Monday, December 28, 2020

Will He Be Believed?

Rav Hershel Shachter (
‘Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.’ So said 19th century Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott. I note with dismay what fraud of the type committed by Gary Schlesinger, the Chasidic owner of ParCare - has wrought.

That Chilul HaShem (which I discussed yesterday) has a ripple effect with real consequences. A fraud which is only the latest of many types of fraud (usually financial) committed by some of the most religious looking Jews among us. It can lead a lot of decent people to believe the worst about all observant Jews.  The prevalence of so much fraud makes a mockery our claim to be the most ethical version of Judaism by virtue of our observance of the Torah. What kind of religion sees fraud in consonance with our claim of high ethics? 

The fact that it is a type of Chasid  that is so often behind the fraud does not mean that every other observant Jew is given a pass. First because it isn’t always a Chasid or even a Charedi Jew that has been caught doing this kind of thing. There are plenty of other observant Jews that have been caught and served hard prison time after being convicted. But many modern Orhtodox Jews that have been caught are not always identified as Jews. Let alone observant Jews. Although still a Chilul HaShem, when committed by people that are seen as the most religious Jews among us (as Chasidim actually claim to be)  the Chilul Hashem is that much greater.

But even if it is only Chasidim, the public may very well not distinguish between a  modern Orthodox Jew and a Chasidic Jew. Does that now mean that we all be painted with the same broad brush of guilt that casts doubt on our protestations  to the contrary? This question is significant in light of the following JTA story:

Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a leading Modern Orthodox rabbi who received a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday at a clinic now under investigation for improperly administering the vaccine, said he was led to believe that the vaccination was above board.

Schachter and Rabbi Mordechai Willig, both head teachers at Yeshiva University and major authorities on Jewish law, were photographed getting the vaccine through ParCare Community Health Network, a network of clinics serving Orthodox communities in and around New York City. State health officials say ParCare gave the vaccine to members of the public before that was allowed and may have obtained the vaccines “fraudulently.” 

Before an online Torah lesson Sunday night, Schachter said he and Willig had both asked whether the vaccines they had been offered were legal and legitimate and that they hoped to encourage others to be vaccinated by publicizing their own vaccinations.

“We were led to believe that it was,” he said. He added, “If either of us would have been told that this was inappropriate, that it wasn’t legitimate, we would not have done that.” 

Anyone that knows anything about these two Roshei Yeshiva knows the high level of ethics and integrity they have. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that they were telling the truth. I am 100% convinced that - as they said - they would never have taken the vaccine had they known they weren’t authorized to take it yet. That they made it a public event for purposes of advocating COVID vaccines should demonstrate that.

And yet, there are unfortunately a lot of skeptics out there that will believe the worst. I can’t help that. It is nevertheless my duty as a purveyor of truth to inform the public. And put to rest such speculation to the best of my ability. 

(I know that I will be accused by some people of always defending Modern Orthodox rabbis and never defending – always blaming Charedi rabbis. That is of course not true. I defend truth here. That’s all. Besides, Rav Schacter has slowly but surely become more accepted in Charedi circles of late. In fact he and Rav Aharon Lopiansky, a Charedi Rosh Yeshiva hosted  Torah/Hashkafa lecture yesterday on  Referring to Rav Shachter as modern Orthodox is something to which he would surely object.) 

But even as I try and correct the public perception, my reach is extremely limited. The media that reports these kinds of stories have a much further reach. By orders of magnitude. It is therefore quite possible that Rav Shachter’s truthful statements may very well be taken with a hefty dose of skepticism by a public used to reading stories about Orthodox Jews trying to get away with fraud. As was the case Gary Schlesinger. And that magnifies the Chilul HaShem immensely!

That said, I have confidence in the American people. They will surely take him at his word. Most Americans are decent people who understand that the Jewish people are not all a bunch of crooks out to cheat the rest of the world. Old conspiracy theories of the type perpetuated by Henry Ford when he published and distributed the antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion which claimed that the Jews were conspiring to take over the world - are no longer believed. The vast majority of Americans do not buy into conspiracy theories of any type. (Although there has been an increase of that over the last 4 years it is still a relatively small minority.) 

I will never forget what the late John McCain said when he was asked years ago whether the conviction for fraud of Jack Abramoff, who identified as a modern Orthodox Jew – would increase antiemsism in America. The answer he gave was identical to the one I just gave. 

That doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Because if this kind of thing keeps happening, who knows how it will end?