Kiryas Joel

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KIRYAS JOEL , an incorporated ḥasidic village 60 miles (90 km.) northwest of New York City, just outside the village of Monroe. It was settled in 1974 on property purchased by Kahel Yatev Lev, a Brooklyn-based congregation, representing the Satmar ḥasidic group.

The village was the fulfillment of a long standing aspiration of the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Joel *Teitelbaum (1888–1979). The rebbe, a Holocaust survivor, arrived in New York in 1947 and settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. He was a prominent Orthodox leader in Hungary of the 1930s and gathered a large following of Ḥasidic Jews throughout his first decades in America. He stressed ultra-Orthodox religious standards and showed fierce opposition to Zionism and the State of Israel.

Teitelbaum often spoke of his desire to fulfill the Maimodean imperative (Yad, De'ot 6:8) to "forsake the cities of evil doers." He further emphasized that he desired a settlement free of any Zionist influences. However, provided prospective villagers adhered to these standards, he did not seek to limit their ranks to his own followers. In addition, he wanted the village to be close enough to sources of livelihood.

Despite the opposition of some influential Satmar communal leaders, who feared fragmentation of the group, the rebbe promised that he would divide his time between the proposed village and those Ḥasidim remaining in Williamsburg. Over two decades beginning in the early 1960s, assorted plans to purchase properties in Staten Island, northern New Jersey, Congers, New York, and other sites came to naught.

It was in the early 1970s, when the rebbe appointed Leibush Lefkowitz, the president of Congregation Yatev Lev and a wealthy businessman, to the task of seeing the project to fruition that matters moved towards a conclusion.

In the fall of 1974 the first families settled in Kiryas Joel. Among Teitelbaum's stated demands of the village's residents was that women dress modestly, secular literature be avoided, and, in keeping with his anti-Zionist stance, no Hebrew be spoken.

In 1977 the community's large synagogue was opened. Eventually the village, which incorporated in 1977, would feature over 50 prayer groups in assorted synagogues. This was reflective of the village's rapid growth and tolerance of differing orientations within ultra-Orthodoxy. The 2005 population was estimated at over 15,000.

After the rebbe's passing in 1979 and the succession of his nephew Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (1915–2006), the community was plagued by a series of controversies. In the late 1980s a dissident group, who opposed the appointment of Moshe's son Aaron to various rabbinic positions in Kiryas Joel, founded a rival congregation, Bnei Yoel. This group would eventually establish its own synagogues and educational network in the village.

A further split took place in recent years with Moshe in ill health, as followers of Aaron and his brother, Zalmen Leib, battled for communal leadership. In struggles that have at times become violent and have also been played out in the courts, the two factions have largely established rival congregations, each claiming be the legitimate representative of the community. Their rival viewpoints are represented in competing Yiddish newspapers with Der Yid speaking for Zalmen Leib's contingent and Der Blatt for Aaron's.

In the 1990s the village established a public school for its developmentally disabled children This move was challenged in the courts as a violation of church-state separation and was still pending in 2006.

Interestingly, right-wing dissidents, in Kiryas Joel and throughout the ultra-Orthodox world, also criticized the school, which they viewed as conforming to religiously prohibited standards of secularization.


S.S. Teller, Divrei ha-Yamim (n.d.); M.A. Zabel, Ha-Kehillah be-Tifarto (n.d.); S.Y. Gelbman, Reẓon Zaddik (1998).