Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Holy Lifestyle that is Less than Ethical

Police guarding one of the locations raided by the FBI (VIN)
Why is there so much vitriol in some circles about certain Chasidim in places like Rockland County? Is it because they look and dress differently than the rest of us? Is it because of the significantly different lifestyles they live? I don’t thinks so. They do not look much different than the Amish. I don’t know anyone that has any vitriol against them! And as observant Jews, Chasidim follow the same Torah that the rest of Orthodox Jewry does.

I’ll get to ‘why’ in a moment.

I first want to preempt the almost certain attack I will get from their defenders. (Not that it will help. But I’m going to do it anyway). I will no doubt be accused of Charedi bashing (or more precisely Chasid bashing) for the umpteenth time. These defenders might even say that if you substitute the word ‘Jews’ for the word for ‘Chasidim’ I would be accused of antisemitism. I will no doubt be accused of spreading Lashon Hara (gossip based on false rumors) about the holiest of our people - about yet another raid of a Yeshiva by an antisemtic government agency whose goal is to paint poor, innocent, holy Jews as criminals when in truth they did nothing illegal and just want to go about their lives in peace and tranquility - not hurting a soul.

Why am I an accomplice to spreading these lies instead of defending them? Am I not the one making a Chilul Hashem - or at least helping to spread it? 

The answer is, no!

I am sorry. I am not an antisemite. I am not anti Chasid. I am not anti Charedi. I am anti skating around the law - finding ways to take advantage of government generosity meant for entirely different purposes. And calling it a Mitzvah... a legitimate form of Parnasa (livelihood). I am anti using that generosity to support an otherwise unsustainable lifestyle of isolation and poverty - purposely chosen by them. I am anti avoiding an education that would help improve their lives materially so they would not have to be so dependent on government generosity.

I have absolutely no issue with them otherwise. They can continue to live their lives as joyously as they choose. A joy that is virtually universal among these kinds of Chasidim. They love how they live despite their poverty. They love their community - seen as extended family. They love the camaraderie they share among themselves. They love their charitable ways. They love their heightened sense of spirituality. They love their structured lives that give them little to worry about in terms of Shiduchim. Little to worry about in terms of affording to educate their children Jewishly. 

They love their Chasidic Rebbe. They love honoring and obeying him - relying on him for all major decisions in life. I have no issue with any of that. They have a right to live their lives as they choose. Being happy with their lot is an important Jewish value. Who is a rich man? The man who is satisfied with his portion, the sages tell us.

I have a Chasdic heritage. I am a direct descendant of a Chasidic Rebbe, R’ Shimon Maryles MiYaroslav. Although I am not a Chasid for ideological reasons, I have no problems with those who choose that lifestyle for themselves. 

As my father did after he retired. He moved to Bnei Brak from Chicago after he retired and lived there for 18 years – loving almost every minute of it. But he would be as appalled by this attitude as anyone I know. He hated the kind of fraud we see all too often in these circles today. He was strong believer in Torah U’Parnassa. He believed that people ought to work for a living and never rely on charity – unless they had a proverbial knife to their throats. That’s why he insisted I get a decent secular education.

But when a society raises generations of children to ignore any preparation for the workplace and instead encourages them to take advantage of every government program to designed to help the truly indigent that can’t help themselves…

…and use faulty rationalizations like ‘If those drugged out junkie mothers who doesn’t know who fathered her children can get welfare, why shouldn’t a refined Chasid who strives for the highest standard of holiness by eschewing the outside world - get the same benefit, if they technically qualify?

…when they are encouraged to finagle the legal system to financial advantage (like getting married only Halachicly and not legally so as to maximize government aid)...

….and they ‘interpret’ laws governing certain type of aid using it in areas where it was clearly not intended. Or in some cases outright fraudulent use of it…

Then, Yes! As an Orthodox rabbi, I am going to protest very loudly and very clearly. The ways of these people that I just described are an embarrassment to the Jewish people. And to God. And to His Torah. I am so sick of reading stories like this one in VIN.  
Several dozen FBI agents armed with search warrants spread out early this afternoon throughout Ramapo in a raid that is reportedly related to illegal purchase of equipment by religious schools with federal funding allocated for educational technology.
According to The Journal News agents raided several vendors in Monsey and Airmont at approximately 1:30 PM, demanding records related to the purchase of technological equipment through the government’s E-Rate program which distributes over $4 billion to schools nationwide each year for computers and internet access.  
Now I know a lot of people will say that this raid was unfair. That these people were acting within the letter of the law, using funds designed to give internet access to underprivileged neighborhoods. They simply found some technical loopholes to use those funds so that they would not have to actually provide internet use to their students. An internet that has been forbidden in a decree issued by their rabbinic leaders under severe penalty for its violation.

I’m sorry. A community that forbids any access to the internet and takes government money designed for that purpose using it for something else – even of it is technically legal through some loophole - is at best unethical. That would be bad enough. But now it appears what the did was not only unethical - it may also have been illegal.

The jury is out on the legality of this issue. But in my view, a lifestyle that must resort to this kind of thing is not a Kiddush HaShem. And stories like this seem to be happening just a little too much.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to these people if they are convicted of fraud. But if they get a long jail sentence I can’t wait to hear the cries of antisemitism from their midst. 

I will, however, not be saying that. This mentality has to stop. One cannot be holy while abusing a nation that has been more generous to the Jewish people than any other nation at any time in history. And I for one will not feel sorry for them.