A view inside the Satmar synagogue in Brooklyn on April 24, the day the rebbe died.
(Photo: Michael Brown/Getty Images)
Michael Powell reports in New York Magazine:
… Aaron’s driver took him down in an SUV over the George Washington and Williamsburg bridges to 550 Bedford Avenue, the three-story red-brick house of his father, Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum.
Inside he found his brothers, Lipa, Shulem, and Zalmen, the latter freshly arrived from Jerusalem, where he served as Satmar rabbi. Aaron said hello to his father’s gabbai (secretary), Moses Friedman—a political force who, in truth, Aaron could barely tolerate. Then the rebbe, his face thin and wreathed by a beard long and white, sat down and explained a new world to his eldest son.
The Satmars are a great people, he said in Yiddish. But when a sect stretches from Williamsburg to Montreal, London to Antwerp, Jerusalem to Kiryas Joel, the wisdom of a prophet is required to lead. A rebbe can no longer hope to say “mazel tov” at every child’s birth nor recite a blessing at every boy’s Bris. A Satmar knocks at the door seeking advice and you barely know him. You have done a fine job in Kiryas Joel, but growth begets problems. One man cannot rule all.
So the rebbe told Aaron that as his eldest son, he had a right to choose: Kiryas Joel or Williamsburg. You rule one, and your brother Zalmen will rule the other.
Aaron protested. He had trained to become the grand rebbe. Aaron left that night undecided—he complained to aides that the decision should be left to a rabbinical court after his father’s death. But a few days later, he called his father.
I will rule Kiryas Joel, Aaron said.
The grand rebbe, who had seen other Hasidic sects split asunder, insisted his son announce this decision in his Kiryas Joel synagogue on June 29, 1999. It’s known as Aaron’s “confession speech.”
“Today I am one who was told what to do and is doing it,” Aaron said to his congregation in Yiddish. “My father, shall he be healthy and strong, called me this morning and told me a few words . . . That he appointed Rabbi Zalmen as rabbi in Williamsburg . . . Whoever will dare to cause a commotion . . . shall have no right of entry into the synagogue.”
So it ended and so it began, the war between the Cain and Abel of the Hasidic world. In the seven years since the confession speech, Aaron and Zalmen, two middle-aged brothers, have engaged in a succession war so nasty that the ledger includes accusations of forged papers and purloined tapes, broken bones, and a brawl with a platoon of nightclub bouncers inside a Williamsburg synagogue.…
[Hat tip: Tzemach Atlas.]