Thursday, August 13, 2015

Is This What Jewish Ethics Are All About?

Deceptive picture  accompanying a 2015 calendar
If you want to know what Jewish ethics is all about, just follow the money. Pretty outrageous statement, right? Of course it is. But one might be hard pressed not to believe otherwise based on the constant flow of reports of deception and fraud by religious Jews or organizations. Even though these Jews are a tiny minority of the religious Jewish population, the fact that one finds these kinds of stories are so often reported in the media, can easily give that kind of canard legitimacy.

Some  would ‘blame the messenger’. The idea being that if I wouldn’t talk about it no one would know since in point of fact it is so rare. That is true. There are many kind, caring, and selfless religious Jews in the world… Jews of modest income that in many cases give more charity than they can afford. There are also legitimate and wonderful Chesed organizations. But their stories are rarely reported. What makes news is the unusual – not the usual. Hence only negative stories about religious Jews and organizations.

When all one ever reads about religious Jews is that they rip off the government or other Jews. the conclusion can easily support the old canard about Jews and money.  Like Shakespeare’s  ‘Merchant of Venice’: Jews are all evil money lenders that insist on their pound of flesh when their loans don’t get paid.

That there are so many wonderful religious Jews and organizations hardly matters when all you read about them is fraud and deception. It sends a message – albeit the wrong one.  People will generalize. That’s just a fact of life.

So when story after story like this appears in the media, it must be condemned by all other religious Jews, as publicly and as quickly as possible. No defending them. No explaining it away – or excusing it. Not ‘Robin Hood’stories about feeding the poor by robbing the rich American government.  No sob stories about education costs being so high and so unaffordable. No rationalizing it is justified because everyone else does it. Or because the government wastes so much money - at least the money you stole will be put to good use. Certainly better than what the government wastes its money on now.

You can’t blame the messenger. You have to blame the individual or the organization. Keeping silent on a public story about bad Jews will only bring accusations of cover-up. Or suggest that we might even approve of such actions. This is why I comment on these stories. They are already out there for the world to see. My purpose is to condemn those actions unequivocally. If this news is going to be public, all the more so should condemnations of it be made public. And I do so again here.

The Forward has reported yet another instance of fraud by a religious institution. This time it an organization called ‘Home of the Sages’. And the victims are private individuals who thought they were giving money to a charity but no longer exists. This was at one time a legitimate charity. They had asked for donations to support the elderly rabbis and Torah scholars living in a nursing home – enabling them to continue studying Torah. The problem is that this nursing home no longer exists, having been sold in 1996. And yet a calendar sent out by this ‘charity’ with dated pictures of a group of rabbis studying Torah that once lived there. None of those in that picture do - having long since passed away.  

From the Forward
Since selling its nursing home business and leasing its building to a for-profit company in 1996, the Home of the Sages has continued to operate a kollel , or center for religious study, for elderly rabbis in a room at the old nursing home. Yet the former donors claim not to have been aware of the change, citing unclear language and outdated photos in the fundraising appeals. In a letter to the court, attorney Kenneth Gelnick called the fundraising literature “at best misleading and deceptive.”…Gelnick, for his part, is attempting to intervene in that legal dispute on behalf of two former donors, aiming, in part, to recover donations from the sale’s anticipated proceeds.
This is the latest in deceptive tactics by some religious charity organizations and people. Need I remind anyone about Kupat Ha’ir the charity organization in Bnei Brak Israel that sells various Segulos (a specific ritual tied to giving a certain amount to charity), promising everything from a cure for deadly diseases; to finding a Shidduch for an older daughter, to solving fertility problems, to becoming successful in business… you name it. 

If you have a problem, they have a Segula to sell you for it – if only you donate a certain amount to this charity your problems will be solved. They even imply endorsements from their rabbinic leaders. Like pictures in their litereratue of R’ Chaim Kanievsky putting some money into one of their Pushkas (charity boxes)?

Or the outrage of a Chasidic Rebbe concocting and executing a tax evasion and money laundering scheme to fund his own religious institutions!

These are all deceptive practices, right along with this latest one. I condemn them all. These people are not practicing Judaism. They are practicing deception. G’neivas Daas - which is a biblical level sin.

Through their attorney they claim innocence - saying they did nothing deceptive. That’s a good one. One picture is worth a thousand denials.