Read this article in Yiddish.
Most media organizations would jump on the opportunity to expose a massive wedding held in violation of public health measures during the pandemic. New York Hasidic newspaper Der Blatt did the opposite: it hid the news so as not to tip off secular authorities.
The wedding of Yoel Teitelbaum, grandson of the Satmar Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, was held at Congregation Yetev Lev in Williamsburg on Nov. 11 and attended by thousands. The ceremony outraged government officials, including New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio. The city fined the wedding hosts $15,000.
The New York Post published an excerpt of Der Blatt’s coverage, which reads in part: “Due to the ongoing situation with government restrictions, preparations were made secretly and discreetly… All notices about upcoming celebrations were passed along through word of mouth, with no notices in writing, no posters on the synagogue walls, no invitations sent through the mail, nor even a report in any publication, including this very newspaper.”
Why a newspaper would take such a position demonstrates the very different role New York’s Hasidic Yiddish newspapers play than typical journalistic outlets.
Der Blatt and its rival Der Yid serve more or less as official state organs for the rival Satmar Rebbes, brothers Aaron and Zalman Teitelbaum. While most coverage of events in Der Yid and Der Blatt that do not involve the Hasidic community would not look out of place in any metropolitan daily, coverage of internal Hasidic affairs strictly follows their respective Rebbe’s positions.
Like North Korean, Chinese or Cuban state media, the tone of the coverage is widely understood to reflect the party line on hot button issues.
The original Satmar newspaper, Der Yid (Yiddish for The Jew), was founded in 1953 by a conservative Modern-Orthodox Yiddish writer, Dr. Aaron Rosman, who sold it to a group of journalists and businessmen loyal to the Satmar Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum.
Originally dedicated nearly exclusively to religious news, the paper added extensive coverage of world events in the 1960s and 1970s so as to better compete with other Yiddish newspapers, including the Forward, whose Zionist leanings Satmar officials were wary of.
As the next Satmar Rebbe Moishe Teitelbaum’s health began to fail, rival factions of the Satmar movement coalesced around his sons Aaron and Zalman.
Zalman’s followers gained control of Der Yid, while Aaron’s acolytes founded a new paper in 2000, Der Blatt. The name literally means “the page” but refers idiomatically to both a newspaper and a page of Talmud.
Although both papers maintain a stringent anti-Zionist stance and refrain from publishing images of women or girls, they exist in a bifurcated reality. On the pages of Der Yid, Zalman Teitelbaum is the legitimate Satmar Rebbe while in Der Blatt, Rebbe Aaron is in charge.
More broadly within the Satmar world, Zalman controls most schools, synagogues and yeshivas in Williamsburg while Aaron’s stronghold is Kiryas Joel. Aaron also controls several rival synagogues in Williamsburg, including Yetev Lev, where the controversial wedding was held.
Despite the split, both newspapers are carried in most Hasidic groceries, coffee shops and bodegas, alongside their more liberal rival Di Tzeitung (“The Newspaper”), which although owned by a Satmar Jew, does not take a side in the succession conflict.
Another key difference among the three papers is their relationship to the Internet. While Di Tzeitung has a website and Der Yid publishes a daily email newsletter, Der Blatt still has no web presence. The print circulation for all three weeklies is in the tens of thousands, although exact figures are disputed.
The latest brouhaha over Der Blatt’s wedding coverage is not the first time Hasidic media practices have been criticized by mainstream media outlets.
Di Tzeitung had its own 15 minutes of infamy in May 2011 when it removed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from a front-page photo of government officials in the Situation Room watching the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. While some in the media incorrectly interpreted this as a slight aimed at Clinton, the paper’s owner, Abraham Friedman, is known to be a Clinton fan, and his paper was generally supportive of the Obama administration. During the controversy the paper noted that while Clinton “served with great distinction,” publishing photos of women is “not in accord with our religious values.”
Jordan Kutzik is the deputy editor of the Yiddish Forward. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.