Menachem Stark Painted by Orthodox Media as Saint — Not Slumlord

Hasidic Businessman 'Beloved Member' of the Community

VOS IZ NEIAS

By Talia Lavin

Published January 09, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

(JTA) — The murder of Menachem Stark has sparked intense media scrutiny of the Brooklyn real estate developer’s troubled business record, prompting the New York Post to ask “Who didn’t want him dead?” on its front page.

But while mainstream media outlets scrutinized the Satmar hasid’s relationships with tenants, contractors and lenders, haredi Orthodox publications offered a decidedly different take – looking not for clues to why someone would kill Stark, but celebrating his many virtues.

READ: Did the Orthodox Jewish Press newspaper kill critical column on Menachem Stark?

Yated Ne’eman, a prominent haredi weekly, praised Stark as a “loving father and baal chesed,” or charitable giver. Hamodia, a leading haredi daily, called Stark a “greatly beloved member of the Williamsburg community,” citing anecdotes that showed his generosity within his Hasidic neighborhood. Another Hamodia article condemned the Post for publishing “a litany of untruths to malign the integrity of Mr. Stark,” though it made no mention of the nature of the tabloid’s allegations.

“It’s irrelevant if the allegations are true or not,” Yochonon Donn, the Hamodia editor who wrote the article, told JTA. “Now is not the time to dance on the family’s blood.”

The haredi media’s approach to the case reflects its journalistic ethos, which aims to report the news while complying with traditional Jewish prohibitions against lashon hara, or “evil tongue,” a term that encompasses gossip, slander and malicious speech.

“The contrast between the haredi media’s treatment of the case and that of the general media reflects the chasm between how journalism is defined by each,” Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for the haredi umbrella group Agudath Israel of America, wrote in an email. “Halacha-respecting journalism will always endeavor to shun the negative, particularly when it is sourced in innuendo and one-sided ‘interpretations.’”

Click to see the rest of the section, Click for more stories about Menachem Stark

Stark was abducted Jan. 2 outside his office in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. Video footage from the scene showed Stark struggling in a snowstorm with assailants who forced him into a white van.

The following day, Stark’s partially burned body was found in a dumpster on Long Island. A medical examiner concluded he had died from compression asphyxiation. New York Police Commissioner William Bratton said police have “no significant leads” in the case.

Stark, who reportedly owned 17 properties in Brooklyn, was a prominent figure in Williamsburg’s Satmar Hasidic community. At the time of his murder, however, he was deeply in debt. In 2008, Stark and his business partner, Israel Perlmutter, defaulted on a $29 million loan, and they declared bankruptcy the following year, according to The New York Times.

New York newspapers reported on numerous tenant complains and building code violations at Stark’s properties. While some tenants criticized conditions in his buildings in online postings and elsewhere, other tenants have come to their late landlord’s defense. The Post’s controversial cover story called Stark a “slumlord” and cited anonymous law-enforcement sources who suggested he was a “scammer” with plenty of enemies.

But coverage in the haredi press sidestepped Stark’s business woes and allegations of improprieties. This is consistent with the high regard in which he was held in his community, where one of the Satmar sect’s two rebbes, Zalman Teitelbaum, delivered an emotional eulogy.

In a December 2013 editorial, Hamodia publisher Ruth Lichtenstein explained her publication’s general approach, noting that the paper’s concern not to “inadvertently embarrass or hurt an organization, individual, or child” plays a large role in editorial decisions.

“A crucial part of our mission is protecting our readers’ right ‘not to know,’” Lichtenstein wrote. “Far more difficult a task than providing you with newsworthy and ethical reading material is ensuring that you, our loyal reader, aren’t exposed to material you would find unfit to enter your home, your mind, and your heart.”

Meanwhile, the haredi community has rallied against the Post, organizing a Jan. 5 press conference with local elected officials at Brooklyn Borough Hall. Brooklyn’s borough president, Eric Adams, denounced what he called “hateful coverage.” New York City’s public advocate, Letitia James, accused the Post of having “given license to murder” and called on elected officials to stop placing advertisements in the paper.

Hamodia published an editorial Wednesday blasting New York City’s newly elected mayor, Bill de Blasio, for not joining other elected officials in condemning the coverage or publicly extending his condolences to the Stark family.

“The Jewish community must not feel, as they’ve felt several times in the past, that they are alone in this,” Hamodia wrote. “The mayor’s silence is a shocking blow.”

In a letter to the New York Post, the Anti-Defamation League called the Post’s headline “insensitive” and also took issue with the accompanying article for referring to Stark as a “millionaire Hasidic slumlord” in its lead sentence.

“Just substitute any other minority for ‘Hasidic’ in such an opening description and it would be understood how provocative it is, particularly associated with the descriptor ‘millionaire slumlord,’” wrote Evan Bernstein, the ADL’s New York regional director.

Yated Ne’eman staffers declined to discuss their coverage of the Stark murder. In lieu of comment, they forwarded a poem they planned to publish by the paper’s editor and publisher, Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz. A Yated Ne’eman reporter said the poem was “indicative of the direction” of the paper’s coverage.

Titled “Who Didn’t Want Us Dead?” the poem describes Stark as a “Giving, loving/Holy soul/Snuffed out.” Accompanied by an image of the New York Post’s front page, the poem referenced historical anti-Semitism, mentioning Hitler, Stalin and Ferdinand and Isabella.

“Jewish blood has always been cheap,/nobody cared when they came after us,” Lipschutz wrote.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.