2009 Defending Criminals
Chananya Weissman
July 9, 2009, The Jewish Star

A large number of rabbis and community leaders in New York and New Jersey were arrested last week in a major corruption scandal. Particularly striking was the AP photo of several people being led away in handcuffs, including a “rabbi” with his yarmulke sliding out the back of his hat, presumably so no one would suspect he wasn’t wearing one. I am not going to wax dramatic about what a shanda this is, since that is so obvious it contributes nothing to the discussion. I will leave this softball to others to hit out of the park.

What concerns me far more is the reaction of many Jews to the breaking scandal. One prominent Jewish news web site that caters to anonymous frummer-than-thous had dozens of reader comments to the story. Nearly all of them were outraged — but at the wrong people. They devised all manner of blame-shifting and rationalization for low-life criminals who have completely disgraced the Jewish people.

  1. It’s entrapment — as if we can’t expect our rabbis to say no to a bribe. Does the biblical prohibition against accepting bribes, which is directed particularly toward community leaders, mention anything about entrapment or the intentions of the person offering the bribe? What difference should that make to us?
  2. Why are they going after elderly rabbis? I wonder, do the foolish hordes say the same thing about going after elderly Nazis? Did they say the same thing about Madoff being prosecuted late in life? Does the Torah have a statute of limitation? Are people past a certain age exempt for all wrongdoing? If their age didn’t prevent them from doing the crime, why should it prevent them from being brought to justice?
  3. These rabbis are such fine, wonderful people. I hear the same thing said about mob bosses by their neighbors. They made such nice barbecues for the block! They were so nice to our kids! Yeah, they are also ruthless criminals who hurt countless people. For the mitzvos they get reward, for the sins they get brought to justice. One doesn’t cancel the other.
  4. The money they laundered went to support yeshivos. Yes, someone actually submitted this defense. Do I even need to comment?
  5. The FBI is anti-semitic. Well, if things like this keep happening, I’m going to become anti-semitic, too. As will God.
  6. It’s all the fault of the Jew who was involved in the sting operation. He should rot in hell for all eternity, etc. Sure... he’s the bad guy here. The worst one. The only one, even. I guess he didn’t make good barbecues for the block or wear the right kind of hat.

These kinds of reactions are not limited to a few nuts. They are the norm in many parts of the community that only sees good in “their own” and only sees bad in the rest of the world. This is the corruption that disturbs me most and ultimately does the greatest damage to our community.

The Jews of Deal should hold an emergency communal meeting. The purpose of this meeting should not be damage-control, but to determine how they could allow such corruption to flourish in their midst, and how to prevent this from ever happening again. They should go through all their records and determine how much their institutions have benefited from ill-gotten money, then raise this sum for citywide charitable works. The best way to disassociate from the criminals and their crimes is to refuse any benefit from their deeds.

It is high time we did more about the corruption in our midst. We should demand transparency from all our institutions. We should insist on knowing how our schools spend their money, how our kashrus organizations conduct their affairs, and on what basis rabbis, teachers, and community leaders are hired and fired. We know there is plenty of garbage out there. We need to clean it up.

Everyone knows that the second Bais Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred. Not everyone knows that this was only one reason of several for the destruction. The Tosefta at the end of Menachos cites two reasons, with baseless hatred being second. The first reason was that the Jews loved money. This does not come from an anti-semitic work, but from our own tradition. Considering how little has changed, we should not be dismayed that we have yet to be redeemed.

Every community has criminals, even those who play the “looking frum” game. If nothing else, let us have enough integrity to admit the faults of our community, take responsibility for them, and do whatever we can to clean it up — to really clean it up. Otherwise we deserve the scorn of the goyim.

Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness (www.endthemadness.org), a volunteer effort to rehabilitate the culture of the shidduch world. He may be contacted at admin@endthemadness.org.