March 6, 2022 Street poster: laws of neighbors
I was struck by this poster that advertised a lecture on “the laws of neighbors.” By neighbors, the lecturers mean Hasidic neighbors, who are treated differently than outsiders. There are certain expectations that all neighbors of the community heed to a collectivist ethos and act to ensure the sustenance of the community. For instance, whenever someone in the neighborhood tries to create a big development for outsiders, the developer comes under tremendous heat to stop the construction, because such projects cause both the disruption of the communal cohesion and the financial housing crisis. We’ve seen before how this occurred a few years ago and last year, when street posters were hung to try to stop construction projects for outsiders.
When a lecture promises to address “laws of neighbors,” it means that these delicate intra-communal rules — the practical, legal, as well as religious legalistic elements — will be addressed. To be clear, “laws of neighbors” are not merely city laws, but the laws and expectations governing Hasidic life.
Items on the agenda for this lecture are:
- Complications that occur among neighbors, especially when there is only one family per floor.
- Laws of building extensions, or renting/sub-letting without the permission of the neighbors.
- If there is a leak from an upper floor to a lower floor, who is responsible for the cost?
- Whether there are situations where it’s permissible to call 311 (the NYC housing hotline) to stop a neighbor from doing certain things.
I found the fourth pointer especially striking. It is framed in a way that suggests that it is taken for granted that calling the city on a neighbor is not okay. Indeed, to report on a neighbor to secular authorities is to commit the violation messirah, to inform on one’s fellow Jew, which is considered a terrible betrayal. Not that it doesn’t happen. Human nature, infighting, and double standards always exist alongside the expectations of communal cohesion. Hence, this last fall of 2021, I saw the following poster next to the Spinka synagogue’s big holiday sukkah hut.
Since during the construction of the sukkah, specific individuals reported us (gave in a messirah) for building the sukkah — therefore, we now have a stop order and we can’t deconstruct the sukkah. We hope this will be resolved as soon as possible.
Whatever the ideals might be, humans are humans, and infighting and politics exist nonetheless. For a great in-depth account of housing in the Hasidic community and how these issues are constantly negotiated internally, you must read the brilliant book A Fortress in Brooklyn by Nathaniel Deutsch and Michael Casper.