Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Blind Mules

The Chicago chapter of the Aneinu Organization is e-mail group that anyone can subscribe to. Here is their description: Aneinu (sends out) names of cholim to daven for or say Tehillim for them to have a refua shelema from (R"L) their injury, illness or surgical procedure, or community announcements or inspiring, uplifting and informative articles.

I was forwarded a message from this group by a subscriber and friend of mine that was both troubling and yet his goal is something that I support. The message in Aneinu was in the form of a letter written by Rabbi Chaim David Yosef Weiss, the Satmar Dayan of Antwerp (pictured). He is perhaps the most dedicated and selfess worker on behalf of those Chasidic adolescents who were arrested and tried in Japan for drug smuggling.

The trial is over; the verdict pending and due around Pesach. He was there for the trial. He has asked that Klal Yisroel strengthen the Mitzvah being Dan L’Kaf Zechus – judging others favorably. In that merit he hopes that God will grant these boys a ‘not guilty’ verdict from the judges in that case.

Just to refresh our memories - these teenage Chasidic boys from Bnei Brak were asked by a Chasidic acquaintance to take a suitcase with them to Japan in exchange for a free trip to Europe. They were enticed by the opportunity to be able to visit the grave-sites of various righteous people -Tzadikim - and pray there. This is a practice Chasidim in particular hold very dear.

When they passed through customs in Japan, they were discovered to be carrying illegal drugs in the false bottom of that suitcase. The boys claimed they didn’t know what was in that suitcase. They thought they were carrying some sort of antiques.

I have always believed that they were telling the truth. They didn’t know that what was in the suitcase. But that is as far as their innocence goes. I do believe that they knew they were smuggling something past customs. That does not speak so well for their character. Stealing – even on the behalf of another for pay - is still stealing. In essence they were trying to steal revenue from the government of Japan by sneaking something past customs. It was on Japanese soil –subject to their laws. That is not a Mitzvah. It is a crime.

That said, I do not think it was a crime worthy of the potential punishment they will get if convicted of drug smuggling. The Japanese do not have a sense of humor about drug smuggling. So I do believe that we should do everything we can to get those boys out of there. They have certainly suffered enough by now for the crime I believe they actually committed.

Up until this point, it seems that everything was done to help them. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on their legal defense – paid for by donations from caring people. As for Rav Weiss's suggestion - there is certainly nothing wrong with strengthening the character trait of judging people favorably.

But as I read the letter written by Rav Weiss, it had a dual affect on me. On the one hand it was a gut wrenching sincere cry for help for fellow Jews in trouble. On the other hand the description of these boys as cherubic angles made me angry: Expressions like “An inner glow shines from his face” and “these helige bochruim (holy boys) exuding emunah and yiras shomayim” almost had an opposite affect on me.

Why does Rav Weiss consider them so holy? He has in the past described how careful these boys were during their incarceration in Mitzvos Bein Aadm L’Makom – ritual practices like keeping Kosher. They truly went the extra mile in this area. But are they really to be seen as holy and exuding Emunah and Yiras Shamyim?

How holy is someone who thinks that smuggling anything is OK? Just because these kids deserve a break now doesn’t mean we have to embellish the truth and make angels out of them. What message does that send to other young Chasidim? As long as you are Medakdek in Chalav Yisroel and Glatt Kosher meat you can steal from the government? As long as your Esrog is Mehudar you can smuggle things past customs? Only next time don’t get caught?!

Where is the message about Lo Sigzol - Do not steal?!

Unfortunately this seems to be an ongoing pattern these days. Certain rabbinic leaders like Rav Weiss seem to place far more importance on saving the guilty than they do one helping the innocent. Especially when they are Frum in areas of Bein Adam l’Makom.

Unfortunately there are a lot of ‘Frum’ criminals like this out there to choose from these days. I need not list them. They have all been in the news a lot. And so have efforts to save them from justice. According to Rav Weiss - it seems that when it comes to criminals we must all go the extra mile and sacrifice ourselves for them. But when it comes to victims of abuse – well we have to consider the consequences for ourselves before we help them!

It is somewhat ironic that his ‘Segula’ is in the area of Bein Adam L’Chavero. If only that were treated as important as Bein Adam L’Makom in their Yeshivos and day schools; If only - instead of ignoring it - they would emphasize that stealing from non Jews is an Aveira that does not exude Emunah and Yiras Shomayim… maybe this never would have happened.

Like I said, we do need to help those Chasidic teens as much as we can. But please let’s not make heroes out of them and please, L’Maan HaShem - for God’s sake! …let us have a sense of priorities for the innocent over the guilty.