Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Prime Minister, Talansky, and the Spinka Rebbe

As we celebrate Israel’s birthday, yet another scandal unfolds surrounding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. This time it is about campaign irregularities when he was mayor of Jerusalem involving an Orthodox Jew who is a wealthy philanthropist. There has been a gag order put in place by the Israeli courts so it is pretty hard to determine the facts at this point. But when it comes to Prime Minister Olmert that will not stop the spin by political pundits who dislike him. He might as well be locked up with the key thrown out.

I will however reserve judgment. I have heard Olmert being vilified so often by the political right that I now discount everything they say about him. He may be guilty. He may be innocent. I don’t know. But I am not going to judge him unfavorably based on politically motivated investigations any more than I judged former Illinois governor George Ryan to be guilty before his verdict. In both cases the investigations were politically motivated.

One of my favorite commenters, evanstionjew, has made the following observation:

The New York Times revealed today that the overseas suspect a Morris Talansky, is a graduate of YU…. I think this ranks up there with Spinka. Somehow I don't think there will be an equivalent outcry.

How does one in fact look at these three individuals? Do they deserve an equivalent outcry?

First the Prime Minster. His situation is not the same as the Rebbe’s. There are several significant differences between the two cases. The alleged crimes of the Spinka are a far greater Chilul HaShem. Not so much because of what they were but because of who he is and what he represents.

And the evidence against the Spinka Rebbe is far more damning. It is the result of an informant who co-operated with authorities in a sting operation. I don’t believe this is the case in any of the allegations against P.M. Olmert. The current allegations are about campaign irregularities that occurred when Olmert was the mayor of Jerusalem. Had there been evidence of the type then that exists today in the Spinka case, he would have long ago been indicted.

But that isn’t the main difference. Even if both allegations are true - it is all about Chilul HaShem. The more religious a Jew is when caught in wrongdoing the bigger Chilul HaShem. Ehud Olmert is a secular Jew. He does not claim to be otherwise. No one can associate his behavior with Torah behavior.

But what about Morris Talanksy? He is an Orthodox Jew. Shouldn’t he be condemned the same as the Spinka Rebbe?

If the allegations are true, then - Yes! He should be condemned. It is a Chilul HaShem when any observant Jew commits a crime. But here too the allegations do not seem to be anywhere near what the evidence apparently shows about the Spinka Rebbe.

The Rebbe supposedly planned an elaborate tax fraud scheme and participated in it for years. He enticed - who knows how many - other wealthy Orthodox Jews to participate. There is a difference in kind and in magnitude of the crime. That makes it a far worse desecration of God’s name than what Mr. Talansky is alleged to have done.

Mr. Talanksy is not a Rebbe… a religious leader who is supposed to be a role model for Torah behavior. The Spinka Rebbe is. He is supposed to exemplify Torah teachings. He is high profile. He has a beard and Peyos. He wears a Chasidishe Bekeshe and a Shtreimel. He looks and acts religious – identifiably so. And as a Chasid, he is supposed to live on a higher spiritual level then non Chasidim. This is one way Chasidim define themselves.

When a Rebbe is caught doing something like this, it strongly reflects on the Torah. One might think that the Torah teaches that cheating the government is permissible. In fact many people have tried to defend him that way arguing that it is in fact permissible to do what he did, describing his motives as charitable!

This is why there is such an outcry about the Spinka Rebbe and why there will not be such an outcry here.

That said I don’t mean to minimize the alleged financial crimes of either Olmert or Talansky. If they are found guilty - that too will be a Chilul HaShem - worse for Talansky- a religious Jew - than for Olmert - a secular one. But in terms of magnitude between these two and the Spinka Rebbe? No contest.