Text size

Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum, worldwide spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hassidim, a sect with tens of thousands of followers worldwide, has died. He was 91.

Teitelbaum - the rebbe, or grand rabbi, of the Satmar Hassidim - died Monday at Mount Sinai Hospital, said community leader Isaac Abraham. He entered the hospital March 30 for treatment of spinal cancer and other ailments.

Tens of thousands attended the funeral on Tuesday morning, held in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a neighborhood considered to be Stamars' main power base.

NY police prepared several weeks ahead for the event in a special operation.

In Israel, Satmar congregations in the towns of Bnei-Brak and Beit Shemesh gathered in mourning with news of the rabbi's death.

The group has some 120,000 followers worldwide, according to sociologist Samuel Heilman, with large congregations in Brooklyn and the village of Kiryas Joel, 45 miles (72 kilometers) northwest of New York City.

The Satmars emphasize tradition and adhere to a strict dress code - long skirts for women, long black coats, black hats and long beards for men. Marriages are arranged and married women must keep their heads covered.

The sect takes its name from the town of Satu Mare in what is now Romania.

Teitelbaum was born in Siget, in present-day Romania. He escaped Nazi persecution during World War II and came to the U.S. in 1946. He took over leadership of the Satmar sect from his uncle, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, who died in 1979. He took the formal title of rebbe the following year.

Teitelbaum is survived by four sons, two daughters and dozens of grandchildren.

No successor named

Over the past seven years the Satamar following has been torn between two camps, headed by Teitelbaum's sons, in a dispute over the Rabbi's rightful successor.

Violence often irrupted between the camps and US judicial system had refused at one time to intervene in the dispute.

Teitelbaum did not name a successor on his deathbed. His followers fear this will create a permanent rift, splitting Satmar into two separate groups.