Sunday, May 03, 2009

Is Drug Smuggling to the Outside World So Bad?

"I don't want it near schools -- I don't want it sold to children! That's an infamia. In my city,we would keep the traffic in the dark people -- the colored. They're animals anyway, so let them lose their souls..." - dialogue from the 1972 Academy Award winning movie about organized crime -The Godfather.

When my parents lived in Bnei Brak - circa the late 70s and 80s - my father used to attend a nearby Shteeble for his weekday Minyanim. The Rav (Rebbe) there was a Satmar Chasid. My father was not a Satmar Chasid but had an affinity for Chasidic Shteeblach. After a while he became a relatively close friend of that Rav. My father was very upset by the rabidly anti Israel position of Satmar. But as long as that subject wasn’t discussed - the two got along well.

At one point during their relationship a wealthy ‘member’ of that Shteeble was caught smuggling drugs. My father was enraged that a man with a long beard who wore a Bekeshe, and Shtreimal could be involved in such a thing.

He expressed those views to his friend, the ‘Rebbe’ of that Shteibel. Instead of joining my father in outrage his response to my father was to say ‘Reb Shimon… you have to understand.’ ‘This fellow had a lot of children to support.’ My father could not believe his ears. I was in Israel visiting at the time. He came home and had a tirade against this attitude.

Excusing the selling drugs?!!! What was he talking about?! Now this Rav was a Talmid Chacham and a Posek - who gave Shiurim daily. Not just a simple Chasid not conversant with Halacha. Let me be clear. This Rebbe was not excusing selling drugs to non Jews. But he was reflecting an attitude that there was a context which should make this crime more acceptable.

Fast forward to today. From Ha’aretz:

A Japanese court sentenced an Israeli to eight years in prison on Friday after convicting him of attempting to smuggle Ecstasy into the country, according to friends of his family.

This young man is a Satmar Chasid. And his Satmar ‘boss’ in Bnei Brak were arrested in Israel for drug distribution. Based on the incident in Bnei Brak of 25 years ago and this incident - there seems to be a level of tolerance for this kind of behavior if it is directed ‘outward’. As long as drugs aren’t being sold to Jews – it isn’t so bad.

I believe this stems from an over-a disdain for non Jews carried over from Europe where it was more justified. Cheating an anti Semitic government via an underground ‘black market’ economy was the only way certain European Jews could survive – especially in Chasidic communities where – I’m told – the harshest expression of anti-Semitism existed.

That was carried over here and transmitted to the children and grandchildren of those European immigrants. They simply do not trust Goyim. They think that every non Jew is a closet anti-Semite and deserves no better than what they get. If one can cheat them without getting caught it serves them right. And once you're dealing with anti-Semites - well - why not make some money off of them by selling them drugs?

This is so ingrained that even those that get out of their insulated communities and go into the business world have little if any contact with non-Jews – other them for business purposes. They will be civil to their customers and vendors but their attitude remains one of disdain. These young teens learned learned that lesson and their actions reflected it. Of course they went too far even by Stmar standards.

Not that this attitude is the sum and substance of Satmar. It isn't. In many respects they have admirable Midos. As I have said many times their Chesed organizations are legendary.

Nor is this attitude exclusive to Satmar type Chasidim. There are plenty of Jews from the entire spectrum of Orthodox Jewry who have similar views. But not as a group. While there are exceptions - to these kind of Chasidim it is almost a religious belief – as the attitude by my father’s ‘Chasidic Rebbe’ friend seemed to indicate.

That’s one reason that I believe these young people may very well be guilty.

Now there are some who might say - how dare I not be Dan L’Kaf Zechus? Why not assume that these young adolescents just didn’t know what they were carrying? That is possible and the view put forward by their defenders. But in my view it is unlikely. This young man was given a fair trial in a democratic country and convicted.

Is 8 years in prison a fair sentence for smuggling drugs into Japan? I don’t know. Justice tempered with mercy may have produced a lighter sentence. But if this sentence is consistent with that of other democracies, then I am saddened but nonetheless think it is just.

I am more concerned with the Satmar type Chasidic attitude that may very well be responsible for the behavior of these young men. An attitude that may yet produce another crime like this.

There has been a huge outcry by the Torah world in trying to get these three boys out of Japan. I support that. But only if it is done honorably and not underhandedly.

So what’s my over-all reaction here? Well if this young man (and his friends - yet to be tried) is innocent then there has been a miscarriage of justice and that is a travesty.

But if he is guilty which I suspect he is - then I think we ought to accept it with sadness and equanimity. And we should learn from it. We ought to see it as a lesson from Above that God does not like it when we mistreat His creations - creations that were made in His image. Because when we do mistreat them - God will mete out justice quickly.

Updated: 5/4/09 - 9:07 AM CDT