satmar rebbe 88.
(photo credit: )
Local Satmar Hassidim saw nothing short of a miracle Tuesday when physicians at Manhattan's Mt. Sinai Hospital announced that their 91-year-old grand rebbe, Moses Teitelbaum, was being moved out of intensive care and would be returning to his home in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood within two weeks.
The medical crisis - which began when Teitelbaum's remaining kidney failed, exacerbating his advanced spinal cancer - has apparently passed for now.
The development also seems to have postponed a succession battle that has been brewing for nearly a decade between two of his sons, Zalman and Aaron, and that threatens to explode after the rebbe's death.
It's a saga worthy of Shakespeare.
Although the roots of the conflict are shrouded in mystery - there have been complaints that the older son, Aaron, has a dictatorial management style - the first public sign of a breach occurred in 1999. It was then that the grand rebbe chose his third son, Zalman, to be the chief rabbi at the Satmar's main congregation in Williamsburg, after already having relegated Aaron to run the congregation at Kiryas Joel, the second-largest Satmar community, a small enclave in Orange County, New York.
The move was seen by many as indicating that the grand rebbe favored Zalman as his successor. The Satmars soon divided into camps supporting Aaron and Zalman, with the feud leading to both litigation and physical violence many times over the last seven years.
One lawsuit, which had been in the New York City courts since 2001, was supposed to decided which faction could elect a president for the corporate board of the Williamsburg congregation, which controls much of the Satmars' extensive assets.
After three years of arduous battle, including trying to decipher the corporation's bylaws, which were in Yiddish, a judge ruled last year that the issue was outside of his jurisdiction, because it came down to deciding between two brothers.
There have been numerous street fights between the groups, most recently in October when 26 men widely known as Aaron supporters were arrested and charged with burglary, criminal mischief and petty larceny for charging into the Yetev Lev Bikur Cholim synagogue in Williamsburg, breaking down a wall and destroying much of the synagogue's property.
At stake here is more than just spiritual leadership over the estimated 100,000 Satmar Hassidim, thought to be the largest hassidic sect in the world.
The Satmars' assets have grown tremendously since the Moses Teitelbaum's predecessor and uncle, Joel Teitelbaum, arrived in Brooklyn following World War II. Those assets are now estimated to be worth nearly half a billion dollars and include, according to court documents, 26 properties in Williamsburg worth $339 million and 475 acres of land in upstate New York - 329 acres in Ulster County worth $25m. and 146 acres in Sullivan County worth an estimated $7.3m. There are also large summer camps in the Catskills Mountains, synagogues and schools in Boro Park, Brooklyn, and properties at Kiryas Joel.
Part of these assets has been invested in a plan to erect one of the largest synagogues in world on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. But the court battle over the control of the corporation has placed the construction in limbo and the site contains only a giant, empty skeleton of a building, waiting to be built.
The conflict might be resolved by a will that the rebbe has supposedly written that would be read after his passing. However many believe that the bad blood between the two brothers and their factions has grown so bitter that any reconciliation is now impossible. If this is true, the rebbe's death could mean the divisions among the Satmars will become permanent, spiting the sect in two.