Rebbe Inflation and Moral Deflation: The New Rules Of Inheritance

FROM THE FRUM FOLLIES ARCHIVES: This was first posted on Nov 19, 2009 but feels timely with the latest outbreak of acrimony in Israel where the followers of R. Shteinman are having it out with the followers of Rabbi Auerbach over who rules the Litvish roost. There have been assaults and all other sorts of nastiness.

This generation is zocheh (privileged) to have many tzadikim (saintly rabbis) thanks to rebbe inflation. Once upon a time tzaddik had a son who became the rebbe and he might be recognized as a tzadik. But now our rebbes have many children and son-in-laws. They all become rebbes and they are all tzadikim. Korach got it wrong. He should have asked “For are we not all Rebbes?”

The Lelover Rebbe died on Yom Kippur. According to a YeshivahWorld article,  All Three Sons of the Lelover Rebbe [Were] Crowned as Rebbes:

The Elders announced that all three sons will lead with R Eliyahu remaining in Bnei Brak, R’ Aaron in Beit Shemesh and R’ Yaakov, the youngest of the brothers, in Yerushalayim.” This was announced even before the sons had confirmed their willingness to accept the assignments.  “The elders expressed their hope that the followers of the late Rebbe zt”l will accept the decision and there will not, chas v’sholom, be dispute and even worse, a breaking away and the creation of factions.”

This is what ran through their minds “We know what wannabes we are dealing with. Perhaps if we divide up the territory like Mafia dons they will comply and not try to muscle into territory we have not assigned them. Even so, we better wag our fingers and admonish them to not go after each other.”  Who can blame the elders? They had witnessed the Satmar wars.

The first Satmar Rebbe (Joel Teitelbaum, aka Yoelish) had no descendents when he died. In his last years he was very ill and the movement was really run by his rebetzin and a circle around her. After the Rebbe died, his nephew, the Sigheter Rebbe (Moshe Teitelbaum), was asked to  renounce his claim on the position. He cleverly said ‘I cannot renounce what is not mine. All I want is what is mine by the halachah of inheritance, the Rebbe’s tallis and tefilin.’ In no time at all he took over the shop.

He had two sons (Zalman Leib and Aaron) who learned Hasidism from their Daddy. But they were real go-getters who weren’t willing to wait until Daddy was gone, especially as his  mental status declined. Quicker than you can say “lawsuit” they were in civil court each insisting “Daddy is all mine.” Supposedly this was a fight about having the privilege of tending to him. But as anyone who has learned the mishnah of shnayim ochzu b’talis (“two hold onto an object each claiming it”) knows, they were each claiming property rights and in the end the talis was divided with plenty of swearing on both sides.  Zalman (aka Zaali) now has Williamsburg and Aaron has Monroe/Kiryas Yoel. They still skirmish over buildings, and even obstruct burials. But this is considered a tolerable truce much better than having videos on YouTube of thugs from one faction invading a synagogue to beat up people at prayer.

Both of them better keep their marbles till their last breath or they are in for some rude surprises. They would probably both do well to read King Lear in the Yiddish version, Der Kaenig Lear.

This has also happened in Bobov, Klausenberg and other Hassidic lines. Think of the yerushah of Reb Michoel Ber Wessmandl. He was a holocaust hero who saved thousands of lives. He is recognized as a tzadik by everyone from Satmar to the Zionists and Aish Hatorah.  The thing is, he wasn’t a Hasid. Now his descendents have turned themselves Hasidic so they can apply the new rules to divide up an inheritance that Reb Michoel Ber never claimed. One of them, Menachem Weissmandl is now the Nitra Rebbe-Monsey. Hyphens are proliferating like chumros (stringencies). Sometimes they divide continents; sometimes they take different cities. In Boro Park there is a 45th Street Bobov and a 48th Street Bobov.

Jews used to hope that when a tzadik died another would be born.  But in our forward-looking times, the next generation is ready in multiples. The generations may be descending morally, but the pool of tzadikim is growing faster than the population of a rabbit warren. Seriously, when will we admit that tzidkus is rare but rebbe wannabes are more numerous than profitable hechsherim (kosher certifications)?

The great Spanish biblical exegete, Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, wondered how Moses could have praised himself by saying he was the most modest of men. Nowadays that question never arises.  Such modesty has become less common than a package with only one hechsher.

2 thoughts on “Rebbe Inflation and Moral Deflation: The New Rules Of Inheritance

  1. the satmar rebbe (Rabeinu yoel) once said when the geresher rebbe passed away his two sons became rebbe in the trop with which we read the torah there is “azla geresh (when geresh leaves) gershayim (double geresh)

  2. You stated…

    “Once upon a time tzaddik had a son who became the rebbe and he might be recognized as a tzadik. But now…”

    For the life of me I can’t understand why an intelligent person would get all nostalgic about such a state of affairs.

    Some deference to a son who is up to par is understandable, and indeed recognized by the Torah. The family business that you lionize, on the other hand, is a recipe for mediocrity both for the leaders and the led.

    And for heavens sake, that is absolutely not how it was “once soon a time”. If some chasidick dynasties have acted and survived that way for a couple of generations, that doesn’t make it the norm!

    Nor does it show that it’s sustainable!

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