This post is primarily based on the sefer Neitzutzei Tomer, which is a compilation of quotes and stories from Reb Yoel Teitelbaum, the founder of Satmar chassidut. The sefer is broken up into various subjects such as chassidut, Torah learning, holidays, education, shabbat, etc. For those of you that are more visual, here’s a picture of the front cover of the sefer:
If you’re interested in better understanding the Satmar sect or reading advice from Reb Yoel, I’d recommend this sefer. I luckily stumbled upon the sefer during a trip to Kiryas Yoel in upstate New York.
Satmar flourishes largely due to education
For Satmar, education is arguably THE most important aspect of their community. The sect has flourished in America to a large degree because of their emphasis on a traditional Hasidic education, which shuns secular studies and changes little with time. Reb Yoel’s goal was to take the Jewish education that existed in Eastern European shtetls and bring it to America. To a large degree, he was very successful. Today, Satmar is the largest Hasidic sect in the United States and has a very young population. Kiryas Yoel, an almost exclusively Satmar city in Upstate New York, is both the poorest and youngest city in the United States.
Children learn by observing
Reb Yoel explains that there are two primary ways to educate children. The first is to reward children with candy and prizes when they learn Torah and do mizvot. This approach often fails as children get older and are less interested in prizes. The second is through observational learning, which he considers the ideal way to educate children. Reb Yoel repeats over and over again that children closely watch their parents and the only way to ensure that they grow up to be God-fearing Jews is to act as their role model. When a child sees that their father sets aside time each day to learn Torah, davens with kavana, celebrates shabbos with enthusiasm, etc. then the child will follow after his ways, even into adulthood.
Reb Yoel can be rather harsh and this is no exception. In his view, when children decide to leave Torah and Hasidic life, the parents are to blame. Parents must be responsible for their actions and consider the results of everything they do. Children, according to Reb Yoel, are merely a reflection of their parents.
Children shouldn’t start school until the age of four
In Satmar, children do not begin cheder until they are four years old. However, the sefer explains that many parents have the practice of sending their children to gan before the age of four. This is not considered an ideal practice and a Satmar gan is forbidden from teaching children even the Alef-bet.
Prayer leads to good children
In Satmar, raising God-fearing children requires more than just good parenting, it requires prayer. Reb Yoel emphasizes that a father’s prayer is the only way to ensure that his children will be future Torah scholars and frum Jews. When a father sees that his child is struggling with his learning, he must cry during Birchat HaTorah each morning and say Tehillim with kavana. All the “hishtadlus” in the world will not lead to good children if the father does not also pray for it.
Education with no outside influences
More than anything else, Satmar education emphasizes zero compromise when it comes to outside influences. According to Reb Yoel, the reason many yeshivos and Jewish institutions fail in America is because they allow in outside influences such as secular studies and any form of American culture. Only by offering a purely Jewish education, can Hasidim flourish in America.
Not only must outside influences be avoided, but any innovation in education is forbidden. Reb Yoel was passionate about recreating Eastern Europeans chederim and he forbid a teacher from even changing the way that the alef-bet is taught.
Who should teach the children?
In Satmar, the Melamed Torah (teacher) is given a tremendous amount of respect. But, in order to become a teacher in the community one must meet the proper qualifications. Reb Yoel describes three conditions a person must meet to teach in a Satmar Talmud Torah (school): 1) One must be a great learner. If one cannot learn, they certainly cannot teach. 2) He must have the passion, willingness, and “mesiras nefesh” to give over to his students, what he has learnt. A great learner does not necessarily make a great teacher. Only passion and ability to teach can make a good teacher. 3) He must have the ability to strengthen his students and help them to grow.
Satmar education is a very large subject and this post merely scratches the surface. I hope to discuss the subject further in future posts.