Home > current events, Judaism, religion > Formulating a Response to the Satmars’ Secret Mass Gathering

Formulating a Response to the Satmars’ Secret Mass Gathering

Satmar Mass Gathering Violates COVID Guidelines

Do you support this kind of behavior? If not, say so.

Earlier this month, we now know, the Satmar Jews of Williamsberg conspired to bring thousands of people together in reckless and flagrant violation of COVID safety procedures. A leaked photo of the event confirms a huge mass of people gathering indoors without masks or social distancing of any sort. And a Nov. 11 write-up in Der Blatt, a newspaper closely allied to the Satmars, confirms that organizers purposely concealed the event from “the ravenous press and government officials,” adding that “preparations were made secretly and discreetly.” So there is no doubt that (a) there was a dangerous mass gathering; and (b) organizers schemed to hide it from the public eye. These facts are not in dispute.

My question is what response this demands from Jewish leaders who do not support what the Satmars did.

I and many others have consistently chastised moderate religious leaders who refuse to denounce their more radical factions. An imam who doesn’t denounce a Hizballah suicide bombing, for instance, tacitly supports it, just as a minister who doesn’t denounce the bombing of an abortion clinic in Jesus’ name implicitly approves of it.

So it’s obvious to me that Jewish leaders must speak out, perhaps only briefly, or perhaps at length, if they object to the gathering. To stay silent after such a dangerous event is to endorse it.

To help such a response, here are a few facts:

  1. The recklessness of this event is unrelated to the recent Supreme Court case that, in effect, invalidated New York State’s capacity limitations on houses of worship, because recklessness does not necessarily involve breaking a specific law. There is no expert in the world who believes that the Satmar gathering was safe.
  2. This case is unrelated to the Establishment clause of the First Amendment that demands separation of church and state. No one doubts that local building codes apply to churches and mosques and synagogues, for instance, just as everyone agrees that even Kosher caterers must follow FDA safety guidelines. That’s because everyone agrees that government officials are permitted and even required to regulate matters of safety.
  3. As a matter of Jewish Law, it doesn’t matter if (as I believe) attending a wedding is a luxury, or if (as I think the Satmars may believe) attending a wedding is a commandment. Either way, the commandment of piku’ach nefesh — saving a life — takes precedence, in this case militating against a mass gathering of any sort for any purpose.
  4. The groom in this case was Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum. He is the grandson of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, who is the Satmar head rabbi and the leader of the Satmar community. Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum had both the authority and ability to limit attendees in furtherance of piku’ach nefesh. (I hope that he was simply too ignorant to know that COVID is dangerous. I fear that he didn’t care.)
  5. In October, the New York State health commissioner personally intervened to prevent a similar Satmar wedding planned for the same venue. That October wedding was scaled back, in contrast to this November one. Why, I wonder, could they scale back the first wedding but not this one?

Furthermore, the government’s greatest obligation is to protect its citizens, both reactively and proactively. So I believe that the strongest possible governmental response is called for here, and that the paltry $15,000 that New York City levied on Nov. 23 is insufficient. I also believe that Jewish leaders have an obligation to support the government as it pursues appropriate action against the Satmars.

My own response is this: In spite of the gulf that separates me from the Satmars religiously, politically, and ideologically, I consider them my brothers and sisters. This is why I am so pained by what they did. They hurt me and they hurt themselves. I want to be clear: They do not act in my name and I abhor what they have done. I hope people will not judge me or my community by their actions. And I am sad for the Satmars. They more than almost any other Jewish community should know how good America has been to them. (The Satmars are forbidden to live in Israel.) They are biting the fantastically generous hand that feeds them. To outsiders their ways appear primitive, misogynistic, and even deranged, yet they are afforded all the rights and privileges of citizenship in this country. Local hospitals will treat the Satmars who caught COVID at the wedding, just as local police will protect the cemeteries where they will be buried.

New York City parking laws were even changed to help the Jews celebrate Judaism. The City has welcomed two Jewish mayors. The State vigorously prosecutes acts of antisemitism. And the U.S. has empowered an unprecedented Jewish revival. In return, all the Satmars had to do was not hurt anyone. And, it seems, even that was too much to ask. How did it come to this?

  1. Rabbi Irwin Goldenberg
    November 27, 2020 at 10:51 pm

    Thank you for this. I have been telling anyone who might hear me that my first response to the Satmar’s behavior is that they seem to think that observance of a ritual or a ceremony is more important than protecting life. Jewishly, they are simply wrong. Pikuach Nefesh – “the saving of a life precedes observing any ritual” – is one of Judaism’s basic principles and they are defying it. Another principle is “dina demalchuta dina,” “the law of the land in which you live is the law.” So, they defy both Jewish and American lawI Too often they are seen by some of our Jewish brothers and sisters as the “model” Jews, but this certainly indicates that they are not models of Jewish tradition. No! They are scoff laws!

  2. Ohev
    April 28, 2021 at 5:54 pm

    How many deaths were traced to this event? Just asking in retrospect. Hindsight tells me you were quick to condemn. These people had recovered from the virus, and belaived that they are not subject to arbitrary emergency edicts when they are unfounded. The results bear this out.

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