Satmar Sibling Rivalry Hurting Them All

New York Post/March 10, 2002
By Susan Edelman

A sibling rivalry to rule Williamsburg's Satmar sect has turned the political clout of a once-powerful Jewish group into chopped liver.

"Before the split, they could deliver a lockstep vote that was important in city and state races," said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.

Now the sect can't deliver many votes to any one candidate, he said.

Unfortunately for the 25,000 Satmars in Brooklyn, less clout may also mean no extra government services.

"This is a poor community of large families in need of housing, health care and day care," Sheinkopf said.

Founded by Holocaust survivors in 1948, the Satmar sect is one of the largest Orthodox groups in the world. Unlike others, it believes Jews should not settle in Israel until a Messiah comes.

Married men, whose wives shave their heads, may be voting members of the sect.

The Satmars run yeshivas for 8,000 kids in Williamsburg. In a 1999 scandal, the rabbi who ran the girls school admitted siphoning $6 million from the Board of Education in no-show jobs for Hasidic housewives.

The sect - with assets worth at least $100 million, some estimate - also runs a loan company, a matzoh factory, a kosher meat store and a cemetery where men and women are buried in separate rows.

In 1999, Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum reportedly chose his middle son, Zalman, to succeed him after years of favoring his eldest son, Aaron.

Aaron's supporters claim the 88-year-old leader is senile - and a puppet of power-hungry advisers who favor Zalman.

Zalman's side says Aaron failed to prove himself. His branch in upstate Kiryas Joel has been ripped by dissent and alleged beatings and arson.

Each side has held separate board elections, and accused the other of fraud. The dispute has spilled into Brooklyn civil court.

Last month, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes dismissed as "facetious" statements by a leader of Zalman's side that they had "bribed" judges. Aaron's side complained that Hynes' son, Kevin, had worked for Zalman's side before joining the Westchester DA.

Amid the turmoil, synagogue donations have dried up.

Several years ago, congregants raised $5 million for a new, $20 million, 10,000-seat temple on Bedford Avenue to replace the cramped sanctuary on Rodney Street.

But the feud has left only a massive skeleton of steel beams.

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