‘Voice’ Considers Bad Orthodox Landlords
Examines piety versus decency
The cover story of this week’s Village Voice confronts a phenomenon with which anyone who has had the Kafkaesque experience known as “renting an apartment in New York City” likely has first-hand experience: The fact that many landlords, including ones who are not very nice to you—and, in extreme cases, who are genuine slumlords—happen to be Orthodox Jews. The story, which was prompted by an earlier Voice list of the city’s worst landlords (which included several Orthodox) and a subsequent Forward column, is a series of interviews with Jews who come at the problem from various perspectives. These include a few familiar names—including unofficial Hasidic-hipster liason Baruch Herzfeld and former-Orthodox blogger Shmarya Rosenberg. Best quotes after the jump.
Samuel Heilman, sociologist who focuses on the Orthodox community: “The question we need to ask is not, ‘Does their Orthodoxy lead them to be a slumlord,’ but rather, ‘Why doesn’t their Orthodoxy prevent those of them who become slumlords from acting in this way?’”
Herzfeld: “The only reason why Jews predominate on this list is because Jews own a lot of properties in New York. It just so happens that being a landlord in New York for the past 50 years has been a Jewish business. If you went to Buenos Aires or Beijing, you wouldn’t find many Jewish slumlords.”
Isaac Abraham, a Satmar landlord and advocate for New York City Housing Authority tenants: “The landlord has to be responsible to provide services. But it gets to a point where a landlord is chasing his own tail. I didn’t create the phrase ‘Graffiti creates graffiti, vandalism creates vandalism.’”
Rosenberg: “Once you’re inside the group, there are few crimes you can commit. There are few crimes that anyone can put against you. If the slumlord was doing it to hipsters or Puerto Ricans or blacks, it would be fine. They aren’t going to condemn that person or say he shouldn’t have an aliyah in synagogue or say he shouldn’t be rewarded.”
Joe Levin, a Hasidic Jew and private investigator: “There is a belief that you are allowed to steal from non-Jewish people. It’s a kind of a sickness that these people have. I had a recent case. I said to a guy, ‘You’re taking money from a bank.’ And he said, ‘What do I care?’”
Heilman: “Satmars were always a more insular group, even within Europe. Keep in mind that Orthodox Jews in general—and Satmars, in particular—suffered much more from persecution than other kinds of Jews. In part, it was their own fault, because their rabbis told them not to change anything. So they really stood out. They looked different. And their behavior fit perfectly into those xenophobic attitudes that Europeans harbored against Jews.”
Herzfeld: “I talk to a lot of people in Williamsburg, and a few of them have had problems with Hasidic landlords. And it reflects badly on all Hasidism, because the average new immigrant to Brooklyn—and in this I include Americans who have moved here from outside New York State—can’t distinguish between Jews as a whole and individual Hasidic landlords.”
How Can a Religious Person Justify Being a Slumlord? [Village Voice]
Related: When the Slumlords Are Us [Forward]
New York’s Ten Worst Landlords [Village Voice]
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