June 3, 2024
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Understanding Satmar and Lubavitch as Distinct Communities

Reviewing: “Satmar and Lubavitch,” by Rabbi Chaim Dalfin, Hardcover: 336 pages, Jewish Enrichment Press ISBN-10: 0997909919, 2017.

Drawing on sociological studies such as Kranzler, “Williamsburg: A Community in Transition,” primary archival documents such as real-time interviews and a vast treasury of personal experience, this excellent book in part explores the similarities and differences and specific characteristics of the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch and Satmar communities so that the readers come to admire the distinctiveness, uniqueness and ennobling aspects of each religious group; not just pointing to their fascinating demographics, political, social, economic and cultural aspects, Rabbi Dalfin also gives the reader “the tam” (taste) for what makes these groups tick, their mission, raison d’etre and special visions for the Jewish people and its unfolding on the stage of eschatological history.

That is to say, it is one important thing to know the laws of Shabbat; it is quite a different level to viscerally experience Shabbat and taste its delights. He offers the reader a wonderful taste of the two communities and offers insights about their importance. He not only puts the two communities in historical context, for example, drawing the influence of communism and fascism historically on their development, but as is characteristic of many of his important studies he looks at their leaders and the machers, plumbing the depths of what makes for charismatic inspiring leadership. Although the two communities both consist of extremely devout Jews, this does not mean that its members share the same mentality or specific set of values. As the introduction notes, the book deals with the Satmar-Lubavitch relationship from 1946 until the present day. It is not a formal, detached academic tome. Although Dalfin is capable of writing academically he has chosen to offer the reader the perspective of an insider. The book is the product of a passionate Lubavitcher, born into a Lubavitcher family, who has reached across the aisle and investigated, researched and analyzed many of the voices in the current-day Jewish community from an objective yet anecdotal, personal perspective.

Wearing the hats of a masterful Hasidic sociologist and historian, Rabbi Dalfin is foremost an “insider,” in observing these two communities from the inside rather than an outsider looking in. He successfully accomplishes in this book reaching out and beginning the process of healing rifts and bringing the reader closer to appreciating what the two communities share rather than what separates them. He understands that all Jews are vulnerable when the Jews are divided, and rather than engage in polemics, he seeks to find mutual respect and common ground uniting Jews.

This recalls and brings to mind Rav Menachem Mendel Gluskin, av beth din of Minsk, saying, “Let us not engage in polemics and fight over our differences, but rather let us go and sing at the Shabbos table together in harmony.” Foremost it is love and devotion for Torah that guides both religious communities and respect for Chasidut. Rabbi Dalfin does not remain at the level of superficial surfaces, stereotypes and unthoughtfulness; rather, he gets to the roots of the dynamics of the two vibrant communities. For example, Rabbi Dalfin shows that the simplistic, dualistic category of classifying Satmar as anti-Zionist and Chabad as pro-Zionist does injustice to the complexity of the two religious groups’ vision for the ultimate destiny of the Holy Land and its central place in messianic history and praxis.

As the book sums it up best, since 1946, the year the Satmar Rebbe arrived on American soil, one realizes that mistakes, misunderstandings and at times intentional accusations were at the center of the two groups. Today, Satmar and Lubavitch enjoy a healthier relationship. This book will dispel, clarify and organize what is what, who is who and when is when, and most importantly show that the Lubavitcher and Satmar Rebbes wanted their followers to be respectful of each other although they had some serious differences. Simultaneously, they had some strong similarities.

One thing is for sure: the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, were great, stellar leaders.

By David B. Levy

 

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