10,000 Mourners Gather For Burial Of Grand Rabbi
By: NY1 News
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Thousands of mourners from the Satmar Hasidic sect gathered at the burial site for spiritual leader Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum in Orange County Tuesday morning, pushing close to get a final view of their revered leader of 30 years.
The 91-year-old Rebbe died Monday evening after a long bout with spinal cancer and other illnesses. He had been hospitalized at Mount Sinai hospital.
The Rebbe's death left a void in leadership that two of his sons are vying to fill.
The elder, Aaron, was appointed by his father to lead about 15,000 followers in Kiryas Joel in Orange County.
His younger brother, Zalmen, was later named to lead the 40,000 member community in Williamsburg, and many say he was the Grand Rebbe's chosen successor, named as such in his will.
"This is really about leadership of the community. The grand rabbi had the authority and made his views clear," says Williamsburg Satmar advisor Bob Liff.
But it isn't clear to everyone.
"It's tradition, first of all, that the eldest son is successor," said Aaron Teitelbaum's spokesperson Richard Schwartz.
The maneuvering for power has been going on for years, even spilling into state court, with a judge in 2004 ruling that it was not up to the legal system, to decide a successor.
And a lot is on the line in the Satmar community is the fastest growing Orthodox Jewish sect in the world, with about 100,000 members and hundreds of millions of dollars. Aaron's supporters say the Rebbe was suffering from Alzheimer's when he named Zalmen. They say the next Rebbe should be chosen by the Satmar board.
"That board of directors was the same entity that selected the recently deceased Grand Rebbe, so why should it not be the same entity that selects the successor to that Grand Rebbe," questioned Schwartz.
But which board? Both brothers have boards and rabbinical courts of their own and many say they'll all have to come to the table to work things out. Some say it's likely there will be a division within Satmar with two leaders.
"His son Zalmen will become the chief Rabbi in Williamsburg, and his son Aaron will retain his congregation in Kiryas Joel," said Liff.
Which some think isn't such a bad thing, with the community expanding nearly 20 fold since its founding.
"It's impossible for one — absolutely impossible for one — especially when you're talking about a 50 mile spread," says Satmar spokesperson Isaac Abraham.
And talking is about all they can do for now, until the mourning period for the Rebbe ends next week.
Teitelbaum also leaves behind two other sons and two daughters.
- Molly Kroon