Thursday, January 05, 2012

A Sad Day

Another sad day in Jewish history. Today is Asarah B’Teves - the 10th day of the Jewish month of Teves. This is a day of fasting for the Jewish people. It is the anniversary of the day that began the process of the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash. The Babylonian army laid siege to Jerusalem which culminated in its destruction.

It is on days like this we ought to reflect on what is wrong in our world. The world of observant Jewry. Because when the people of Israel stray from the ways of the Torah tragedy like this happens. God promises that in the Torah itself.

I think it is important to realize that it is the behavior of observant Jews that God scrutinizes here. As observant Jews we are the ones who lay claim to being God’s loyal servants. Non observant secular Jews do not lay claim to that. They follow a different set of ethics - some of which coincide with the Torah and some of which do not.

It is those of us who claim to try and follow God’s laws meticulously –and fail – that have to pay the price exacted of us by God. Which is why both the 1st and 2nd Temples were destroyed.

The recent events taking place in Israel should make us all pause and reflect on how we let this happen. I think there is a lot of ‘pausing and reflecting going on now – even in the Charedi world. Here is but one example (of many) of that kind of refleltion. I am glad to see that. Hopefully that will lead to change. But that isn’t all that’s going on in the world.

It is on this day that I read about the sentencing of a prominent Rav, Rabbi Eliahu Ben Haim, for perpetrating a massive fraud against the government. He was one of 46 people arrested for that crime caught via a federal sting operation.

How sad it is when any Jew is involved in any kind of crime. But when a someone purposely sets himself up to the world as a righteous individual… looks and dresses the part as those in the photo above do, it reflects not only on himself, and not only on Charedi Jewry, not only on all of Jewry, but on God Himself! That is called a Chilul HaShem - in no uncertain terms.

I know I used that phrase a lot. Unfortunetly it is for legitimate reasons. I do not use the term lightly. But when Jews who look like this commit a fraud of major proportions that is exactly what has happened - a Chilul HaShem.

What does the world see? A group of Orthdodx rabbis doing ‘the perp walk’. And being sentenced to jail time. All of them guilty of deliberately defrauding the government in a $1million international money laundering and tax evasion scheme. The fact that their sentences are being reported in the media today on Asarah B’Teves should send us a message.

These are not people who didn’t know they were doing anything wrong. They took money which they knew to be ill gotten gains funneled it through a series of charities, gave tax write-offs for the entire amount of the ‘donation’ and kept 10% as a fee!

Is this how Judaism operates? One might think so if they look at the prominent religious leaders involved.

I truly feel sorry for him. I’m sure he is a good man in many ways. But how can a man like 89 year Rabbi Saul Kassin - the spiritual leader of an entire Sepahrdic community in Deal N.J. - be involved in anything like this. He was given 2 years probation last year after pleading guilty.

As I recall the community defended him when the story first broke. They said it wasn’t true... or that he didn’t realize what he did was illegal… But he pleaded guilty. That means he either knew he was committing a crime, or should have known. Even if his participation was minimal, there is no such thing as a partial crook. It’s like being a little bit pregnant.

And how does a prominent Rav like 60 year old Rabbi Ben Haim decide it’s OK to plan and execute a massive international fraud? He pled guilty to using his network of religious charities to conceal more than $1 million in illegal proceeds. He too is a crook!

Rabbi Ben Haim asked for leniency since most of his life was dedicated to good works. What good are his good works when he has perpetrated such a massive fraud?! Nor does it matter that he used the proceeds of this fraud for his charities. What kind of Chinuch did a prominent Rav get that he felt that doing something like this was OK?! I guess it was the same Chinuch the Spinka Rebbe had. Rabbi Ben Haim was sentenced to five years in prison.

One of the most disturbing things to come out of this mess is how the Jewish informant, Solomon Dwek is being blamed for the whole thing. He was used by the FBI in an undercover capacity to carry out a sting against these rabbis (and some government officials). He did it to get leniency for his own crime – a $50 million bank fraud.

Dwek is considered a Moser by many people. A Moser is someone who informs on a fellow Jew to secular authorities. This is considered a heinous crime. That seems to be where the focus of much of the anger and fury is directed by his community - and others.

But that is beside the point. We can debate whether one can be considered a Moser in a just society such as ours in the United States. But one cannot debate the fact that there were 46 defendants netted in this case. Most were supposedly ‘religious’ Jews. Five of them rabbis! Is there any wonder why anti Semitism is on the rise? I realize there are many other factors invloved. But this does not help!