Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Compassionate Criminal

Rabbi Saul J. Kassin is a leader of the Sephardic community in Deal. He is also one of those arrested in a major FBI operation sting operation involving Orthodox members of his community 5 of them Rabbis – including Rabbi Kassin.

I do not know Rabbi Kassin at all. From everything I hear about him he seems like a role model of compassion and caring - a beloved leader of his community. His defenders are literally coming out of the woodwork. They are crying out for community support- urging letters be written on his behalf to people (judges, prosecutors etc.) involved in his case.

They argue that character references will make a difference in the outcome of his case. That may well be. And I have no problem with that – for the most part. The last thing I want to see is an elderly rabbi who served his community tirelessly for years – go to jail. I want to be clear - I support this effort. We must act with compassion for this elderly rabbi and help him out in any way we can.

But please let us not excuse Rabbi Kassin of his actions in this case if the allegations prove to be true. To the best of my knowledge the allegations are as follows.

Rabbi Kassin and the others were apparently badgered by a government witness posing undercover as a needy member of their community. He peppered these rabbis with cries about his long term inability to support his family and pleaded with them to help launder some ill gotten gains. Appealing to their sense of compassion – he finally wore Rabbi Kessin and the others down and they agreed to help.

I’m sorry. Compassion does not permit one to participate in a crime against the government – unless one’s life is at stake - a matter of Pikuach Nefesh. That was clearly not the case here.

Last week in the Jewish Star Rabbi David Bibi of the Sephardic Congregation of Long Beach wrote the following:

Three Sephardic rabbis are accused of succumbing to compassion. Was there personal gain for any of them? I highly doubt it.

Did they succumb to a young man who was ostracized by others? Did they succumb to a young man who came to them again and again pleading that his children had no food on the table? Did they succumb to the suffering son of a trusted scholar? They did. They fulfilled the verse, Ve’ahavta LeReacha Kamocha, even though they were duped, and my sense of judging favorably tells me that Hashem is with them.

Was it wrong to be complicit in a potential federal felony? Undoubtedly it was. Does it mean we need to examine ways of helping? Certainly, and we need to reexamine much in the way we live.

The shocking news is the traitor among us. One begs to imagine the FBI threatened and cajoled, but to set up the 87 year old chief rabbi, to set up a relative, to set up the holy man who shared the dais with his own father for 30 years is unconscionable.

Blame the FBI. Blame the informant. Aything but blame the rabbi.I'm sorry I do not buy the writer's argument for a minute! One does not fulfill the Mitzva of Ve’ahavta LeReacha Kamocha by breaking the law.

Is this writer saying that there was nothing else they could have done to help this man? This is a very wealthy community. That Rabbi Kassin is the most respected Rav in the community should be completely obvious by now. And he is a leader of it.

Can anyone think that a plea from Rabbi Kassin to save this man’s family via a community charity effort would fall on deaf ears? They wouldn't listen to their Rav's pleas?! Even if they didn't like the man? I find that hard to believe considering the accolades Rabbi Kassin is currently getting.

To OK money laundering because of a hard luck story is wrong. If one is an elderly sage one should know better.

If I were to give Rabbi Kassin the benefit of the doubt, I might say that he had no clue that the operation was illegal. But that doesn't say much about his wisdom as a sage. Does this writer realize what he is saying?

This isn't about a man whose compassion got the better of him. It is about compassion gone wrong. It is about his willingness to resort to a criminal enterprise in order to help him out.

It is shameful! And that this Rav had such impeccable credentials makes it even more shameful! And a bigger Chilul HaShem! He of all people should have known better than to use an illegal operation to help someone. He was an 87 year old Zaken no less!

That said - I do not excuse the government infromant who went to such great lengths to entrap Rabbi Kassin. But that doesn't excuse this Rav for allowing himself to be worn down. Can anyone imagine Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, or Rav Ahron Soloveichik allowing a criminal act because he felt bad for the family of someone in financial trouble?

Does anyone think any of these men would have succumbed to pleas for help by getting involved in a money laundering operation? The very idea is absurd!