Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Fallacy of Hiding Dirty Laundry

One of the topics frequently addressed here is the unfortunate circumstance of Chilul HaShem. This is an explicit command by God to the Jewish people: 
“And you shall not desecrate My Holy name; and I shall be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel. I am the Lord who sanctifies you (Vayikra - 22:32) 
We should instead be doing everything we can to sanctify God’s name. That is not done only by following the letter of God’s law. As the Ramban notes, we must go beyond the letter of the law. Or else we may end up being a Naval B’Reshus HaTorah. An individual might find enough loopholes in Halacha to be acting within the letter of it - and yet still be a disgusting person.  Thereby causing a Chilul HaShem.

Unfortunately there have been far too many cases where that has been the case. There have been many instances of Jews skirting the law with fraudulent practices that they believed were technically within the letter of Jewish law (a questionable belief at best). Thankfully we live at a time and in a culture that is generally not antisemstic. And we have not all been painted with a broad brush as fraudsters. I’m not sure, however, that  the generous spirit of the American people will continue if these types of things keep  happening. 

This brings me to a book published by Feldheim  that is reviewed by Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer in the current issue of Jewish Action. It s entitled, Making It Work: A Practical Guide to Halacha in the Workplace by Ari Wasserman. The book addresses this issue as well as a number of other issues regarding a Jew in the workplace. And it is a welcome addition to the collection of English language Seforim published by the religiously right wing publishing houses. My only quibble is that it has taken until now for them to come with a book like this.  

True – better late than never. But I have to wonder how much more Chilul HaShem we could have been spared if this attitude would have been there from the start.

It took a high profile Chasidic Rebbe to be convicted of money laundering and tax evasion for the Agudah to start dealing with this more publicly. And I’m not sure they are anywhere near doing it enough.

What took them so long? Why did they wait until a major Chilul HaShem like that occurred until they said anything publicly? Rabbi Bechhofer gives us a glimpse into their past thinking on this issue with the following anecdote: 
Several years ago, I wanted to publish a piece on racism in the Orthodox community in a certain Orthodox Jewish publication. A member of the publication’s editorial board vetoed the idea. He explained that he himself categorically rejects and abhors any form of racism in our community. However, he does not believe that these attitudes can be eradicated by writing about them. He therefore preferred not to “wash our dirty linen in public” by raising the issue altogether.
He went on to say that for this reason he also discourages the publication of articles on honesty in matters of Choshen Mishpat. He reiterated that he categorically rejects manifestations of dishonesty and impropriety in our community. But, he continued, while any such conduct is utterly wrong, he understands its antecedents in the unjust financial policies imposed on the Jews by non-Jewish governments and institutions in pre-war Europe. Therefore, he opined, it is almost impossible to eradicate such failings, and in this area too, it is better to not wash our dirty linen in public. 
This is a major fallacy.  ‘Cover it up, lest people will think ill of us!’

What does it say about our values when the way we try to convince the world of our high sense of ethics is by covering up wrongdoing instead of condemning it? Which is what ‘not airing our dirty linen in public’ actually means.  That only makes the Chilul  HaShem greater upon the inevitable  discovery of the cover-up.

I’m happy that this problem is beginning to be dealt with more publicly. But a speech at a convention here and there, and a book on the subject is not enough. Yeshivos and day schools have to get more serious about it. 

Ethics ought to begin in the home. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be enough of it transmitted by parents to their children. The schools therefore must pick up the slack. They need to get as serious about teaching these kinds of ethics as they are about teaching Gemarah to boys and Tznius to girls.

Teachers must be trained to do so properly. And  hammer it into the psyches of every single student. And hope that it sticks! If we don’t do that yet another Chilul HaShem is inevitable.

Education on this subject can begin by citing the following Gemarah.  This was done 25 years ago by Rav Ahron Soloveichik  in his book Logic of the Heart Logic of the Mind (P 65-66).  

This  Gemarah is used the same way by Ari Wasserman in his book. This is what every religious Jew should think and the way they should act: 
The Tanna Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach dealt in flax. Seeking to ease his workload, his students purchased a donkey for him from a non-Jew. When the donkey was delivered, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach discovered a very valuable pearl attached to its ear. The proceeds of its sale would have allowed him to give up the flax business altogether. From a halachic standpoint, he was not obligated to return the pearl to the donkey’s former owner, but he chose to give it back for one reason: the potential for a kiddush Hashem. The non-Jew gratefully accepted the pearl, saying, “Blessed is the God of the Jews!” Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach’s exceptional honesty was credited not only to himself, but, above all, to the “God of the Jews.