Two unusual leaders:Satmar Rebbe today and R.Tuvia Geffen 1935

I was at a study-seminar in Nahariya when I received a phone call 1 am Friday, erev Shabbat Hagadol from New York. “We have an emergency,” said one of the editors of Mishpacha Magazine. Could I help them find an expert translator to translate from English to Hebrew the cover story of the Pesah issue, which had to go to print Motzei Shabbat. It was a cover story, an interview with the current Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum. After a flurry of transatlantic phone calls a translator was found – the very scholar, Rav Yitzchok Frankfurter, who conducted the interview and wrote it in English. He worked for twelve hours straight, and translated it himself. I found the interview fascinating – and you can read it in English (and in Hebrew) in the Pesah issue #254 of Mishpacha:”A Glimpse of Greatness.”
My narrow view of Satmar has completely changed after reading this cover story. Especially impressive is the fact that the Rebbe wears two streimels (streimlach?), that of Rosh Yeshiva deeply involved in teaching and learning, and that of the leader of his community. In the same issue is an article by my sister and myself: “The Rabbi’s Daughter and the Case of Coca-Cola” about the Dean of Orthodox Rabbis in southern U.S., Rabbi Tuvia Geffen, who was involved, through his daughter Helen, a chemistry student, in changing the ingredients of Coca-Cola in 1935 so it would be sans animal fat all year, and would be kosher for Pesah. I had the privilege of interviewing Helen, a”h, many years ago for the inside story. You can hear Rabbi Adam Mintz discuss this at the nextbook website and on his own website. The Teshuva on Coca-Cola itself is the most frequently downloaded item of the thousands on the HebrewBooks website
R. Geffen brought Slobodky learning to Atlanta Georgia, and refused to bend halakha for convenience or popularity.
If someone wants me to email a scanned copy of my article, indicate so in the comments below.
Hag sameah v’kasher.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via

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3 Responses

  1. jack jacobs says:

    Agreed. Both articles are fascinating. I think though that the one on Satmar Rebbe is a very important one as well. As it sheds some important light on an important contemporary rabbinical figure.

  2. L.Oberstein says:

    After reading the article on one of the Satmar Rebbes, I wondered if someone could explain what exactly is the cause of the split. Is there any difference in approach, leadership style,etc. that causes one to chose one of the two over his brother. As marvelous as it is that Satmar is a large and growing group, it still is hard to understand the dynamics of the split. If anyone can explain it in a way that is mutar, I would love to understand.

    There were many Litvishe Rabbis in the earlier days.Some were beloved by their flock,but ,sadly, it was almost impossible for many of them to pass on their knowledge and observance to their own chidren and grandchildren, much less to their kehilos. There were no schools, the times pulled away from observance and most of these rabbis did not speak English well enough to bridge the generation gap. Tragically, for those few of their children who are orthodox, most are not.

  3. Outoftowncharedi says:

    Thanks. We were in LA for Yom Tov and I picked up the same magazine and read the same articles. Most inspiring to me about the Satmar article was the fact that the rebbe gave the interview to Mishpacha knowing that most readers would not be his followers. Clearly he wants to be understood and, yes, we are willing to understand (even if we disagree on important issues like why kids go off and the obligation of kiruv).

    The Coca-cola article impressed me with the integrity and vision of both the Rav and Coca-cola.

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