Monday, December 13, 2010

How can a Religious Jew be a Slumlord?

An article in the Village Voice awhile back listed the ten worst slumlords. Among them was one particular Satmar Jew - Rabbi Moshe Indig. The violations in one of his residential properties are described in nauseating detail. From the article:

What it's like to live there: With 132 violations (at last count) for a small four-story walk-up, 684 Flushing, in the East Williamsburg – Brunswick industrial region, is right up there on the city's worst-violations list. Forty-five of those violations are immediately hazardous, according to city records, and include a chronically broken boiler and gas pipes, as well as water leaks that result in the kinds of floods that cause ceilings to collapse.

Apartment 4D is ridden with bedbugs and mice, and the wood floors sag dangerously. A woman and her children live in a first-floor apartment that's missing a kitchen ceiling; it collapsed in a flood a few months ago.

The building has at least three abandoned apartments—their doors are boarded up with plywood and sprayed with graffiti. Two of those apartments, according to tenants, belonged to residents who fled because they couldn't stand the deathly cold. Like everyone else in the building, they kept their oven doors open and the gas on in the winter months.

This is only a partial list. And Rabbi Indig freely admits the building has been neglected. That is an understatement. I think this fellow takes the image of slumlord to a new low.

What is even more troubling about him is that he acts as something of a spokesman for Stamar and is active on various Shuls, and charitable Satmar organizations. Is this the kind of person any Jew, let alone an entire community of Jews would want as their spokesman? The fact that he doesn’t even deny those violations and tries to excuse them leaves little room to be Dan L’Kaf Zechus.

How does one ignore rats in a basement and infestations in an apartment? How can he not immediately take care of a collapsed ceiling in one of his tenant’s kitchen? He had a bad management team?! There was a death in the the building manager’s family?!

That he finally changed his management team is not excuse for letting this kind of neglect go on for so long. How much time and money does it take to put a padlock on a basement door to keep out crack addicts?! How can anyone with a conscience not provide heat for their tenants for over three years?

There are all kinds of people in the world. Slumlords are not an exclusively Jewish phenomenon. But to the extent there is any Jewish involvement let alone someone who calls himself rabbi and parades around in great piety - is in an abomination! ...And yet another ‘wonderful’ Chilul HaShem!

How can it be that a religious Jew could be such a terrible slumlord? The question was raised to several Orthodox Jews in a subsequent Village Voice article about how religious people can be slumlords. The responses ranged from righteous indignation to excuse-making.

Uri L’Tzedek founder Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz publicized it when he was made aware of it; organized a study group to raise awareness and learn the relevant Halachos; and has committed his organization to ‘clean up our community’. The rest of his interview is quite informative and is in itself a Kiddush HaShem. More power to him. Unfortunately the Chilul HaShem by Rabbi Indig far outweighs that.

And then there is Isaac Abraham’s response. He is a Satmar Chasid and a tenant’s advocate. According to the article he is also an unofficial spokesman for the Satmar community. Here is what he had to say:

What is your proof here? Do you have any proof?

I see buildings that are literally ambushed by certain tenants—literally! And I've watched this in court. When the landlords are Jews, non-Jews, Muslims, Asians. And the tenants come back to the judge for repairs. And it doesn't last 20 minutes and the vandalism is back there again! And it's not the landlord leaving these filthy messages in the hallways.

The landlord isn't the one punching holes in the walls. He doesn't put graffiti up. He doesn't rip out the toilets! When the landlord pays the bills, the residents—they should consider their home as their castle, and instead, they destroy it...

The landlord has to be responsible to provide services. But it gets to a point where a landlord is chasing his own tail..." Any landlord who doesn't provide services, he should be hit by the book…

But in answer to a question about whether he has ever taken a landlord to a Din Torah his answer was no.

Others interviewed included a Frum bike shop owner in the Satmar neighborhood, blogger Shmarya Rosenberg, and Professor Samuel Heilman, a sociologist and himself an Orthodox Jew. I believe he has the best take on this.

My view is very simple. There are several things going on here. Among them:

*A history of gentile persecution against the Jewish people throughout the ages in Europe that European Jews brought with them upon immigrating to the United States.

*Transmission of the resulting hatred and fear because of that persecution to generations of their children to this very day.

*An insularity that severely limits and discourages any connection to the surrounding culture and its people.

The result is a fear, hatred, and mistrust that provides a sense of justification for ‘sticking it to the evil Goy’. True - they do not overtly act that way in intrapersonal relations. Satmar Chasidim tend to be very cordial to non Jews. But when needed they are apparently Moreh Heter –justifying non Halachic behavior towards their fellow man. Instead of seeing them as human beings created in the image of God, they see the quote from Rashi ‘Esav Sonei l’Yaakov’. They might say, ‘If Esav (gentiles) hate us so much and want to do us in, why should we go out of our way for them?’

It should be no surprise then that some will resort to do whatever they think they can get away with to maximize their profits. How else are the big Shuls and Chasidic medical centers going to be built? Some Goyim end up suffering in the process? Not their problem! What about the Chilul HaShem? I guess they don’t see one! Truly astounding!