Friday, June 18, 2010

The Values of Thieves

What are we? A bunch of crooks? Is that what Orthodox Judaism boils down to? Stealing money?

Once again we see images of religious Jews in the media involved in massive fraud. This time it is mortgage fraud. From an article in the New Haven Independant:

Agents arrested 13 of the 15 alleged conspirators Thursday. Those accused of masterminding the various, apparently unconnected schemes include some local notables: Menachem Joseph Levitin (pictured), part of one of the city’s fastest-growing empires of slum rental properties; West Haven Police Commissioner Thomas Gallagher, an appraiser accused of inflating property values in these transactions; former New Haven State Rep. Morris Olmer, who allegedly arranged deals under the pretense of being a lawyer despite having turned in his legal license; and Rabbi David Avigdor, a New Haven attorney allegedly practicing with Olmer.

It almost seems like there is a never ending flow of Frum Crooks. The Spinka Rebbe; the Deal, New Jersy rabbis; and now a bunch of religious Jews - some of them rabbis - in Conneticut. Of course they all proclaim their innocence. But then again so does every inmate in prison.

The truth will of course come out at trial. But as in other cases - informants working undercover for the FBI provided evidence of some very complex schemes that were carried out. It’s hard to refute that kind of evidence. I don’t know if the ‘cooperating witness’ were Frum Jews or not. But I can already hear the screams of ‘Moser!’ coming out from certain circles with nary a word about the crimes.

Each of the cases I mentioned above have been dealt with many times since they have occurred. But the one thing that really sticks in my craw is the ‘circling the wagons’ mentality of the crooks coreligionists. Blaming the snitch (Moser) for the crime being discovered instead of the criminals for perpetrating the crime. What ever one thinks of a snitch that is a minor point when it comes to the Chilul HaShem created by making God’s chosen people look like we all belong in prison – or worse.

Activities like this feed the anti Semitic websites who salivate at all this new stuff coming out which supports their canards about Jews. How do we counter any of that by blaming the Moser for our problems? Is that going to get us in God’s good favor? Is God saying, 'Oh my. My dear good people who were scamming the government are being snitched upon by a Moser?'

Dear good people? These are not good people. They are greedy. They are crooks. And they are Jews!

It wouldn’t surprise me if some anti Semitic website picked up my words as support for their position. But who is really at fault here? The messenger who condemns it? The Moser who reported the crimes – crimes where innocent people were being taken advantage of? Or the crooks themselves?

I think we all know the right answer. The problem is that our rabbis are not treating this mentality seriously enough. They have dealt with the improper motivations (greed – keeping up with the Cohens and Katzes) but have not dealt with the real problem – Poskim who permit these kinds of crimes as long as they don’t get caught.

I have never heard a single word about these kinds of Poskim. But they exist and they preach permissibility in the absence of Chilul HaShem. One Posek is reputed to have actually contradicted the Shulchan Aruch's Issur of stealing from non Jews and permits it if one doesn’t get caught!

There has also been no condemnation of former perps. All in the interests of protecting their families and not piling on to their problems. That has to change. If someone is caught with his hands in the cookie jar - they ought to be called out in public by name.

I have yet to see any of this in the public forum. For example the only time the Spinka Rebbe was ever dealt with in a public way by rabbinic authorities was when they gave him a platform to apologize. I never heard any rabbinic leader publicly and specifically condemn what he did. What kind of message does that send? That it was too bad he got caught? What I have heard a lot of - is blaming the snitch!

Perhaps the biggest paradigm change ought to be in the attitude towards non Jews. It is time to stop referring to them as evil and recognize that they are human beings created in the image of God! If there is any attitude that is most responsible for these kinds of stories it is the banging onto the head of every student that Esav Soeni L”Yaakov. That is often improperly translated by the students into a requirement to hate them. Once that attitude is internalized it becomes practically a Mitzvah to steal form them.

Yeshiva curricula ought to include teaching ethical behavior as a top priority – starting with the Torah prohibition against stealing from any human being! Stealing should be at least as important as wearing a black hat. But I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that the black hat is a much higher priority in certain circles than stealing from non Jews. And that being a Moser is worse than stealing.

It isn’t only the ethics themselves that ought to be taught in the schools. There ought to be a widespread condemnation in all the schools of those Poskim who give Heterim for cheating the government. It is not enough to just say it is wrong. Those Poskim who continue to preach that it’s OK ought to be ‘thrown out of the Chaburah’ of Rabbanim! And publicly disgraced if need be!

And finally the evils of Chilul HaShem ought to be drilled into their students like never before.

Why hasn’t any this been a top priority? Why are all recent public efforts spent on things like protesting the rights of anti Sephardi bigots in Emanuel? Or on mercy for convicted criminals? I’m not saying that mercy shouldn’t be sought. But it seems like that is the only thing being done!

I expect a lot more from our rabbinic leaders. The results of this reticence? Another story like this one. Unfortunately I doubt that this will be the last one!