Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Satmar Spin

The participation of the "Neturei Karta" nutjobs in Ahmedinejad's Holocaust-denial conference has elicited diverse condemnation from Jewish groups and factions of all stripes. The details are reported in various other places and on various other blogs, and will not be reprised at length here. As often happens, I shall now be the heavy, and make some observations which are uncomfortable and unpopular to make, at the risk of criticism, scorn and ridicule from certain segments of the Jewish community.

Three recent news articles are noted:

1. "Cozying to Iran, Chasidic Group Draws Ridicule," by Gabrielle Birkner, New York Sun, 19 December 2006, p. 2.

Sentence from the Birkner article: "They're self-hating chasidic Jews," Rabbi Hertz Frankel, who is affiliated with the non-Zionist chasidic Satmar sect, said. "Anyone who goes to a conference associated with the most vicious anti-Semite in the world, and sits with the president of Iran has to have his head examined."
Note the term "non-Zionist" instead of the term "anti-Zionist" which has typically been used in connection with the Satmars.

2. "Satmar: We Have No Connection with Neturei Karta," by Shlomo Greenwald, Jewish Press, 22 December 2006, p. 3.

The title of the 3-paragraph article by Greenwald is self-explanatory, essentially taking further quotes from the aforementioned Rabbi Frankel.

3. "Satmars Slam Shoah Talks Attendees," Jerusalem Post, 16 December 2006. This is an AP article with more of the same.

It is clear that the Satmar community is now engaged in a public relations campaign to distance itself from the Neturei Karta. For many, many years, the Satmar body politic has at best remained silent regarding the NK, if not actually supporting it. Now, the Satmars find themselves tarred by the same brush used to condemn the NK.

The Satmar community is a very troubled one, for all sorts of reasons.

Of immediate concern is the succession of the Satmar Rebbe, Moses Teitelbaum, who died on 24 April 2006, leaving a vacancy contested by two of his sons. The rivalry between Zalmen and Aron has been widely reported and will not be expounded upon at length here, except as may be necessary for the present discourse. Suffice it to say that the recent brawl in the Satmar shul fits more to the stereotype of Irishmen in a bar than Jews in a synagogue (except that you are probably safer in the Irish tavern).

There have been some recent scandals involving members of the Satmar community. Nathan Schlesinger was recently sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in an arson insurance fraud scam. One of the responding FDNY firefighters who entered the burning building in Brooklyn lost contact with his fellow firemen, but fortunately, he emerged alive and unharmed. In a separate insurance fraud arson incident, members of the Jacobowitz family pleaded guilty. In the Jacobowitz incident, two FDNYers were injured fighting the blaze.

The aforementioned Rabbi Hertz Frankel had pleaded guilty, in 1999, to the misuse of Federal funds for the Satmar school of which he was principal. Eighty-one "no-show" employees got to keep their medical benefits in exchange for turning over their paychecks to Rabbi Frankel, so that the funds could be used for other purposes relating to the school. Rabbi Frankel's attorney, Nathan Lewin, Esq., has done an admirable job of defending his client without justifying the misdeeds; Lewin's article "Equal Justice for Hasidim," Jewish Press, 23 April 1999, p. 24, explains that the "no-show" employees were women who, having possessed 6 college credits, qualified as teachers for the grant money purposes, but who were really on the at home on mommy track with their large families. [I totally concur in Lewin's condemnation of the double standard for prosecuting Hasidim, but it is not directly relevant to the current discourse.]. According to Lewin, the money was then used to pay other women to teach, such other women lacking the 6 credit qualifications. According to the NYC Board of Education press release, the money was unaccounted for and, I infer, may not all have all been spent 100% as Lewin insists.

The basic problem behind the Hertz Frankel scandal is that the Satmars strongly discourage their people in general (and their womenfolk in particular) from attending college. Indeed, the Satmar educational system does little to prepare its students for any economically viable positions in life, and, as noted in Pinches O. v. Florence F., N.Y.L.J., 12 January 2004, p. 20, col. 1 (Family Ct. Kings Co.), aff'd 15 A.D.3d 664, 789 N.Y.S.2d 912 (2d Dept. 2005), most graduates of the Satmar school system (including Frankel's school) need remedial education in order to function at the college level.

And, more to the point, the Satmars, having effectively prevented so many of their people from receiving a quality education, now have a very high poverty rate.

For many years, the Satmar leadership has chosen isolationism. This has enabled them to keep a low profile, and conduct their affairs without much intermeddling from the outside world, or even other segments of the Jewish community. And it worked quite well as long as the Satmars were pious, G-d fearing and ethical. It cannot work if there is a leadership breakdown. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Moreover it is no secret that struggle between the Rebbe's sons Zalmen and Aron is not only over the spiritual leadership, but also over control of a vast empire of realty and other assets. My familiarity with the structure and holdings of the Satmar empire is quite limited, and I do not anticipate having any reason or motivation to become familiar with the same in the foreseeable future (though it isn't totally out of the question, because a client of mine has business dealings with some movers and shakers in the Satmar community, and in fact I represented him in a past legal dispute with some Satmar rabbis).

From my limited outsider vantage point, I will make the following observations.

First of all, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum died on 24 April 2006. This means that if indeed his estate is liable for the Federal Estate Tax, then by 24 January 2007, either (A) the Estate Tax Return must be filed, or, more likely, (B) an extension to file must be requested from the IRS (which, if timely, will be granted for the asking), thus pushing the due date to 24 July 2007. I do not know whether the Rebbi had a taxable estate; I can imagine several possibilities pro and con.

Second of all, though nothing seems to have been litigated in the courts, I can distinctly see lots of taxable events stemming from Hertz Frankel's aforementioned scandal. My guess: The IRS had a field day on that one, but everyone involved paid the assessed taxes and penalties, so that it has remained out of the courts and therefore, out of the public record. [N.B. If there were Federal tax adjustments, then there surely were corresponding New York State and New York City tax adjustments.].

Thirdly, for the past 3 years, the IRS and the Congress have been playing hardball with the charitable and other tax-exempt organizations. The trend is towards more and more transparency, transparency and transparency. And transparency runs diametrically contrary to the Satmar tendencies towards secrecy and isolationism. So even if the Rebbe's estate is not liable for the Estate Tax, the Satmar organizations, with their status as tax-exempt organizations, will be subjected to lots of increased scrutiny.

And so, the Satmars have major league problems facing their organizational and social cultures. Now that the chickens are coming home to roost, it seems that the Satmars have finally taken some quite belated first steps towards managing their public relations.


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