How does one reconcile Menachem Stark’s image as a philanthropist in the Satmar community with that of an exploitative slumlord?
“What you do to the goyim is not the same as what you do to Jews,” said Samuel Heilman, an expert on Hasidic communities like Satmar. Heilman, author of “Defenders of the Faith: Inside Ultra-Orthodox Jewry” and a distinguished professor of sociology at Queens College, is currently at work on a book about succession battles in Hasidic courts.
That attitude stems from days when Jews were actively persecuted, he said. “Part of the collective mind-set in the crucible of history when this part of Jewry was formed, the outside world was filled with anti-Semitism and persecutors. The whole understanding of that was that you need to keep a distance from them, that they are a different level of human being,” Heilman told Haaretz.
According to Samuel Katz, who was brought up as a Satmar but later became secular, boys in the community are taught that non-Jews aren’t quite human. Speaking from Berlin, where he is doing biomedical research on a Fulbright fellowship, Katz explained that growing up in such a community, “you don’t see commonality with people who aren’t Jewish. There is a completely different taxonomy of people. There are Jews and then there are non-Jews, who don’t have souls.”
When the messiah comes, “every boy is taught that the bad goyim will be killed and the good gentiles will have the privilege of serving us, of being our slaves,” he told Haaretz. “The way Stark dealt with tenants is part of that world view… It’s not taking advantage of them, [rather] that is the world order you’re taught to expect.”
“It informs your moral compass. Like all good people Stark was benevolent and generous to the people who he saw were like himself,” but not to other people, added Katz. “There’s an empathy ‘blind spot’ that imbues the Haredi outlook.”