Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Voting for ‘Pidyon Shevuyim’

Perhaps the following incident best describes what’s wrong with the Hashkafos of Kiryas Joel (and perhaps other Chasidic enclaves like it). For the uninitiated - Kiryas Joel is a city populated almost 100% by Satmar Chasidim.

An East Coast friend of mine - a prominent Charedi Rav - has informed me that he received an automated phone call yesterday from a convicted felon. The caller identified himself as Chaim Hollander. Mr. Hollander was convicted of collaborating in fraud ring. From a 2005 Record Online article:

A massive fraud case that stung Kiryas Joel four years ago with images of Hasidic men being led away in handcuffs quietly ended yesterday with the sentencing of the last of 14 the defendants…

(Chaim Hollender, was a ‘young lieutenant’) in a fraud ring led by Kiryas Joel resident Mordechai Samet that stole at least $5.5 million through various scams that included collecting fraudulent business loans and tax credits and holding phony lotteries.

I am not accusing that community in any way of being involved in that fraud or in anything like it. But based on that phone call, it is obvious that there is a mentality that considers the greater crime to be his incarceration for that crime …the subtext of which might even be that the crime was not a crime at all according to the Torah!

What was that call about? It was an endorsement by this felon of a political candidate. Here is the description from the Rav (who was beyond disgusted by it) of that phone call:

The fellow on the line started his recorded message in thick Chassidish Yiddish: "Ich hays Chaim Hollender un ich been gevain in tfisah" ("I am Chaim Hollender and I was in jail")...

Mr. Hollender went on to say how he was in jail and how Eric Shneiderman is the best candidate as he promised to help Heimishe prisoners.

He said that voting for "Eric" is Mamesh Pidyon Shevuim and closed with a Bracha that all listeners not have legal problems.

This is the message they are selling. Getting Jewish criminals out of jail for crimes they committed is equated to the Mitzvah of redeeming captives. And who is selling that message? A former captive on behalf of a political candidate.

That someone thinks this sales pitch would work testifies to the mentality of this world. I doubt that he would ever pitch this message in automated phone calls if he believed his community would be appalled by it. As a man raised in this community he has been indoctrinated to believe that what he did wasn't so bad. Indeed, it was a crime only because he got caught. He is otherwise an Ehrliche - and perhaps even respected - Jew. Ehrliche Jews who get caught in multi-million dollar scams should be treated like innocent captives of renegade governments or the like… and redeemed by any means necessary.

I know nothing about the political persuasion of Eric Shneiderman but this does not say much for candidacy either if he knew about this.