Monday, August 16, 2010

Philanthropic Criminals

The need is so great. Avrechim in Israel are not making ends meet. Unless they are from very wealthy families most people seem to be borrowing money from the Gemachim (free loan funds) just to buy food.

I’m told that the Rosh HaYeshiva of the Mir is in Europe trying to raise money and is having a terrible time raising any. I am also told that he is going to spend the entire month of Elul doing so in the United States.

There are unpaid Avreichim and staff in the Mir currently going back to around Shavuos. I have also been told that the government stipends to Yeshivos have been cut back even further. It is not a pretty picture.

Part of the solution to the problem would be ‘thinning out the herd’ by not accepting every applicant. I think newer and tougher standards of admittance ought to be implemented. And those Avreichim that are there now ought to be tested against th0se standards increasing them every year they are there. If they do not measure up, they ought to be given notice and told they will no longer be supported at any financial level. Unfortunately that is about as likely to happen as Hamas erecting a statue of Meir Kahane in Gaza.

In the meantime I do not think starving them out of Kollel thus forcing Avreichim to find whatever work they can - is the way to solve that problem. That would be cruel and unusual punishment to people brought up on the philosophy of ‘Kollel of bust’! Ultimately that may happen anyway. But for now, the situation is pretty dire.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for the majority of families who lead the Kollel life in Israel. It is therefore understandable that all sources of funding are considered by Yeshiva leadership.

But should they be? Even in such dire financial circumstances? Clearly the answer is no, they shouldn’t. There are few things worse in the Torah world than starving families of Avreichim who dedicate their lives to Torah learning. But one of them is taking tainted money.

I do not accuse the major Yeshivos of doing that. I am certain for example that Mir Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav NossonTzvi Finkel would never knowingly accept a dime from a questionable source. But there are some Yeshivos that not only accept money from questionable sources – they actually honor the donors. That is unfortunately is a Chilul HaShem in my view.

Which brings me to Eliyahu Weinstein an apparently religious Jew in Lakewood. From a story in Ausbury Park Press ( at VIN):

Shackled in handcuffs and leg irons, Eliyahu Weinstein, the Lakewood real estate developer charged Thursday by federal agents with having "masterminded" a $200 million scheme to defraud his investors, listened in federal court as an assistant U.S. attorney detailed charges that could net him more than 50 years in prison.

Unfortunately once again we have the sight of a religious Jew doing the ‘perp walk’. $200 million may not be 50 billion. That was the estimated amount of Bernie Madoff’s con. But it ain’t beanbag either.

I don’t know anything about this fellow other than what has been presented in the media. But the frequency with which these kinds of stories seem to be appearing just adds fuel to the fire of anti-Semitism. If I were a non Jew I might be thinking, ‘I guess it’s true what they say about the Jews.’ ‘They are just a bunch of greedy slimeballs who can spot a sucker every minute and take him for all he’s worth!’

Thank God the American people are generally not like that. Most decent Americans do not buy that negative Jewish stereotype. They judge each individual based on their own merit and not those of a fellow coreligionist who happens to be a criminal. But that does little for my comfort level as a religious Jew living among fellow decent and law abiding Americans. I become more embarrassed each time something like this hits the major media. The question is -do those Yeshivos who often honor people like this feel that way.

I don’t know whether or not Mr. Weinstein has even been honored for major contributions to Yeshivos or even whether he has ever donated substantial money to any of them. If he has – and if the allegations are proven true – I would return all the money he ever gave. And yet in the current economic climate that would seem to be a near impossibility! After all that money has probably long ago been distributed.

How does one go to an Avreich who cannot even afford to feed his family and say that much of the money he has in the past received was tainted and he ought to return it?! And yet not doing constitutes a Chilul HaShem, does it not? How can any decent Avreich take any money from someone who stole it from innocent people to the tune of $200 million?

One also wonders how many other Frum philanthropists are crooks like this? Are religious institutions built on this financial house of cards?

What a mess!