Satmar v. Satmar

I have a question regarding the disgraceful goings-on within Satmar, including but not limited to the violence that occurred on Simchas Torah when the two rival factions desecrated G-D’s name in the main Satmar shul in Williamsburg. My question is whether I should write about this incident and related matters in my regular Jewish Week column.

The argument against writing is that it is wrong to hang out our dirty linen in public, particularly when every bit of Orthodox wrongdoing is pounced on by those who hate our religion and presented as evidence of Orthodox decadence. On the other hand, writing may – and I admit that this might be a longshot – cause some within Satmar to contemplate changing the way their disputes are handled. As a collateral point, not writing may be regarded as turning a blind eye to something that is substantially wrong.

I hope that those who look at this comment will share their views with me, hopefully in a measured way. I might note that if I do write I will also touch on the wrongfulness of Satmar going to secular courts to settle this and other disputes.

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16 Responses

  1. Netanel Livni says:

    I don’t see what possible toeles will come out of writing about this. Will the kannaim change their mind? No. Will the forces of reason within Satmar feel empowered by such an article. Probably not. Most likely it will just cause people who already have negative attitudes towards Satmar to feel more negativity towards them.

    I have my share of issues with Satmar, But just as there is a command to rebuke when the rebuke will be heard, there is a command to refrain from rebuking when no one will listen.

  2. Hanan says:

    “when every bit of Orthodox wrongdoing is pounced on by those who hate our religion and presented as evidence of Orthodox decadence.”

    You’re right, perhaps, but another way to look at it is that we are not afraid to tackle the problems within our communities. If things aren’t always brought to the public eye, they may never be solved. I think people with preconceived notions about how orthodox Jews, always hiding issues under the rug, will be pleased to see that we don’t consider ourselves to be better than others, with no problems, that we don’t committ errors along the way. “Wow, the orthodox are human after all.” I believe that is an incouraging thought for all.

  3. rebuker says:

    I, on my part, feel that the rebuke is always heard, if not by those who need it first, then by those who need some “hizuk” in upholding their ideals. Rebuking really has not only a purpose of edifying someone, it is a natural impulse, an indication that you disagree, that you think yourself, know who you are and what you believe in. Whenever you want to change or fix something, going against someone else is natural. The very negative image of Orthodox Jews in the eyes of the wide public is a result of exactly this most idiotic and cowardly practice of hushing up every controversy over an issue of importance (Biblical criticism, general education, modern science, non-Jews), yet publicizing their outlandish “piety” (burning the wigs). Many or even most people out there simply assume that this is what Judaism teaches and that Orthodox Jews simply don’t know any better. And this is true: most of Orthodox Jews indeed don’t know any better, so rebuking these people – sitting very comfortably in America – is indispensible.

    The only qualification to rebuking is talking responsibly (we all believe in Hashem) and knowing exactly what happened in a given situation. You can also try to be a bit moderate, at least in the beginning.

    By the way, I’d like to remind you a quote from Talmud: How far should I go in admonishing people? Rav said, Until they beat you up for reprimanding them (Arachin 16b).

  4. Netanel Livni says:


    If Rabbi Akiva himself testified that in his generation no one knew how to properly give rebuke (see Safra, Vayikra 19:43). If Rabbi Tarfon testified to the same effect and Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah testified that he would be surprised if there is anyone in his generation capable of accepting rebuike (!). Do you really feel that you are in a position to properly administer rebuke.

    There is a dual function to rebuke as you stated. Sometimes it is necessary to avoid a chillul Hashem. Sometimes it is done in order to protect yourself. (This was Rav Kook Zt”l explanation on why rebuke must be given when one hears Nivul HaPeh (foul speech). It rebuke acts as a counterforce to the damage that the foul language inevitably has on those who hear it.)

    In this case however, I think that all such an act would serve to do is advertize a chillul Hashem. Those who need to hear the rebuke will not listen. Most of those who have already heard the story are aware that this behavior is not mainstream in the Religious world and nothing can be gained by those who have no knowledge of the event.

    What you are suggesting is that a possible toeles would be to show everyone that we REALLY are good people. IMHO, anyone who doubts that we are good people would not be convinced by such rebuke and if they haven’t heard the story yet, they will probably be more convinced than ever.

  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Is it possible to keep the Satmar fights a secret? If not, then the fact that people will read about this from you, rather than somebody else, shouldn’t stop you from writing. It is better if they learn the disgraceful things from a sympathetic observer, rather than a journalist who is just out to get scoops and cause sensations.

    Also, by reporting about the fights you can provide people with the background information to understand the context. This is what turns: “these are barbaric idiots” into “these are people stuck in a bad situation” and creates sympathy and compassion.

  6. rebuker says:

    >It rebuke acts as a counterforce to the damage that the foul language inevitably has on those who hear it.)

    This is a good definition of any proper expression of rebuke – that it serves as a counterforce to the damage inflicted. This is why rebuke is so precious: it embarasses the person who gives Jews a bad name and may potentially enable him to feel remorse and change, his children -to learn “emet” and everybody else to uphold the difference between “good” and “bad”.

    Also, I was not referring to what had happened in Satmar – to be me the way people behave/walk/dress in the street, during davenning or while on the train are much closer examples.

