Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Message to Satmar: Racism and Ignorance Must End

R' Zalman Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe of Williamsburg (TOI)
I am often criticized for publishing negative pieces about Charedim. Of late that mostly involved some of the more extreme segments of Chasidim. The largest of which is probably Satmar. It pains me to say so, but my critics are right. I have been talking a lot about the problems I see with these types of Chasidim. As if they had no redeeming qualities. 

So let me state unequivocally something I have said before. There is much to be admired about Satmar. Not the least of which is their Bikur Cholim Society that serves Jews that have family members in the hospital. There are no hurdles too big to stop them from their goal of helping Jews of all types and denominations by providing for all their material needs during their hospital stay. They do not ask how religious you are or even if your are religious at all. They are there to help. No questions asked.

It is also true that - individually I have found that as a rule they are among the finest people I know. They will give you the shirt off your back if they thought you needed it. I’m sure I m not alone in making that observation. 

That said, the many criticisms I have of this community have not gone away. Some of which are pretty serious.  There are plenty of Satmar Chasidim that are aware of these problems but are reluctant to talk about them, let alone do anything about them for fear of reprisal. The consequences of which would be devastating to people raised in a world so insular that they are clueless about what’s lies on the outside. They are led to believe that everything outside of their community is Treif - and that they should stay as far away from it as they can.

Which leaves all legitimate criticism to outsiders. That sad reality allows them to dismiss any such criticism as sourced in prejudice if it comes from former Chasidim or in ignorance if it comes from outsiders. Unfortunately that perpetuates the problem – since they dismiss it as false or misleading. 

This attitude and approach to life does not serve them well. Observations about the outside world heavily tainted by their educators can - and often does lead to unacceptable antisocial behavior. In some cases even a Chilul HaShem. They ignore that result believing that ‘the Goyim hate us anyway’.  

As noted in the Jewish Voice - this was recently reflected in an ad placed in the Yiddish language newspaper, Der Blatt. Which was so racist that it caused New York City to stop placing public service ads in their paper. 

I don’t know whether the author of that ad thought that Goyim who can’t read or understand Yiddish would never find out about it or if he just didn’t care. That he published racist comments in an ad, demonstrates that racism is a fairly common attitude among many Chasidim. That must be his experience with friends and colleagues if he thought it worthy of publication.  

When a community is that insulated and their education is so controlled, this is what you get. They simply do not trust the goy, no matter what the situation. They will only trust their religious leaders. Esav Sonei L’Yaakov. Goyim hate Jews and are to be hated. Especially if they are black!  

This attitude not only hurts their image and causes a Chilul HaShem in a variety of ways (which I have discussed before) it hurts their health in major ways. 

There is no better illustration of that than their reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. This is a subject I have discussed before. But the most accurate and detailed version of that was articulated by Frimet Goldberger. She provides a devastating account of experiences with her own close family members (all of whom are apparently devout Satmar Chasidim).

Their terrible response to it is a result of their insular lifestyle, their lack of any secular education, their mistrust of the Goyim – even if they are health experts whose entire goal is to keep people safe. That contributed to their high rate of COVID infection.  Many of her own close family members got infected with COVID and died.

The pandemic might be close to over but the goal of herd immunity has thus far been elusive. There is still a danger that unvaccinated people are going to get sick and die.. Especially with the new Delta variant that is 60% more contagious than the original virus. To see just how much damage the pandemic has already caused, I urge everyone to read her article in its entirety. Ms. Goldeberger is not an enemy of her former community. She is still observant  and remains close to her family there. To dismiss her words in denial is to encourage illness, and ignorance. As the following excerpt shows: 

I spoke to a Hasidic physician who agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity. For Haredi healthcare workers, the stress of countering misinformation, conspiracy theories, and overall mistrust in medicine felt especially acute. The few I spoke to were reluctant to go on the record for fear of reprisal, choosing their words carefully. 

I mention all this not to bash Satmar. That has never been my goal. My goal is to save them the pain of serious illness and death; to prevent any future Chilul HaShem; to enhance the quality of their lives; and disabuse them of their hatred of the Goy – which starts with a long history of European antisemitism and is exacerbated by misinformation about the outside world fed to them buy their educators. Even identifying as an American is frowned upon as the following statement shows:

We are not Americans,” Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, the grand rabbi of one half of Satmar, the largest Hasidic sect in America, said in a speech late last year. “We need to understand that we are in exile. We live here, but we are not Americans.”

I realize (as I always do when I write about these things) that no one of any consequence in Satmar will be paying the slightest bit of attention to what I am saying. Or will simply chalk it up to simple bashing. Or dismiss it as coming form an outsider that knows nothing about the inside.  

But as I also always say, the truth is important. The more people know about it, the better chance there will be that it will have an impact. Enough of an impact to give those Chasidim that know the truth the courage to come out and say so in numbers large enough not be dismissed as a few disgruntled exceptions. That may make a difference.