Aruch guidelines, asked forgiveness, many speculate that the Satmar Rebbe, who will be visiting Israel shortly, will openly meet with the Belzer Rebbe. Others maintain that Satmar will not warmly embrace Belz but will grant the same ceremonious cordiality as is given to Vishnitz, Ger, Modzitz, Boyan, etc.