Thursday, November 08, 2018

Miriam's Story

I hope she’s lying. But my instinct tells me that she’s probably telling the truth. It’s easy to accuse a disgruntled formerly religious Jew that has gone OTD of lying about her former community – smearing them is some sort of act of revenge. But I do not think that is the case here.

This is a story of how many Chasidim in Stamford Hill neighborhood are advised to to commit fraud against the government in order to supplement their income. All with the knowledge and blessings of a Chasidic Rebbe. And about the 'go to' individual in an organization called Agudah  (not affiliated  with Agudath Israel of America) with the expertise and experience to advise them on how to do it.

Until she abandoned observance, Miriam was a part of that community. She describes the process by which it was done. Having gotten married and her family was beginning to grow. She was advised by a Chasidic Rebbe she consulted to purchase a house. But to get someone else to buy it. 

Why? Because she would be unable to collect welfare if she had enough money to buy a house. She and her husband were also advised how to be paid off the books so as to report a lower income allowing them to still be eligible for welfare payments as ‘supplementary income.  That was all explained in detail by that 'go to' fellow in Agudah. He knew how to handle government red tape that would enable it.

What about the fact that they were stealing from the government?  According to Miriam, she was told by that Rebbe that it was OK to steal form Goyim! 

I wish I could say that this is a ridiculous canard that no responsible religious leader would ever say to anyone. But I know at least one rabbi that actually believes that and has said so privately. He also said he would deny he ever said it - if he was accused of it.

How does any moral and ethical community allow something like this? They justify it be citing ‘need’. The lifestyle of a Chasidic Jew is very expensive. That is no secret. As the BBC reported they have ‘private education, pricey Kosher food, and lavish weddings to pay for!’ They also have very large families to feed with few resources to do it.

This scheme is designed to be untraceable so it is hard to prove. So the BBC went undercover as Jews with that type of need to see for themselves. They were advised along the same lines as Miriam. 

Let me hasten to add that stealing from non Jews is the same sin as stealing from Jews. This is Jewish law as spelled out in the Shulchan Aruch – our Code of Jewish Law. It  takes some truly creative thinking to twist that into permitting Jews to steal from non Jews! 

Unfortunately that seems to be what is being done here. 

Fortunately it was made clear by other Orthodox organizations and rabbis contacted by the BBC that such behavior is a serious violation of Jewish law and is never condoned.    

It appears that there is nonetheless an entire community that considers it ethical to steal from the government because of the needs of a religious lifestyle. 

What about the Chilul HaShem? They see it never amounting to that because they don't think they will be caught. And in any case it would be hard to prove if exposed. When it is exposed as it was here - they vehemently deny it with claims that all their advice about how to gain the most benefit from government welfare is legal. Besides - based on a centuries of European antisemitism where their ancestors could survive only by doing this kind of thing -  and the belief that things haven't changed they feel justified in continuing that practice.

Like I said, I hope that Miriam was lying. But considering the need is so great; their prospects of earning a decent income so poor; and the fact that there have been so many other stories like this - this story has a ring of truth.  

It should be noted that the BBC has often been accused of antisemitism many times. Usually in its reportage about Israel. Combine that with the theory that this story was made up as an act of revenge by a former member that has gone OTD, and it’s easy to write this off as a big lie. But sadly, if you listen to the broadcast with an open mind (available here) you might come to another conclusion.