Friday, October 31, 2008

The Chilul HaShem that Keeps on Giving

The ‘perp walk’. This is what is done to white collar workers arrested for white collar crimes. The reason for this is that many poor people complain that when a poor person is arrested he is handcuffed and treated like a dangerous criminal no matter how minor (or major) the crime.

White collar criminals used to be spared this indignity. But in recent times CEOs of major companies who stole millions while their companies ended up bankrupt have been handcuffed too. These people were guilty of destroying their investors life savings that was invested in the company while profiting to the tune of millions for themselves.

People were outraged. So now when a white collar criminal is arrested, even though he is not a danger to anyone, he is handcuffed and treated like a common criminal.

This is the image I saw today of the former head of Agriprocessors. A religious Jew with a large Charedi style Kipah and a very long beard handcuffed doing the ‘perp’ walk. Although I’m not even sure if this qualifies as a white collar crime.

This is not an image I wanted to see this morning as I read the Chicago Tribune – print edition. Yet another desecration of the name of God – a Chilul HaShem!

The charge is - conspiracy to harbor undocumented immigrants for financial gain, aiding and abetting document fraud and aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft.

The details are in a story in the Chicago Tribune via the Associated Press.

I’m trying to give these people the benefit of the doubt and say, ‘Innocent until proven guilty’. But this is a story that keeps on giving. Even though Agriprocessors ownership has already given the reins of control over to others - the Chilul HaShem remains.

I want to be Dan L’Kaf Zechus, but there is just far too much smoke for there to not be any fire.

There have been so many charges. Some of them truly disgusting - some unbelievably so and no doubt untrue. But in every case the charges are not flattering.

Fraud against the US government is a Chilul HaShem. If this man is found guilty it will be a stain on the Jewish people. It doesn’t matter if you are Charedi or Modern Orthodox. All religious Jews will be tainted by this man’s actions.

The more religious one looks the bigger the stain. And this man looks religious. I wish he would have shaved off his beard and taken off his Kipah during the arrest. It wouldn’t have lessened his crime - but it would have lessened the Chilul HaShem.

I am reminded of what an elementary Rebbe of mine said about a religious student he had that used to steal candy from a local merchant. He said that if someone has a problem like that, let him at least take off his Kipah before he does the crime. By leaving it on he only compounds the problem. His stealing then becomes a community issue -not only a personal one.

The argument put forward by some people that he was just trying to help some poor illegal immigrants earn a living for their families - does not wash. You cannot break the law no matter how noble your intent - unless the law is intrinsically immoral or against Halacha. This crime was not based a reaction to anything immoral or against Halacha. Besides, I’m not sure the intent was all that noble. From the Trib:

In September, the owner and managers of the plant, … were charged with 9,311 misdemeanors alleging they illegally hired minors and let children younger than 16 handle dangerous equipment. The complaint filed by the Iowa attorney general's office said the violations involved 32 illegal-immigrant children younger than 18, including seven who were not yet 16.

How exactly is that a noble act?

I can only speculate here but experience has taught me that there are certain people that have a 'Hashkafa' - that one can violate the laws of the land as long as they do not directly violate Halacha and they don’t get caught.

This is true in all segments of Orthodox Judaism. But the more one is concerned with matters of Bein Adam L’Makom (religious ritual) the less likely - it seems - one is to be concerned with matters of Bein Adam L’Chavero (inter-personal relationships). And the less likely one is to see non Jews in a favorable light.

If we are going to put an end to these kinds of events we need to be more pro-active in teaching our children laws pertaining to inter-personal relationships - and how to treat our fellow non-Jewish citizens. I’ve written about this many times. There is no excuse for what happened here.

There appears to be an erroneous assumption among Mechanchim – those who are responsible for teaching our children good values. Bein Adam L’Chavero is taken for granted. The emphasis is therefore almost exclusively on Bein Adam L’Makom – religious ritual.

There needs to be a concerted effort across the entire spectrum of Orthodox Judaism on teaching our children these values and not just ritual. They are sorely lacking in this department and the result is the kind of attitude that produced an apparent fraud. Both here and in so many other cases.

It behooves Torah U’Mesorah and every other organization of this type whether Modern Orthodox, Charedi, Chasidic, or Lubavitch to mandate a program that will instill proper values of Bein Adam L’Chavero - Jew and and non Jew alike - into our children if we ever hope to prevent things like this from happening again.