Sunday, July 05, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

So… is it OK to cheat the government or non Jews? Ask Chaim Citronenbaum. Who is he? He is a very wealthy 52 year Orthodox Jew ‘who pleaded guilty yesterday to orchestrating a financial fraud in which he illegally made $1.68 million.’

He is out on $250,000 bond awaiting sentencing. It is likely that he will be spending a few years in accommodations that are not exactly what he’s used to. The home he is used to is up for sale. The photo above is a hint of what his house looks like. More pictures like this can be seen at the listing.

I’m told by someone I know in Monsey that this is a Yeshivishe fellow who has had many parlor meetings in his home. Here is an example of that from the 5 Towns Jewish Times - back in April:

HaGaon HaRav Moshe Yehuda Schlesinger, shlita, To Visit U.S. …at the following locations: Monsey, N.Y.: Thursday evening April 27, 8:30 p.m., at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Chaim Citronenbaum.

Dr. Citronenbaum has (or should I say, had?) one of the most lavish and extravagant homes I have ever seen. The amount of money he must have spent to live in a home like this (which include buying, it, furnishing it, and upkeep) must be in the tens of millions.

I have no problem with people enjoying their wealth. If they earned it they have the right to enjoy it. Especially if they are big Baalei Tzedaka. But when it is at the expense of violating Halacha and making a Chilul Hashem - it is not earned and not deserved.

It should be no surprise to those of us who continually point out instances of religious figures thumbing their noses in one way or another at non Jews - saying things like: ‘One must hate Goyim’ …or that it’s OK to cheat on your taxes if you don’t get caught …or who believe that creating a phony money laundering income tax evasion scheme is OK… or that smuggling ‘antiques’ past customs is just fine ...or that hiring illegal aliens to work in their factories and then treating them shabbily is perfectly acceptable.

These are all things done by people who live textbook religious lives when it comes to ritual behavior. They are Chasidic Rebbes, Yeshiveshe Baalei Batim, Yeshiva Bachurim, and Asakinim who donate and raise lots of money for - and even give freely of their time to - religious causes. And this is just a random sampling that comes to mind.

Are these our models today? Who were their role models? Is this the kind of behavior we should be emulating? Even if we never get caught?

Isn’t it about time that yeshivas start teaching ethics instead of excusing tax evasion? It is one thing to be Melamed Zechus. Granting someone the benefit of a doubt is indeed a Jewish ethic. But not at the expense of lowering our ethical standards and increasing the incidences of Chilul HaShem. Being Melamed Zechus on rabbinic figures and other religious Jews sends the message that what they did wasn’t so bad. That there are even sources that permit it!

Shouldn’t all this bad publicity be the clarion call to change the way things are done in the Yeshiva world? Even for those Roshei yeshiva who do not excuse this type of behavior and publicly condemn it - aren’t they at least somewhat culpable here? They have taken for granted that their students understand basic Jewish ethics. But obviously far too many don’t.

Today, we have some religious figures telling us it’s OK to cheat the government - if you don’t get caught.

It is said that The Chofetz Chaim tore up stamps when he sent a letter via messenger, fearing he would otherwise cheat the government out of postage. And his government was truly anti-Semitic!

That is what our model should be. I am not saying we can all live up to the example set by the Chafetz Chaim. But that should be the direction we look. This is how an ethical Jew should think. If that means we will never be able to afford to live in the kind of home that Chaim Citronenbaum lives in, well I guess we’ll just have to suffer.