Kiryas Joel, NY – The world is a different place today because of the Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum zatzal – the Satmar Rebbe. He was a tzaddik whose unique personality and strengths enabled him to do the unimaginable.
Hitler and his ugly Nazi hoards yemach shemam veyaabaid zichram had decimated European Jewry. In the aftermath, most of us were dead and or sick and dying. We were destitute, unwanted. We were the Shearis HaPleita – the surviving remnant. True, the allied forces initially had compassion upon us and despised and were horrified by what the Germans had done. But slowly the xenophobia set back in and the more chassidish-looking among us suffered immensely.
Some how, some way, the situation had turned around.
Go to Mount Sinai Hospital and countless other hospitals in the New York Metropolitan area and you will see Bikur Cholim done like never before. Food, rooms for family members, transportation for visitors. This is the work of Satmar – inspired by their beloved Rebbe, Reb Yoel Teitelbaum zatzal.
Drive on the BQE and listen to the sound of an ambulance behind you, “Clear thee lane. Move overr to de rawt and clear the lane..” The pronunciation is distinctly chassidish for not only was Satmar the founder of the first Jewish ambulance corps but they inspired all Hatzolah ambulances throughout the United States, the World, and Eretz Yisroel too.
Walk through the streets of Borough Park, Williamsburg, and Kiryas Joel and you will see and hear the sounds of Tefillah and Torah study. You will see a world that once was – thriving once again. Indeed, it has grown and expanded far beyond what it was in the greatest Torah citadels of Europe.
The Satmar Rebbe was instrumental in this revitalization – in reviving a community, a people.
He was unique. He combined a remarkable charisma with vision, insight and determination. His unswerving dedication to the highest standards of observance was denigrated by some, but in the long run, he succeeded remarkably. His views and influence reached beyond Satmar chassidim. Other Chassidic groups benefitted greatly through him. The Satmar Rebbe helped all Jews, regardless of their affiliation. Whether it was with generous tzedaka, underwriting medical costs, or loans – Satmar was there. The growth of Satmar and its institutions spurred their growth too, and we are all beneficiaries of this bounty.
All this, of course, is well known both to his supporters and detractors. What is not so well known, however, is his complete mastery of the four ells of halacha. The Satmar Rebbe published two volumes of responsa called, “Divrei Yoel.”
The responsa range the full gamut of the contemporary Jewish experience of the past century. And much can be learned from both the questions and his masterful responses. His remarkable erudition would not be accurately conveyed in a summary of his positions, it would be –lehavdil, like having a mere triangle represent the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Nonetheless, a brief overview, might prompt others to read his Teshuvos in the original, so here we go:
The heart rendering question (OC #1) of, “May saliva be used for the ritual washing of hands in the morning?” speaks volumes not only of Jewish deprivation and suffering, but of Jewish dedication, and idealism in their all-encompassing commitment to fulfill Halacha. His response of course was that no, it may not be used, its halachic status being something unclean, in and of, itself.
The Rebbe advised left handed people to try to fulfill the opinion of the Arizal that they should also wear their Tefillin on the left hand, but to do so at home and without a Bracha (OC #2). The Rebbe also dealt with (OC #3) the halachos of a weakened right arm that got better and the person still showed a preference to use his left hand– did the person now become a left-handed person in terms of Tefillin? His response differentiated between whether he now uses his felt hand because he became used to it (which would be a halachic debate) or because his original right hand is weaker (in which case he has become a de facto lefty).
He also addressed (OC #4) the halachic status of the newly unearthed commentary of the Meiri which was found in an Italian monastery in 1948. He cites the responsa of the Chsam Sopher (Vol. VI CM #61) that one should not learn any sefer that does not contain haskamos – approbations of the greatest of the leading Rabbis, and not just any approbations. He discusses how his grandfather, the Yetiv Laiv gave a haskama to a great Talmid Chochom, only to discover to his chagrin that the work contained heresy. He withdrew the haskama.
This position was the same one taken by the Chazon Ish, although neither referred to the other in their responses to the new Meiri.
In Even HoEzer #107 the Satmar Rebbe argues with Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal on the controversial issue of artificial procreation. Rav Moshe tells us that the Midrash tells us that Ben Sira was conceived in such a manner involving Yirmiyahu and his daughter, and concludes that Yirmiyahu would never have later consulted with Ben Sira in spiritual matters if he was a halachic Mamzer. Artificial procreation, according to Rav Moshe’ s psak does not cause mamzeirus. The Satmar Rebbe dissents. He rules that even if all Rav Moshe’s suppositions were correct, Yirmiyahu’s daughter performed no real “maaseh –active deed.” Going to the doctor, on the other hand, would constitute an active deed.
In Responsa #157 he provides a remarkable explanation in the complex area of Hilchos Shabbos. There is a difficult Rosh that has eluded all the commentaries on the notion of Psik Raisha Delo Nicha Lay regarding other prohibitions other than the prohibition of Shabbos. The Satmar Rebbe’s reading resolved all the problems completely.
IN OC #98 the Satmar Rav discusses his opinion the notion of relying on lone opinions in times of difficulty (Daas Yachid BeShaas HaDeChak). It is a controversial area of halacha. Some take the idea at face value. Chazon Ish ruled that the concept is true only when the bottom line halacha was like that sole opinion and it was rejected out of a stringency, but not because the underlying was rejected. The Satmar Rebbe took a middle ground – it is a halacha that is true that during times of difficulty we rely on lone opinions, but the step may nly be taken by the leaders of the generation. The logic of his position is remarkable. Those unattuned to the underlying halachic difficulties that he is addressing between the lines will not fully appreciate the beauty of his remarkable intellect and pen.
Of course there were hard line positions that he had taken that were not understood by others. But no matter where anyone stands, and by any yardstick, he was a Tzaddik Gammur and a Gadol HaDor.
Those that knew him loved him. He rebuilt broken men. He taught them. He inspired them. It may not appear in the day to day media, but there is no community in the world like the one that he built.
In conclusion, what we had in the Satmar Rebbe zatzal was a remarkable individual with the charisma to rebuild a nation, he combined his love for others with his charisma, and with the vast knowledge of the depth and breadth of the entirety of Torah. Chaval al deavdin.