Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is it Beginning to Crumble?

It was inevitable. That it has taken this long to happen is the greater surprise than the fact that it’s actually happening and that it has been discovered.

According to YWN report, Kollelim have been caught is a scam whereby they have been taking money from the government illegally. From YWN:

Kollelim in Eretz Yisroel receive money for every Yungerman enrolled in Kollel. Apparently, many of them tell the government that they have many more members in their Kollel then they really do. An investigation has been ongoing for quite some time, and police were given orders on Sunday to make the arrests for what seems to be “large scale fraud”.

They either had people not really enrolled in their Kollel, sign the papers, or had individuals posses numerous fake ID cards, and signed up repeatedly.

Police forces have so far raided seven Kollelim belonging to the “Masmidim” Mosdos in Yerushalayim, Beitar, Modiin Illit, and Beit Shemesh. The Kollelim have been sealed shut, and police have arrested six people as of this posting.

Additionally, a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Education has been arrested in connection to the fraud.

More police raids and arrests are expected.

Unfortunately I’m not surprised at this because the need is so great. Kollelim are desperate for funds. Times are tough. Desperate times breed desperate measures. And there is far too much precedent for this kind of behavior. Ask the Spinka Rebbe or Milton Balkany. They had no qualms about stealing from the rich (or the government) to give to the ‘poor’. Why should Israeli Kollelim be any different?

Is there any greater evidence than this that the system is broken? Is there any better reason to destroy it in its present form? We are not only producing a poverty class in the name of Torah, we are producing a criminal class.

What makes matters worse - Avreichim are indoctrinated to believe that they do nothing wrong with cheating the government in this way! Not only that but it seems a high level education ministry official is involved. I don't know who was arrrested. But the Deputy Minister is Charedi. It is clear that his loyalties are first to the welfare of the Charedi educational system. I’m not imputing guilt. Just stating a fact about possible motive.

The point is – it seems there are far too many Roshei Kollel who see nothing wrong with fraud - if it is to further the cause of pure and unadulterated Torah study. Their motto - to paraphrase Barry Goldwater’s famous line about extremism in the defense of liberty - ‘Fraud in the name of Torah is no Vice’.

Before I’m accused of painting all Kollelim - and by association all Charedim – with a broad brush. I’m not. I’m sure that the vast majority of them don’t do this. At least I hope they don’t. But that any do at a significant level is proof positive that the stubborn refusal by rabbinic leaders in Israel to change the paradigm is leading us down the path to hell.

Never in the history of Judaism has there been a paradigm requiring every Jewish single male to pursue full time learning for the rest of his life at almost any cost. Make no mistake about it. That is the paradigm.

Charedi leaders in Israel believe their Hashkafos are the only Torah True Hashkafos. This means that ideally every Jew should have them. In their perfect world everyone would be Charedi and all men would be trying to learn Torah full time and not spend any time learning a profession until they simply can’t make it in Kollel anymore. Often this happens with men well into their 40s.

And in the current economic climate when donations are down, the situation can only get worse.

The result of this attitude? It is turning good people into crooks!

I feel sorry for those whowere arrested. They may very well have the ‘book thrown at them’. I can certainly understand why. The government is tired of being blackmailed by Charedi politicians into supporting their financial demands with money they don’t have and this is just a further ‘salting their wounds’.

But government support is still not enough. Avrechim remain in a poverty that is increasing. I can understand why an Avreich who cannot feed his family any other way might think that what his Kollel is doing is not so bad.

I have no choice but to blame this Chilul HaShem on the system and those who perpetuate it.

It is the same mentality that allows Kupat Ha’ir to target desperate religious Jews –‘stealing’ money from them by selling Segulos. The fact that they use images of rabbinic leaders, like R’ Chaim Kanievsky on their ads as endorsing it makes this even more egregious! That R’ Chaim has not repudiated this form of raising funds is in itself part of the problem.

On the other hand that R’ Matisyahu Salomon has finally seen fit to condemn such practices is a good sign. But his criticism is limited to Kupat Ha’ir and does not address what happened here – a situation that is far worse. And this fraud was allowed to go on without protest by anyone as far as I know!

Someone with the stature ought to stand up and say once and for all that the system as currently structured is causing an increasing Chilul HaShem and that once and for all – the paradigm has to be changed. If that doesn’t happen soon, it will happen on its own. It will crumble right before our eyes and the Chilul HaShem will be unlike anything we have ever seen.