Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Parody or Reality?

It is a sign of the times. There is a parody of an ArtScroll ad floating around the Internet that is both funny and sad. It is funny because of the truth that generated it. The parody consists of an ad by ArtScroll advertising a new book on the laws one must follow while in prison. Of course such a book would never be written. But the sad truth is that perhaps it should be. It is a sad truth that there are enough religious Jews in prison that would benefit from such a book. And if my predictions are true, that population may - God forbid - very well increase.

In the vast majority of cases it’s about the money. “Religious” Jews who are in prison are there mostly because of financial crimes. It is nothing more than the desire to increase funds by hook – or by crook! Whether it is for personal greed or institutional need - the ‘by crook’ method is becoming more and more exposed as a means of getting those funds.

I say ‘exposed’ rather than prevalent because this is not a new phenomenon. As a document in the Spinka case has shown the kind of fraud that the Spinka Rebbe was convicted of is widespread and generational –having gone on for many decades in certain circles.

The implications of this should be not only obvious but alarming! Some of our people have been stealing for a very long time and until now have been getting away with it. In some cases it was with the clandestine approval - if not outright participation - of their rabbinic leadership. As was the case with the Spinka Rebbe.

How long will it take for the next scandal to break loose? Which Chasidus will be next exposed? I’m sure this is one competition between sects that none of them want to win.

We can’t do anything about the past. The chips are going to fall where they may. But we can do something about the future. The question is – What?

I will repeat what I often say; it is not enough to just tell people to stop stealing - to not be greedy. It is not enough to tell people to not show off their wealth in displays of opulence – because of the jealousy that causes. Which in turn causes people to steal in one form or another. It is not enough to say that we must be in compliance with the law or even to say that a Chilul HaShem may result if one is caught. Yes, these are all important things to consider. But they are not enough.

This is where rabbinic leadership fails. This is where they are missing the boat. They have as of yet not faced the reality that so many Jews believe that stealing from the government is Mutar!

That’s right. Far too many of our people have been taught subliminally or even overtly that one may in certain instances steal from a Goy, whether it is in the form of cheating on one’s taxes - or scamming the government in some other way. They see it as a victimless crime (which of course it isn’t) and - if they don’t get caught no one gets hurt. This way they can keep up with the Katzes and Cohens - or worse use their ill gotten gains for their Mosdos. Worse because that taints the Mosdos too.

I firmly believe that this attitude all boils down to the negative attitude preached about Goyim. Just short of a couple of weeks ago, at Chicago’s Agudah convention that dealt with these issues – that was almost the over-riding theme. Goyim are evil. We are better than them. Adding that our problems stem from the fact that being better is not enough – we must be even better. As though that is the sum and substance of our cure. We should just be much better than the Goyim and we won’t end up stealing.

What they do not apparently realize is that constant disparagement of the Goy is what causes their flock to see them as unworthy. That they therefore deserve what they get. They find references in the Gemarah that seem to validate their view that one need not be as honest with a Goy than one is with a Jew – which is untrue.

If one is constantly reinforced to look down at the Goy the way some of the rabbinic leaders did at the Agudah convention, all the warnings about the Issur of stealing will be seen as only applying to Jews. Goyim on the other hand - well one must be extremely careful – not to get caught! But if one is careful he can certainly cheat on his taxes. There are Poskim who have stated this publicly. And there are even more that say it privately.

This is most certainly not the stated message of these rabbinic leaders. I’m sure they would emphasize that it isn’t only about not getting caught and the attendant Chilul HaShem. It is about the Issur of stealing – which applies equally to Non Jews as it does to Jews. I am sorry to inform them that this is not the message people are hearing from them. They hear only two words that are repeated over and over again: Goy – evil. They Darshan their ‘Heter’ to steal form the Goy with those two words as the starting point.

This is the failing of rabbinic leadership on this issue. They keep haranguing against ‘the Goy’. He is the one responsible for our troubles.

Here is my message to them. The Goy is not our enemy. I have seen the enemy. The enemy is us! We are our own worst enemy if we do not change the anti- Goy attitude. Until that happens that book ad may go from parody to reality.