New York - Do We Fear More From Bugs On Raspberries Than Standards of Law
New York - It’s hard to adequately express the sense of outrage one feels at seeing the news of New Jersey and New York rabbis arrested in a money-laundering scheme this past week. These men are accused of using charitable and educational institutions to launder millions of dollars in the past several years. And let’s not forget the gruesome sideshow of trafficking in organ sales.
One has to assume that if they are guilty as charged, there is a special place in hell reserved for these individuals. Not only did they play the part of pious clergy while pursuing their criminal paths but they made religious and charitable institutions into (one hopes unwitting) accomplices. If the Deity commands and rewards us for being a light unto the nations, for glorifying His great Name, the corollary punishment for those who so totally and completely disgrace that same Name must be awesome indeed.
There will, of course, be those who will condemn the inevitable breast-beating that will follow. There are bad apples in every bunch, they’ll tell us. Let’s not condemn a community for the acts of an aberrant few. Perhaps. But bad behavior can always be excused, ignored or explained. Occasionally there is cause for deeper reflection.
Is it possible that there is something in the Orthodox community in general and the haredi community in particular that creates fertile ground for this type of fraud? I’ve too often witnessed, here and in Israel, a perverse notion that we few who feel bound by the laws of God are free to flaunt the laws of man. That the seriousness with which we hold halacha (or, Jewish law) forces us to view state law as trite, flawed — unimportant at best, a nuisance at worst.
I remember as a yeshiva student in Israel being urged to spend the day learning at a settlement. “Why today?” I inquired. It was the day the government was auditing the number of full-time students to determine the level of state subsidy. It was a mitzvah, I was told — we’d be keeping the state from subsidizing non-kosher kibbutzim. We’d be keeping pork out of peoples’ mouths, I was told. (The yeshiva greatly overestimated the State’s budget line for bacon subsidies). I declined.
We see the same sort of flouting of laws in Israel today by some members of the haredi community — whether it is rioting to protest the opening of parking lots on the Sabbath or stone throwing and garbage burning to support a woman suspected of starving her toddler son. Municipal services had to be suspended in these neighborhoods out of fear for the safety of city workers.
Yes, I know — a few bad apples. But where is the outrage? Where are the haredi leaders jumping up to protest? Where are the public vigils or the excommunications? This is a community that is pretty good at enforcing standards of behavior when they are motivated to do so. Have we actually convinced ourselves that we can be good Jews and bad people at the same time?
Many years ago, when I first heard Rabbi Norman Lamm speak, the then-president of Yeshiva University accused his fellow Orthodox Jews of losing sight of the forest of Torah because of the trees of halacha. Those words were never more true than today. Is it really possible that we, as Orthodox Jews, believe that we can create better societies and more caring communities by avoiding raspberries for fear that they may have bugs in them while not holding ourselves to even the basic standards of law and decency? Is it really possible that we believe we are in greater danger from women appearing at the pulpit than from rabbis appearing at a perp walk? Perhaps it is time to stop waiting for the perfection of the world that will come along with the building of the Third Temple and engage in perfecting ourselves and the communities we live in.
Mark Charendoff is the President of the Jewish Funders Network . and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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