    What R’ Akiva and other Sages said makes one realize that rebuking, as everything else, is a very subtle issue. Obviously, it should not be done publicly, loudly, noisily, etc. -everything depends on the situation. But I still think that if you are alive, you rebuke.

  7. Avigdor says:

    The question of “breaking the news” may be moot. It’s already on the web:

  8. Ellen Solomon says:

    While I don’t believe that Satmar listen to articles in the “secular” press (meaning anything outside of their own), I can see the value of providing a true Orthodox viewpoint on the issue – how disputes should be handled, that in general most of us are appalled and wouldn’t do it this way, etc. But I would strongly caution against writing anything in such a way that Satmar is thought of as a sort of “them” amongst the Orthodox. We’d like to believe that as Ori writes they are people “stuck in a bad situation” and that everyone is hoping they can turn it around somehow soon.

  9. Shira Schmidt says:

    motzei Shabbat
    Is your information kli rishon, kli sheni or ?? Definitely write about it, but indicate your source of information (I assume you weren’t present). I count on you to explain the context – and how some groups believe passionately in a certain view or interpretation, but while their passion can have negative consequences, it also extends to such positive areas such as mutual help; insuring the future of the Jewish people (through large families; study; worship; hospitality; etc. The main purpose in writing is not to effect change in Satmar (though that would be a nice concomitant) but to show Jewish Week readers that the Orthodox are aware that there are problems in their community and they are working on dealing with these problems in their own way.

  10. Justin A says:

    if your worried about a chillul hashem you may be a little too late:

    Google News: Satmar

  11. Mentch says:

    I think you should write about the disgraceful goings-on within the Satmar community, but only if in the same story you will write about the disgraceful goings-on within other orthodox communities, such as, Bobov, Lubavitch, Klauzenberg, Punevish, etc.
    They are just as Yidden as Satmar, and are fighting as bad as them, if not better.
    If you do this, you will be showing that your writing is not based on any “gloating” of what’s going on in Satmar.

  12. Yaakov Rosenblatt, Dallas says:

    As you, Dr. Schick, I am tired, tired, tired, of people who care not about Chillul Hashem and how they are perceived by others and its cause: segments of our community which promote a culture in which almost everyone else is an “other”. I still remember a shmooz Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe delivered in Yeshivas Mir deriding hooligans burning garbage cans in protest of the desecration of Kevarim in Yerushalayim as “yadayim yedai Esav.” Why is your op-ed running in The Jewish Week and not Hamodia? Where are the op-eds in our papers?

  13. Moe says:

    As one with intimate knowledge of the Satmar community I can say with confidence that such an article will not change the way matters are conducted. It may in fact create animosity between Satmar and the rest of the Orthodox community. That is the risk you take. The point that showing the public that this is not general Orthodox practice and that we do not condone such behaviour is well taken. It is a better alternative than the Jewish Week writing their own take on it..

    I believe the main problem is that the communtiy suffers from a lack of authoritative leadership. The conflict itself is over who is in control! In addition, their culture is not so media and PR savvy. They could really use a Rabbi Naftoli Neuberger zt”l type. Can’t we all…

  14. Yankel says:

    Being a member of the Satmar community myself, please allow me to say that the worst has already been written and there is no place left for a bigger chilull hashem. Therefore I believe writing something to give the terrible gossip a torahdig and halchadig view cannot be very harmful. Brawls between kahillas are a big part of our history and unfortunately, it’s being carried on. Also, take in mind that there are very many good striving Yidden outside any specific rabbinical ‘sect’ that have questions when torah followers like Satmar and Lubavich are described as hooligans. The torturing question of “Why hasn’t the torah taught them how to resolve their issues modestly?” should be something your paper should try to explain.
    In defense, I would like to point out that the media has taken this issue way out of proportion with coverage that makes you wonder if ‘Satmar’ isn’t located in the Bronx. I strongly believe that the coverage has created a very unfair stereotype where ‘I’ and many other good people in the community are labeled badly for the deeds of a small number of individuals. I don’t know personally anyone that did anything that was reported, although I can believe that in a society of so many thousands, you’ll find some bad apples. When jewish people live lives as pure as water, a drop of blood will discolor the entire picture. When we will stop mixing up waters and start looking at every drop individually, a beautiful kiddish hashem will emerge. Remember, kol yisroel arivim zeh loozeh and it’s time other yidden look at this picture like you would at a personal family scandal.

  15. DYK says:

    “On the other hand, writing may – and I admit that this might be a longshot – cause some within Satmar to contemplate changing the way their disputes are handled.”

    Can you give a SINGLE example where writting in the Jewish Week has changed the way any Chassidic sect does ANYTHING??
    If you cannot, then all you have are corollary benefites at best. And they probably don’t outwiegh the damage of further alienation and comtempt by declaring: “We moderate Orthodox disaprove.” It’s “Yehudah Ve’od LeKrah”.

  16. Rabbi Moshe says:

    Dear Mr. Shick,
    I have written to you once before congratulating you on your powerful article that put Eric Yofee in his place. In this matter with Satmar, I think that writing about it really will not help anyone involved to see the light. Satmar is in general a headstrong organization that really isn’t PR savvy like some, say Lubavitch. I think it is best to let them battle it out in their ring without giving commentary .However if you do choose to write about it I know it will be an impressive article and am sure I will enjoy it like I do most of your others.

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