Amid rising Haredi sympathy for Israel, Satmar rabbis issue harsh media guidelines for war coverage

In a strident stance against Zionism, leading Satmar rabbis issued strict guidelines to Haredi news media, warning against showing support for Israel or the IDF

Haredi publication stand. Credit: Shtetl

Nov 22, 2023 5:55 PM


Alarmed by growing identification with Israel among Haredi Jews, a large group of prominent rabbis affiliated with the Satmar Hasidic sect issued an open letter of “clear instructions” to Haredi news media on how to cover the ongoing Israel-Hamas war to avoid any appearance of giving support to Israel and its military.

The letter, signed by 25 Satmar rabbis associated with both the Aaronite and Zalmanite factions across the New York City Metro area, instructed the media not to give the appearance “of being impressed with or showing esteem for” the Israeli Defense Forces, or to use “language of triumph and exultation” in reporting Israel’s successes. The missive also urged the general public to “exercise extraordinary caution so as not to become ensnared in the net of the wicked,” referring to Zionists and the State of Israel.

Media guidelines, published across many Satmar publications

The guidelines, published in at least five major Satmar publications affiliated with both the Aaronite and Zalmanite factions, were directed toward editors of print newspapers and operators of telephone news hotlines. They stated, “Editors and news publishers carry an enormous responsibility, as they might — with little attention and due to the pressure to publicize news that is constantly changing — easily lead their readers and listeners to the gravest of grave sins.”

The letter acknowledged that it is a time of peril for Jews in Israel, and that religious Jews across the world are praying for God to protect Jews “in body and soul.”

But the letter adamantly insisted that it didn’t support Israel or its actions. “Vengeance is for God alone,” the rabbis wrote, warning against language that might “incite hatred and further the cycle of killings.” Paraphrasing the Talmud, the rabbis argued further that support from Haredi Jews risked the appearance of “making kosher” that which is forbidden. The rabbis also instructed news outlets “not to use the language of ‘us and them,’ which could sound as if the Zionists and their state and their profane military are ‘us.’”

Article headlines accompanying the rabbis' media guidelines in Kiryas Joel's 'Heimshtut' newspaper

Shaul Magid, a Jewish studies professor at Dartmouth College who has written extensively about Satmar’s anti-Zionist ideology, said that the letter was in line with the general Satmar position, describing it as: “Don't fall into the trap of thinking that Zionists have the power to overcome this, or to solve the problem.”

In comments to Shtetl, Magid said it is notable that the letter “acknowledges that Jews were killed and that Jews are in danger." He added, "It doesn't make a distinction whether the Jews who were killed were Zionists or non-Zionists, whether they were people on the left or people on the right."

Magid compared this position to that taken by the first Satmar rebbe, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, during the 1967 Six-Day War, when Teitelbaum tried to balance a concern for Jewish lives with an uncompromising anti-Zionist doctrine. In a 2020 article in Tablet magazine about Teitelbaum’s voluminous writings in response to that war, Magid wrote that those writings were “directed to his ultra-Orthodox community, who he believed were being, or could be, seduced by the Zionist narrative."

That same fear is now being expressed, alongside the rabbis’ published instructions to media outlets, in editorial essays and opinion columns using heated language to describe Zionism as the worst of all sins. Notably, this message is directed to all Haredi publications, not just Satmar ones, in an attempt to assert the Satmar view over the rest of the Haredi world, which isn't as stridently anti-Zionist.

In fact, some within that media landscape now appear to have been banned by some rabbis. In a letter from the Central Rabbinical Congress, an influential, Satmar-affiliated consortium of rabbis, to Wolf Landau, owner of the “Central Market” supermarket in Williamsburg, the rabbis declared a ban on selling the English-language Haredi magazines Mishpacha, Ami, and Binah, claiming they contain "heretical content, a Zionist attitude, and non-Jewish viewpoints." Shtetl was unable to independently verify the letter. 

The rabbis also issued a “warning to all store owners not to sell the magazines in question,” the letter said. “To do otherwise would be an irredeemable sin.”

Satmar Hasidim are known to be opposed to Zionism, believing that Jews should not have their own state before the arrival of the messiah. They also oppose Israel’s secular orientation.

Other Haredi communities have historically had similar but less firmly held views of Zionism. However, some Haredim, especially those in the Yeshivish and Chabad-Lubavitch communities, have expressed support for Israel during the current crisis, without necessarily identifying as Zionists while doing so.