Thursday, January 20, 2011

Money, Sex, and Blackmail

Dudi Zilbershlag (pictured) is a person who under any other circumstances would be a role model for the Charedi world. And an inspiring figure for everyone else. Aside from publishing a successful Charedi newspaper his accomplishments are among the most laudable any man can achieve in one lifetime. His warm and welcoming approach to secular Jews is one we should all emulate. As are his Tzedaka activities.

He founded Meir Panim – an organization that sets up soup kitchens for the needy regardless of their religious backgrounds. He is chairman of ZAKA- an organization respected world wide for their work dealing with the human remains after major tragedies strike. Like suicide bombings in Israel and catastrophic earthquakes in Haiti. He is also chairman of the board of Bikur Cholim Hospital – a Charedi hospital in Jerusalem.

Not too many people have an impressive resume like this. So how does one explain how this mighty man can fall so low? How does one explain accusations of pocketing tens of thousands Shekels (NIS) in contributions meant for the hospital? How does one explain altering checks worth over a hundred thousand NIS written to charity and depositing them in his personal account? How does one explain evidence of these and many other financial crimes?

And how does one explain the photographic or video evidence of Mr. Zilbershlag receiving massages as well as other intimate acts by an actress posing as a Bikur Cholim donor ?

How can such an apparent Tzadik be so terribly flawed as a human being – almost the opposite of his image? I cannot answer the question. Nor can I answer the question about the people who tried to blackmail Mr. Zilbershlag after setting him up with that actress.

Apparently two people who head charity organizations set him up in order to blackmail him. From the Jerusalem Post:

Hirschenbaum and Roth allegedly sent an actress who pretended to be a Bikur Holim Hospital donor to a Jerusalem hotel with Zilbershlag, and took pictures of the woman giving Zilbershlag a massage, as well as other intimate photos.

Sex, money, and blackmail... No – this is not a movie plot. This is what is happening in Israel right now. How much of this is true remains to be seen. The alleged blackmailers who of course deny everything are in the process of being investigated.

On the financial side there seems to be evidence of Mr. Zilbershlag’s financial crimes but as of now – it is all allegations. But on the sexual side – there seems to be visual proof in those pictures or as another Jerusalem Post article says - videos.

Is there any question why religious Jews are now seen in such an ugly light? There shouldn’t be. Not after so many instances of people who look like Mr. Zilbershalg being caught literally and figuratively with their pants down. There is no use in denying it or hiding it. It is all out there for the world to see.

Nor is there is any celebration in all this. This is not a cause for any kind of triumphalism by modern Orthodox Jews. We can’t point to Charedim and say, ‘See what they’re like?!” Because we can all be tempted to sin and many of us fall. There are far too know people of all stripes who have succumbed to temptation.

It is human nature. The sex drive is very powerful and under the right circumstance who knows how many of us would fall? The Gemarah speaks about great rabbinic figures of that era who were tested in exactly this way and almost failed.

What makes this so difficult for me is that I looked up to Dudi Zilbershalg. We always hope that our heroes are better than that. That they act like the heroes we believe them to be under all circumstances. And when they fail – they become a huge disappointment to us. This is what happened here. Mr. Zilbershlag and former President Bill Clinton share a common feature - the weakness of the flesh.

If he is guilty of those financial crimes, I have lost all of my respect for him. That remains to be proven – but as in most cases like this which have been reported in the media, I fear the worst. But… innocent until proven guilty.

Those pictures and videos on the other hand… hard to explain those away. Whether he was tricked into that situation or not, Mr. Zilbershlag has shamed himself, his family, and all of his co-religionists. Much the same way Bill Clinton shamed his fellow Americans.