|Image from Rationalist Judaism|
But if one realizes the context in which they said it. It is a mere a tactic deployed to defend the criminal activity of Chaim Stern, a Vizhnitz Chasid who is a big supporter. He has given Vizhnitz huge sums of money in support of their religious and charitable institutions. Much of which were ill gotten gains involving all kinds of fraud to which he plead guilty. Here is their ‘money quote’ (no pun intended) from Rabbi Slifkin’s blog:
"Mr. Stern was not a good businessman. He had no business experience, no secular education, limited ability to read, write (in English), or do math... and he has no business schooling or training. As a result of these limitations, Mr. Stern has no appreciation for the niceties of bookkeeping or proper business management... Even though Mr. Stern had barely any secular education, having only attended a religious school up through approximately 8th grade, had never run even a small business himself and certainly did not have any experience running a complex and highly-regulated company like a nursing home, nonetheless, with “the blessing of the Rebbe,” Mr. Stern decided to enter the nursing home industry. This naïve optimism in his ability to carry the day through nothing but hard work would lead to financial disaster and, eventually, to the crimes to which Mr. Stern has pleaded guilty..."
If this statement were sincere, they would be in hyperdrive - changing their educational paradigm to correct that situation. So that it would prevent anything like this from ever happening again. They would be consulting with the best educational experts in the world to implement a secular curriculum in all their schools.
Now I have no knowledge about whether they are doing this. But I would be willing to bet that they have no intention at all of changing anything.
The sad thing is that their statement makes perfect sense. Changing their educational paradigm would surely help reduce financial crimes like Stern’s – if not eliminate them completely. True - there will always be wise guys that think they can outsmart the system to the tune of millions of dollars. But making sure that their students get a basic secular education will enable many of them to get higher paying jobs and be less tempted to resort to shady business practices.
I have been preaching this for as long as I can remember - and I am not the only one. Their statement makes it seem like they finally got the message. But instead of taking the obvious steps suggested by it they will no doubt continue to do what they have always done. Which is to vigorously fight any and all attempts at change.
Furthermore, let us examine if that statement is really any defense at all. I would suggest that it doesn’t really require much of an education to understand that defrauding the government is wrong. Knowing right from wrong takes honesty and integrity. Something that should be taught at the earliest of ages by their parents.
The sad truth is that they do not consider fraud all that unethical. Especially if those ill gotten gains go to their religious institutions. The following is an excerpt from Rabbi Slifkin’s earlier post on the subject - quoting from the Charedi website B’Chadrei Charedim:
A rare and unique assembly took place on Tuesday this week, in the Hall of Vizhnitz Chassidus in Bnei Brak. The Rebbe sought to glorify and support the greatest supporter of their institutions, R. Chaim Stein, who would be entering prison the next day for tax fraud. The Rebbe surprised everyone with words that an Admor has never stated about a Chassid... "Tomorrow, our precious Chaim ben Sara Rivka does not go to prison for something that he did for himself. He goes for something about which I can attest was all for the place that we are in right now - it is all in his merit... My holy father is standing in Heaven and wants to show an example, for the sake of the education of future generations, of what mesirus nefesh for a Rebbe and Chassidus looks like! ...If people ask me, which sect of Vizhnitz do I belong to, I will say: I am the Rebbe of R. Chaim Stern!"
Unfortunately, there was another event that corroborates this kind of thinking. If you can commit government fraud and get away with it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Just do not get caught. Funding religious institutions has become a monumental task. There is just not enough money to pay for all the good their Mosdos (religious institutions do). Making it praiseworthy to get those funds whichever way one can - even if it involves defrauding the government.
That was made clear many years ago when a respected Chasidic Rebbe with many Mosdos to his credit was caught in a widespread money laundering/tax evasion scheme so complex that it crossed international borders. After he was sentenced he made a public apology – which basically amounted to apologizing for getting caught. And suggested that there were legal ways to meet financial needs - for which he has hired lawyers to advise him. Adding that there was no need, therefore to defraud the government. The subtext of which might read – but if there is a need then go ahead and defraud them. Just don’t get caught like I did!
I think this might still be the attitude – despite their admission about Mr. Stern’s utter lack of any secular education being responsible for his troubles.
I wish it weren’t so. I wish I could be proven wrong. I wish they would take their own words to heart and do something about it. But in saying that - there is something about snowballs in hell that comes to mind