Monday, February 18, 2008

Devout Convicts

Well… I see we have another ‘rights’ issue before us in this great country of ours. A Chasidic rabbi is being discriminated against. He is not being allowed to pray by virtue of his forced location. He is currently imprisoned at the Otisville Correctional Facility in Otisville, New York. And the toilet in his cell prevents him from Davening. So he is suing for his right to pray in a halachicly permissible location outside his prison cell.

I’ve dealt with this in the past. Same prison… different prisoner... and slightly different issue. This one pertains to the obligation of every Jew to pray three times a day. And prayer may only be done in a location that is in concert with the dignity one would expect when communicating with God. Hence a room with a toilet is inappropriate.

Is a modern era bathroom an inappropriate location for prayer? That isn’t so clear. In our day indoor plumbing makes that requirement less of a problem. The Halacha is based on the prohibition to pray where there is excrement. Before indoor plumbing bathrooms were outhouses. Excrement was obviously a problem there. Indoor plumbing has eliminated that problem. But we are still careful not to say any words of prayer even in a bathroom that has indoor plumbing.

With that in mind, one might still be inclined to support this Chasidic rabbi's right to practice his religion as long as it does not put an undue burden on the state. Perhaps. Although I don’t know that he couldn’t exercise his requirement to pray as a matter of basic Halacha by praying in his cell.

But forgive me if I do not have much sympathy for this fellow. The Chilul HaShem he perpetrated is so bad that I question his level of observance in any case. It is so typical in certain circles to be extremely fervent in one's ritual observance and yet so lax in the basic common decency required towards one’s fellow man.

As is so often the case here is a fervently religious Jew who thinks that cheating people is just fine. He believes that he is a Jew in good standing as long as Jews weren’t the victims - and he could get away with it. Just like the people at Oorah apparently feel. In this case however it wasn’t just immoral - it was criminal. The financial crimes were pretty outrageous and the Chilul HaShem was enormous! ‘A jury convicted him of financial fraud, which included soliciting money for a fake lottery, submitting false death claims to insurance companies, and defrauding banks with counterfeit checks.’ … to the tune of 4 million dollars!

There seems to be a pattern here. The Spinka Rebbe, and this fellow both feel like they are devout Jews despite the Chilul HaShem they have each been responsible for. None of them would ever dream of missing Shachris, Mincha, or Maariv! That is exemplified by this convicted Chasidic rabbi. He is so very concerned about Hilchos Tefilah - the rules governing prayer. But cheating gentiles?! …No biggie. That’s just making a Parnassa at the expense of the dumb subhuman Goy! Chandeliers are expensive, you know! It cost money to live in Boro Park.

So now this 47 year old rabbi is paying a heavy price. 27 years in a federal prison.

Should he be granted the right to pray outside of his prison cell? I don’t know. And in his case, I don’t really care.

Modified: 2/18/08 5:56 PM CST