Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rabbis - A Legacy of Ethics or a Legacy of Crime?

Woe is me! As if we haven’t had enough of this already.

The New York Times and YWN have reported about yet another huge money laundering scheme involving rabbis. The details are not available in these articles. But the Chilul HaShem is available for the entire world to see.

Why are there so many rabbis involved in this kind of thing?

I guess the Spinka Rebbe was not such an anomaly after all. It almost seems as though this kind of thing is standard fare. This time the involvement includes a Yeshiva that caters to Sephardi children in Deal, New Jersey.

I don’t know all the details yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this was all about raising funds for operating expenses in those yeshivas. Times are tough. Tuition income is down as is fundraising income. Salaries have to be paid. Underpaid teachers are owed months worth of back pay and are borrowed to the hilt just to keep their families afloat. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

But that is not enough reason to turn to crime as a solution. And added to that is the huge and unforgivable sin of Chilul HaShem.

If you put it all together you have a mindset by certain Jews that can easily make people see the image of Jews as conspirators against non Jews for financial gain. It kind of makes Shylock - Shakespeare’s, title character in The Merchant of Venice look like the prototypical Jew.

Every time a religious Jew is caught doing something like this - the Chilul HaShem increases. As does the anti Semitism that accompanies it. Anti-Semitic websites drool over this kind of stuff whenever it happens. They are all saying ‘I told you so’ about us… and that Hitler was right.

But these criminal rabbis don’t think about that. They need the money. And they are going to do what it takes to get it – as long as they think it does not violate Halacha and they are not going to get caught.

When a Chilul HaShem is involved there can be no excuse for it. No ameliorating circumstances. We are the people of the book, God’s Chosen people, people who are supposed to be a light unto the nations – exemplars of moral and ethical behavior. We cannot be crooks under any circumstances. There is no Teshuva for Chilul HaShem. God does not forgive desecrating His name.

Rabbis are supposed to be our moral and ethical guides. They are supposed to teach us how to act. They are supposed to be our role models. We are supposed to look up to them and see greatness and leadership. We are supposed to see sacrifice and piety. Think of the great rabbis of the past whose lives were the very definition of honesty and ethical behavior. Think of how they viewed the importance of Kiddush HaShem versus Chilul HaShem.

Think of Rav Chaim Brisker, the Chafetz Chaim, Reb Shraga Feival Mendelowitz, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, Rav Moshe Feinstein, and my own Rebbe Rav Ahron Soloveichik. Stories about their standard of ethics - and how they treated their fellow man abound.

These are role models. These were a light unto the nations. These were rabbis we could look at and only hope to live up to. The very idea that any behavior that might in the remotest of ways be seen as a Chilul HaShem was anathema to them. The very thought of Chilul HaShem singed them like fire.

Today it seems that such role models are hard to find. It is becoming increasingly difficult to point to anyone whose behaviors are even remotely close to that of these great rabbinic figures. Not because there aren’t any. There probably are. But they do not get the attention because of the preponderance of news stories like this one. The only rabbis who seem to get attention these days are those who are the disappointing criminals among them.

And they keep on coming. I’m bracing myself for the next round of arrests in the next government sting operation. I am embarrassed and ashamed of it. I don’t know where to hide from my fellow citizens. Instead of pointing with pride to a Chafetz Chaim I have to answer in shame for a cheating rabbi.

I have said this before. I believe that the grossly and abhorrently mistaken attitude that it is Halachicly permissible to cheat a non Jewish government that certain Rabbis preach is in large part responsible for this kind of behavior on the part of otherwise religious Jews. Nor can one separate this from another mistaken and abhorrent attitude preached by some rabbis that Jews must hate Goyim. They are as responsible for this current phenomenon as the criminals themselves. They misread or mis-state Halacha. They prolong a Galus which has not been all that kind to us.

Jews are currently widely respected in America. But what will the future hold if our rabbis are increasingly seen as cheaters and criminals? At this rate, it is not too hard to envision an America with an increased level of anti Semitism in the not too distant future. I’ve said this before too and it bears repeating. Because of this kind of behavior by people who are supposed to be our leaders we will be observing Tisha B’Av annually for many years to come.