July 9, 2012 Behind the Rabbi’s Scenes
What really goes on behind the scenes in Hasidic leadership is hard to know from the facade the rabbinic hoif portrays. The gabbais and the various staff/family of the Rabbi all comprise the unified effort to create a certain powerful and mysterious image of the tzadik, sometimes making the tzadik only available on a limited basis to his Hasidim, to prevent him from doing anything that will go contra the overall leadership’s efforts. This can especially be true when the Rabbi cannot lead due to old age. Instead of retiring leadership to his heirs, he will continue to be the official rabbi, and a host of powerful people will be the de facto leaders. When I grew up I had not an inkling that Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum suffered from dementia, even though I went to his major tishen and participated in rebbish events. I was well informed of the firestorm surrounding the heir to the Satmar dynastic throne, the split between Rabbi Aaron and Rabbi Zalmen Leib, but I did not know that all this happened while the father of the two rivaling sons was no longer healthy enough to make his own decision. What I knew about our grand rabbi was never direct; always edited and produced by the various leaders and administrators who carefully protected the image and derech of the Hasidic rabbis. As a child, I certainly knew nothing about the human side of our “living saints” and I’m not sure if I knew much more as an adult.
Are Hasidic rabbis indeed today’s leaders, or are they simply a front for other powerful personalities who manipulate the rabbis like puppets? I am not informed enough to know. I’d love to hear from the readers on this.