Friday, September 16, 2016

Antisemitism or a Chilul HaShem?

Image from Shan and Toad - a high-end children’s clothing retailer (JTA)
“When you talk about Jews, especially Orthodox Jews… you’re talking about money.” “The money of ill gotten gains.”  “Jews are a bunch of unethical crooks out to take financial advantage of their gentile neighbors.”  “Who they see as a bunch of rubes - suckers begging to be swindled!”

I can’t think of too many antisemitic canards that are more stereotypically applied to the Jewish people than the above. Thankfully in this great country of ours, the vast majority of the American people know that this is a lie. Or do they? Read on.

The above sentiments are – and have been – the sentiments of antisemites throughout our history. The great playwright William Shakespeare utilized that stereotype in the character of Shylock, the subject of his play, The Merchant of Venice. Shylock was a moneylender that loaned money to his rival Antonio – using as security an actual pound of his flesh if he did not pay him back the loan. When Antonio defaulted on the loan, Shylock demanded his pound of flesh.

Many have defended Shakespeare on several grounds. One of which is by pointing to Shylock’s famous monologue ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’ It shows that Shylock was created by the very antisemitism he experienced as a Jew living in the Christian Europe of his day. ‘The villainy you teach me I will execute’ says Shylock.

I am here not to bury Shakespeare, nor to praise him. I am merely pointing out that the stereotype of Jews financially abusing their gentile neighbors has been around for a long time.

That the American people mostly realize that the Jewish people are not like this is perhaps only by the grace of God. Because unfortunately, there have been too many incidents of this by people that are identifiably Orthodox Jews. Which gives the American people ample reason to judge us that way. Grace of God that they generally don’t!

It takes but a few very public religious Jews displaying illegal or unethical behavior for people to jump to the erroneous conclusion – that all Jews are like that. Which is why I – as an Orthodox Rabbi - so quickly condemn them when stories these are reported in the media. I am not going to name names. But if you have been reading this blog long enough, you know who they are. The list of names spans all Hashkafos: Charedi, Yeshivish, Chasidic, Sephardi, and Modern Orthodox.

Well now there is another reason to further that negative stereotype. And it involves more than one public figure. It seems there is a pattern of unethical – and even dishonest behavior on the part of entire Orthodox communities. Or at least enough people from those communities that may result in the most widespread Chilul HaShem (based on financial fraud) in my lifetime. From JTA:
On Wednesday, JTA reported that Shan and Toad, a high-end children’s clothing retailer, had a very specific return policy: Customers could return non-sale items for a full refund — except for residents of five communities in New York and New Jersey, all of which have a significant Orthodox population.
Those living in those zip codes, which include Brooklyn and Passaic, New Jersey, could exchange unworn items or return them for store credit only — a policy that some decried as discrimination against Orthodox Jews.
But in an e-mail to JTA sent Thursday, Shana Laub, the owner of the online shop, denied allegations that her company’s return policy was in any way discriminatory against Orthodox Jews.
“Thank you for the opportunity to explain my return policy and its genesis and hopefully repair both any damage done and my reputation,” the message read.
(Store owner Shana) Laub emphasized that her store accepted returns from all areas, and that residents of these five areas could still return unworn clothes for store credit. She said she implemented the more restrictive return policies because “the survival of the business had been threatened by abuse of its return policy among customers in a few concentrated areas,” she wrote.
She continued: “Those customers would place large orders and return all, or nearly all of the items they had purchased, often in poor condition, and only after a substantial delay.”
Taking advantage of a return policy is one thing. But using a purchased item and then returning it for a full refund is Geneiva! A violation of Jewish law. (As if anyone might think it isn’t!) People that do that are guilty of deception and theft. They are so careful to observe ritual laws like Shabbos and Yom Tov; keeping Kosher;  fasting on Yom Kippur; keeping the very difficult laws of family purity; laws; praying daily... that they do all these things and more religiously - and  yet feel absolutely no guilt stealing from non Jewish or non Orthodox Jewish merchants that are only trying to make a living - belies their actual religiosity. 

Being a religious Jew does not mean only keeping Shabbos. It means not stealing! (As if that isn’t obvious!) It means not being deceptive by pretending to buy merchandise, use it, and then return it for a full refund!

I have known people that do this kind of thing. Suffice it to say that I didn’t think much of their ethics. But the fact that this practice seems to be so widespread is a shock to me. If I weren’t an Orthodox Jew - knowing that most Jews do not behave like this, I would draw the very same conclusions with which I began this post!

What kind of Jewish education have we Orthodox Jews had that allows so many of us to cheat others without an iota of guilt?! I suspect not a very good one!