Sunday, December 14, 2008

The 50 Billion Dollar Pyramid

Any time a clearly identifiable Jew does something wrong in the public square it is a desecration of God’s name – a Chilul HaShem. This is true a whether the miscreant is a secular Jew or a religious Jew. The more religious a Jew is perceived to be, the greater the Chilul HaShem. What - after all - is a Chilul HaShem if it is not doing something wrong by an individual whose behavior is supposed to represent the will of God.

It is part of our mandate from God to be a ‘light unto the nations’. When a Jew who has this mandate does something wrong in public then instead of bringing light into the world they bring darkness. And the Jewish people are the most darkened by it.

I don’t know Bernard L. Madoff but I’m told he is Modern Orthodox. It’s hard to tell from the photos or any of the media reports about him. Nonetheless – if he is in any way religious he has caused a Chilul HaShem.

What has he done? From Reuters:

Bernard Madoff, a quiet force on Wall Street for decades, was arrested and charged on Thursday with allegedly running a $50 billion "Ponzi scheme" in what may rank among the biggest fraud cases ever.

50 billions dollars! I’m told that many of his investors were wealthy religious Jews. It boggles the mind to know how anyone - let alone a religious Jew (if he indeed is religious) - can take so much money from so many people in a scheme to defraud them.

His reputation heretofore was impeccable – for decades! It’s hard to understand what happened here. He seems to have a good heart and was involved in all kinds of charitable endeavors, including as chairman of Yeshiva University’s Sy Sims School of Business. He was a huge philanthropist.

But - it turns out he is a crook of epic proportions. The repercussion to charitable institutions he supported is immeasurable! I shudder to think what negative pressure this adds to the negative impact the bad economy already has on these institutions.

I have no idea what his religious educational background is. But one thing is certain. It contained no ethics. Or if it did, he didn’t learn anything.

His acts are no less abominable than any of the Charedim who have done similar things. The people they hurt were unaffected by their level of religiosity. The pain inflicted is dictated by the level of the crime, not the level of their religiosity. And all of them are guilty of causing Chilul HaShem.

But at least Madoff ‘took off his Yarmulke’. I know that doesn’t help his victims. But it does minimize the Chilul HaShem. The others I’ve written about - not only didn’t take of their Yarmulkes they ‘wore them on their sleeves’ proudly!

I am often accused of focusing on Charedi misdeeds and rarely on Modern Orthodox misdeeds. That’s probably true. I’m sure this post will continue the tradition of criticizing me for that. Where is my righteous indignation? Is it because he is Modern Orthodox that I am not as condemning - they will ask? This will then be cited as proof of my bias.

I will not be deterred from speaking the truth as I see it.

There is a reason I focus more on Charedi or Chasidic misdeeds. And it has nothing to do with bias against them. One cannot lose sight of the fact that it is a far greater Chilul HaShem when a man with a Kapote and Shtreimal who is called ‘Grand Rabbi’ does something wrong - than when a man who does not wear a Yarmulkes in public - and looks like any other businessman - does something wrong.

The supposedly biased secular media has not focused on Madoff’s Jewishness at all, much less how religious he is.

Yes - it is a Chilul HaShem and it should embarrass us all if he is Orthodox in any way. But please - let us have a sense of proportion. The bigger they are the harder they – should - fall. And the greater our indignation should be.