Thursday, April 14, 2016

When Being Honest is Newsworthy

Joseph Waldman calling the bank about the money given to him in error (YWN)
How sad it is that when an Orthodox Jew from Kiryas Joel is honest, it make the news. YWN reported a story about a Chasidic man that returned to a bank, the money  that was given to him in error. Kiryas Joel resident Joseph Waldman cashed a check for $25 dollars and was given $2500 instead by the teller.

Every Jew has an obligation to be honest. Stealing from a bank is a violation of the law of the land -  the Dina D’Malchusa. Which makes it a violation of Halacha.  But even without that, to allow for a possible Chilul HaShem is not in anybody’s interest – except for the antisemites of the world who revel in stories about dishonest Jews. They salivate about these kinds of stories we constantly hear about in the media.

Well this time there is what YWN calls a Kiddush HaShem. Perhaps. But consider the possible consequences of his not having returned the money. It is very possible the bank would have traced the error back to him. And then he would probably have been criminally charged with theft. So not only would he have been ethically wrong, he would have been criminally wrong. 

And that would have been a Chilul HaShem. Mr. Waldman was very wise to return the money. He was additionally wise to record the conversation with the bank informing them of the mistake and to have someone take a video of the actual return.  This way everyone can see what he did.

I have to wonder though, why he didn’t immediately notice that the money he got back was far in excess of the $25 dollars he was supposed to get. What took him so long to notice? Most people count the money they receive from a bank teller to see if they got the right amount back. But I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he was in a hurry, just took the envelop with the cash in it, and ran out without checking to see if the amount he received was correct.

That this story makes news - makes it a ‘man bites dog’ story. Which implies that most of the time Orthodox Jews will not think twice about keeping money given to them in error. Which is the way of the world I suppose. But aren't we supposed to be the most ethical nation in the world? Shouldn't our standards be higher than 'the way of the world'?

It is so sad that so many Jews do not take seriously our mandate to represent the values of the Torah. So that when someone does, it becomes news. 

At the end of the day, I applaud what Mr. Waldman did. He did the right thing – even if he decided to record himself doing it and so that others could see it. I just wish it wasn’t so newsworthy that an Orthodox Jew is so honest.