Satmar rebbe villifies Skoufis as “wicked and evil”

Assemblyman and senator-elect James Skoufis was castigated as a villain of biblical proportions this week, when Satmar Grand Rebbe Aaron Teitelbaum reportedly described him as a “wicked and evil man” during a fiery speech otherwise devoted to blasting state interference in religious schools.

Teitelbaum, who leads the branch of the split Satmar movement that holds a majority in Kiryas Joel, delivered the hour-long speech in Yiddish to a huge throng of followers in Williamsburg on Wednesday night, according to the Jewish news site Vos Iz Neias. He gave a thundering denunciation of a new initiative by the state Education Department that will force Orthodox yeshivas to show they’re teaching core academic subjects as required by law – a push the Hasidic community sees as intrusive and a threat to their intensive religious study.

“The Jewish nation will not bow or give in to the wicked, not even the commissioner of education,” Teitelbaum reportedly said, according to the web site’s English translation. “We will sacrifice and stand up for our very existence so that we can educate our children and provide them with a Torah education.  We have gone through many trials and tribulations for the sake of the holy Torah and now we will go out to war against the commissioner in every way, without any compromise or agreements.”

The Vos Iz Neias account says Teitelbaum also denounced Skoufis – without naming him – as “wicked and evil,” effectively likening him to Haman by using a familiar description for the biblical villain who is rebuked on the Jewish holiday of Purim. It doesn’t provide the context for that part of the speech.

That prompted a response on Thursday from Skoufis, who surmised that that rabbi was “still rankled that my campaign was able to easily overcome his bloc vote this past election.” Kiryas Joel’s main voting bloc supported Republican Tom Basile in the 39th Senate District election, while a smaller Kiryas Joel group endorsed Skoufis, which gave Basile a net total of 4,157 votes in the village.

“Putting aside the abhorrent, disgraceful nature of his comments, these remarks are dangerous,” the Woodbury Democrat said in his statement. “Is Rebbe Teitelbaum trying to elicit violence? Here’s what I do know: I will not be intimidated or bulled as I continue to ensure every community, including Kiryas Joel, follows the law and plays by the same rules. Period.”

Skoufis was a prominent opponent of attempts to expand Kiryas Joel through annexation several years ago, and he waged a high-profile fight with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over an annexation-related bill that Cuomo vetoed twice. He also has opposed or criticized Kiryas Joel leaders on various other issues, including a major new well for  the village in Cornwall, and touted those fights in his Senate campaign as a sign that he would not pander to the Hasidic community’s voting blocs.

“James Skoufis has a real record of standing up to Kiryas Joel,” read one campaign mailer from the Senate Democrats’ campaign committee.

That theme, echoed in campaign commercials, was cited as an example of recent anti-Hasidic rhetoric in a Journal News column on Tuesday by Kiryas Joel Superintendent Joel Petlin. “Apparently, the Skoufis campaign believed, as do many other politicians, that the surest way to get elected in some parts of the region is to campaign against the Hasidic population,” Petlin wrote.

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    Chris McKenna

    Chris McKenna covers Orange County government and politics for the Times Herald-Record. He has been a reporter at the newspaper since 1999. Read Full
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