Satmar

Personal items of Satmar’s founder fetch thousands of dollars — on eBay and at community fundraisers

A pair of white stockings worn by the late Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum sold for $11,600, and a chance to win a three-word note in his handwriting sold for a $1,800 donation to Satmar schools

Donation table at Satmar fundraising event. Credit: Shtetl

Dec 6, 2023 6:10 PM

Updated: 

A day of celebration among Satmar Hasidim on Sunday brought extraordinary interest in the personal effects of the sect’s founder, including the sale of his stained white stockings on eBay for $11,600 and a chance to win a three-word note in his handwriting, through a $1,800 donation to Satmar schools.

The 21st day of Kislev, which fell this year on Sunday, is a major day of celebratory events across Satmar communities worldwide. On this day in 1944, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the founder of the Satmar dynasty, was rescued from the Holocaust. He arrived in Switzerland on Dec. 7 on what would later be known as the “Kastner train,” a transport of over 1600 Hungarian Jews organized by Rudolf Kastner. The anniversary of that event is a special day of remembrance of Satmar’s dynamic and beloved founder. 

This year, a “special deal” was listed on eBay in honor of this day: Teitelbaum’s personal stockings. On Sunday, the stained white stockings sold for $11,600 to an anonymous buyer. The rabbi had passed the stockings on to his attendant, Mendel Greenberg, who then passed them onto Leib Friedman, according to the eBay listing. The listing included a letter from Friedman attesting to their authenticity.

eBay listing for Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum's stockings

A chance to win another of Teitelbaum’s personal items, a three-word note in his handwriting, was offered to devotees who donated $1,800 to the main Satmar school system in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Written in a faint scrawl, the note contains the Hebrew words for “I am Hashem, your God” — the opening verse of the Ten Commandments in the Bible. 

“A priceless ‘writ of devotion’ from our holy rebbe,” an article in the Zalmanite newspaper Vochnshrift announced a couple of weeks ago, “will change hands for the first time in 55 years.” The lucky new owner will gain “protection and success” by holding this sacred possession, the article said.

According to Satmar lore, the note was written in 1969, after Teitelbaum suffered a massive stroke. His doctor, a brain specialist, asked him to write something to assess his mental acuity. “That’s on his mind!” the doctor is said to have exclaimed when told what the rabbi had written. As the story goes, the words showed not only the rabbi’s clear mind but also his continued devotion and his ability to recall Torah passages.

The raffle for the note had been widely promoted in the leadup to the day’s celebration event in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, hosted by Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, who leads one of two Satmar factions. According to the Vochnshrift, the note has until now been in the possession of Meir Schnitzler, one of Joel Teitelbaum’s former personal attendants. The drawing for the note’s lucky winner will be held next month.

Personal items of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum displayed in a fundraiser booklet

Meanwhile, at another celebratory event across town hosted by Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, who leads the other of the two Satmar factions, attendees were treated to a booklet where they could see photos of Joel’s various personal effects, including, for example, the well-worn tallit that he used on Shabbat, the stained white caftan he wore on Friday nights, and his white Yom Kippur slippers. None of the items were available for sale, and it was not clear who currently owns them.

Grand rebbes in many Hasidic communities often hold mythical status for their followers. Owning one of the rebbe’s personal items is believed by some to bestow upon its holder heavenly blessings. In the Chabad-Lubavitch community, it is common to display a photo of the late rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson in homes and businesses, intended to show affection for the rebbe’s memory and believed by some to bring blessings and good fortune. 

Lauren Hakimi is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, New York Jewish Week, WNYC/Gothamist and more. She graduated from CUNY Hunter College with degrees in history and English literature. Hailing from an Iranian Jewish community on Long Island, she looks forward to shining a light on stories that matter to the Jewish community. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_hakimi.