Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Balkany Verdict

Rabbi Milton Balkany was sentenced to four years in prison for attempting to extort 4 million dollars from a hedgefund - money that he was in part supposedly going to use to fund his school - a Beis Yaakov elementary school in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn.

I am not going to second guess the judge on this. I in fact believe this is a just verdict. He could have gotten 20 years. But because of 87 letters attesting to a lifetime of good works - the judge in this case tempered justice with mercy (as opposed to the case of his brother in law Shalom Rubashkin who received no mercy from his judge and was sentenced to 27 years in prison).

What a sad story this is about my childhood friend. Even though as noted above, Milton deserves what he got, I can’t help feeling sorry for him. I guess that personal relationships tend to influence one’s emotions.

The truth is that although he is guilty of creating a huge Chilul HaShem - Milton is not a monster. He is a mixed bag. He could have been an inspiring religious figure. He was a very talented individual. He was a fund raiser par excellence and when doing so for political candidates it gave him political clout – which I’m sure he used for advocating Orthodox Jewish causes. He was personally a very kind man who apparently did a lot of Chesed – acts of kindness. Many of them privately for a great many people.

But he was also apparently a ruthless boss who as a principal exploited his teachers. In the end he failed as a Jewish leader. His ethics left a lot to be desired. That – and his apparent taste for the finer things in life ultimately did him in.

4 years is a long time from the perspective of a 64 year old. But upon his eventual release at age 68, he should still have plenty of good years left to enjoy with his family. I hope he will have by then learned his lesson and be contrite about his criminal activity and the Chilul HaShem it caused.

To the best of my knowledge he has as of yet been unapologetic for what he did – bringing additional shame and embarrassment to the Jewish community. I hope after 4 years of thinking about it in prison that his attitude will change. In the meantime my heart goes out to his family.