Satmar

Satmar community touts 24,000 students in flagship school systems, highlighting rapid growth and its broader impact

Figures align with broader estimates of Haredi growth rates, which have resulted in a global population of 2.1 million, approximately one-third of which live in the NYC metro region

A girls' school building in Kiryas Joel. Credit: Shtetl

Dec 12, 2023 4:40 PM

Updated: 

Newly released figures by both major Satmar factions show a total of 12,000 students at each faction’s flagship school system, with the figures for the Aaronite faction alone having doubled in the last 17 years. These numbers further highlight the substantial growth rates of Hasidic and Haredi Jews in the U.S. and their growing impact on their surrounding communities.

The numbers were released on the occasion of major celebratory and fundraising events for both the Aaronite and Zalmanite factions. 

The Aaronite Satmar community, which is headquartered in the Satmar village of Kiryas Joel in upstate New York, held its school fundraiser on Saturday, Dec. 9, in which it celebrated 50 years since the founding of Kiryas Joel in 1974. A booklet called Hayovel — “The Jubilee” — was released in honor of the event and lists the numbers of students at the school system in Kiryas Joel for many of the previous years, with 110 students in 1975, 4,500 students in 2000, and 12,000 students at present.

The Zalmanites held their fundraiser one day later, at the annual celebration of 21 Kislev, the day Satmar’s founder, the late Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, was rescued from the Holocaust, in December of 1944. The figure of 12,000 students was touted in several articles in Der Yid, the Zalmanites’ Yiddish-language newspaper, in the lead up to the event, crediting the “heavenly strength” of the sect’s founder for reaching this “enormous figure,” which, the articles noted, is for the Zalmanites’ Williamsburg school system alone.

In addition to their flagship school systems — the Aaronites’ in Kiryas Joel and the Zalmanites’ in Williamsburg — both factions also maintain sizable school systems in the other of the two areas. They also maintain satellite school systems in Borough Park and Monsey, in Brooklyn and Rockland County, New York, respectively, as well as in Lakewood, New Jersey. Both factions also have substantial school systems in several cities across Israel and in major cities across Europe and Canada.

A page from 'Hayovel' for the year 2000

A source within the Aaronite schools in Kiryas Joel told Shtetl that the numbers represent both male and female students in their K-12 systems. However, they do not include male students at the “Yeshiva Gedolah,” the seminary for advanced Talmudic studies for boys aged 16 and above, which is attended by many non-local students from Satmar communities around the world. The source also estimated the student populations of other schools in Kiryas Joel, such as those of the rival Bnei Yoel and Zalmanite factions, to be between 7,000 and 8,000.

Shtetl could not independently verify the given figures.

Hayovel also gave the current number of Kiryas Joel families as 8,000, which appears to include members of both the Aaronite and Zalmanite factions. While the 2020 U.S. census put the number of households in Kiryas Joel at a little over 6,200, several satellite communities have been built up around Kiryas Joel in recent years, in the nearby towns and villages of Woodbury, Chester, and South Blooming Grove.

According to the 2020 census, the average family in Kiryas Joel has 5.6 members. This includes young, growing families as well as families that have reached their maximum size. The census put the number of Kiryas Joel residents at  33,000 in 2020, up 65% from 20,000 in 2010 and up 154% from 13,000 in 2000, representing a 4.8% annual growth rate over two decades. 

The census reported roughly similar growth rates for the all-Hasidic village of New Square, home of the Skver Hasidic sect, which has grown from around 4,500 in 2000 to 7,000 in 2010 and 9,700 in 2020, for an average annual growth rate of 4%. The more recent decline in New Square's growth rate may be due in part to increasingly strict community ordinances over who qualifies for residence in the village.

The substantial growth rates of these communities highlight the growing political, cultural, and economic clout of Hasidic and Haredi communities in the U.S., which are largely centered around the New York metropolitan area. According to a 2017 report by Yaffed, a group advocating for improved secular education in Hasidic schools, by one estimate, nearly 37% of Brooklyn’s school-age children will be Hasidic by 2030.

According to the Historical Atlas of Hasidism, by Marcin Wodzinski, a Jewish studies scholar who has written widely on the history and development of the Hasidic movement, there were 300,000 Hasidim in the U.S. and 710,000 Hasidim worldwide in 2016.

“Although it appears that Hasidism has still not regained anything close to its prewar numbers,” Wodzinski wrote, “today it is undoubtedly a large and continually growing movement with significant influence in Jewish religious, social, cultural, and political life. It is an example of a truly spectacular success. Hasidim represent approximately 5% of all Jews worldwide.”

For comparison, a 2022 study by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in the U.K. put the total number of U.S. Haredim — including both Hasidic and non-Hasidic groups — at 700,000, and globally at nearly 2.1 million, with Haredim comprising 12% of the Jewish population in the U.S. and 14% of the Jewish population globally. The study concludes that the Haredi community’s birth rate has allowed it to double in population size every 18 to 20 years.

These figures represent a substantial increase from previous years. In his 1992 book Defenders of the Faith, Samuel Heilman, a Queens College sociology professor who has written extensively on the Haredi community, estimated the total number of Haredim globally at that time to be 550,000, with less than half of that number living in the U.S.

In a recent interview with Shtetl, Heilman expressed some skepticism of the latest numbers released by the Satmar community. “There is still the competition between the Aharonim and the Zalonim,” he said, using another term for the Aaronites and Zalmanites. “We are coming to election time, and in election time what makes them important is inflating their numbers.”

But a source within the Aaronite schools in Williamsburg said the Satmar community is very careful to publish accurate numbers. “Our administration is very strict” about the figures they release, he said. “We’re not playing around with numbers,” he added, citing instructions by the late Satmar rebbe, Moshe Teitelbaum, who believed that any inflation of the numbers, even inadvertent, would invite an ayin hara — or “an evil eye.”

As Shtetl previously reported, a study by TEACH NYS found that enrollment in Hasidic schools in New York State grew by 130% over the last 20 years, and single-gender non-Hasidic Orthodox schools — including both non-Hasidic Haredi and Modern Orthodox — grew by 35% in the same period, according to data from the New York State Department of Education.

This rapid growth impacts both the Haredi community and those outside of it, with economic factors playing a dominant role. “Poverty rates are extraordinarily high,” Heilman said of the Haredi community, “and yet they all have private education.” He added, “There is no doubt that their expenses are higher than their income, and education is the number one expense.”

Haredi growth has sometimes been a source of tension with neighboring communities, with conflict cropping up repeatedly around zoning laws, school taxes, and a general concern about urbanization in previously suburban and rural areas.

One of the most high-profile conflicts between Haredim and their neighbors over the last two decades has focused on the East Ramapo Central School District, in Rockland County, New York, which encompasses the predominantly Haredi hamlet of Monsey and the all-Hasidic village of New Square. By 2005, the district’s school board had a Haredi majority, whose primary focus was on reducing school taxes for the Haredi population, whose children do not attend local public schools. The effect, critics argued, was a gutted public school system, which primarily served African-American and Hispanic students.

Other notable areas of tension include annexation attempts around the village of Kiryas Joel and the establishment of other Haredi villages in upstate New York. Among the most recent such conflicts are stalled plans to establish the village of Seven Springs, outside of Kiryas Joel, and opposition to the Vizhnitz sect’s village of Ateres, in the Catskills region, as Shtetl previously reported.

Chananya Groner is a former member of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect. He was born in Melbourne, Australia and has degrees in philosophy and law. He currently resides in Brooklyn.