Wednesday, May 14, 2014

community scandal

Yesterday for the second time in a few months I was sickened when I read the news.  It makes no sense, but somehow my brain always blocked out the scandals reported about various people in the Jewish community as being other people’s problem, as being an issue in other communities, but not something that our community need worry about.  I don’t want to provide links – go find the story yourself – but almost every newspaper in NY has the story of four school administrators / board members in the community I live in being hauled into court accused of stealing millions and millions of dollars from special needs students.  The evidence seems to point to a blatant and brazen misuse of funds.  I recognize at least one of the people involved as someone I have seen in the beis medrash learning, someone who often came to yeshiva to daven!  This is on top of the story that came out a few months ago (fortunately less widely reported) of a Rabbi of another local shul who was forced to resign amidst credible allegations of sexual impropriety. 

Do we view these crimes as the acts of isolated individuals?  Or do we view them as a communal problem, for it was we as a community who invested our trust in these individuals and granted them power and position?  What does that say about our communal judgment of character?  About our communal oversight of public funds and leadership? 

To turn to another hot issue in the news, fair or unfair, the battle over whether the East Ramapo school board, made up of a majority of frum Jews, is managing that district properly will not be won or lost in the local press or voting booths of that district.  No matter how many editorials Rabbi Avi Shafran writes arguing against any culpability on the part of that school board, when one reads and sees in the news that frum Jews, that someone with the title Rabbi, are crooks, then the shadow of suspicion inevitably is cast long and far over the behavior of others – who may be innocent -- as well. 


  1. Anonymous2:00 PM

    " was we as a community who ...granted them power and position..." How so?

    Much what we think of as public and community-based is actually private, opaque to those outside the inner circle, and not responsible to some broad constituency. In theory, the consumer of their services can choose, but real choices are often absent.

    1. That gufa is part of the problem. It's up to the community to demand that things not be left opaque and private and under the control of an inner circle. Is that likely to happen? Absolutely not. And therefore we will continue to be plagued by scandals. See Seforno on the pasuk "Asher Nasi yechetah." The Rishonim already say it, not me.

  2. When I first began working at a law firm, I was given the assignment of providing an ethical basis for divesting one's self of assets in order to qualify for Medicaid. There are, or were, many ways to do it. My chiddush was to have a relative sue you for all you're worth, and settle with them, thereby rendering yourself impoverished. Of course that's not always going to work. The person who sued you might decide to just keep the money and not allow you to benefit from it at all.

    The point of my vignette is that with the right motivation, you can rationalize almost anything. I think I did a pretty good job then, coming up with reasons such as the unfairness of penalizing hard working people, and that the use of a loophole is no less legitimate than ignoring it, and so forth. In cases of long term fraud by frum Jews, there's always going to be some rationalization, sometimes even to the point of making it a mitzva.

  3. Not a fair comparison. As an attorney, you were trained in a system of relative, flexible morality. Bnei Torah are trained in a rigid, absolute morality, which brooks no compromise and demands respect for dina d'malchusah.

    Except of course, for the l'shaim shamayim waiver for executive directors and fund-raisers, and occasionally, Roshei Yeshiva. Oh wait...

  4. Excellent. I love when something gets an official name. Leshaim shamyim waiver. Otherwise known as aveira lishma or asei docheh. Truth is that when these guys get caught and it turns out they really were funding an elemosynary institution, it really doesn't bother me as much. But here it appears that there really were victims.

  5. Just to make you feel better

    Allegations from the NY Daily News, allegedly:
    The state auditors were told that Kurman left his position after the meeting was set up — and took the company’s
    books and records with him, prosecutors said.

    "It's not a good sign when you're doing an audit and the director resigns and you can't find the records," DiNapoli told
    the Daily News. "That was a tip-off."

    DiNapoli’s office turned to the Queens District Attorney for help in investigating the organization. The probe found that
    almost half of the taxpayer money — some $12.4 million — had been misappropriated by four people, including
    Kurman, 52.

    Kurman, an Orthodox Jew, made more than $143,000 in “loans” to community members who repaid him with goods
    and services, including catering for his daughter’s wedding and his son’s bar mitzvah, according to prosecutors.

    The organization’s assistant director, Rabbi Samuel Hiller, 56, used the funding to pay for $30,000 in plumbing on his
    Far Rockaway home, prosecutors said. He also allegedly diverted $8 million to a number of religious schools and
    camps that had nothing to do with ICDC, including $3 million that went to B’nos Bais Yaakov Academy, a private,
    all-girls school where Hiller serves as principal."

    So, a trivial amount went for personal use. Most was for gemach and "torah"; think of the rest as finders' fees. In any case, כל התורם על דעת גבאי הוא תורם.

    Now, it shouldn't bother you so much.

    However, in any case, there are always victims. Government is a zero-sum game. Also, as the ba'al hablog pointed out, the political damage to innocent people is immense.

  6. Another thing I realized, though it is not directly relevant: Besides the moral problem, people say "How could he, a man who wears the Itz'tela d'rabanan, who is called Rabbi, have been such a rasha as to risk being caught and causing a chillul hashem." I realized that doesn't make any sense. If a man is willing to risk being caught and going to prison and losing everything he owns, and besmirching his wife and children, or he thinks it's not a risk, why do you think chillul hashem ought to be a greater deterrent.

  7. gemora 28b berachot. Rav Yochanan ben Zakai to his talmidim: אמר להם יהי רצון שתהא מורא שמים עליכם כמורא בשר ודם

  8. Stop, this is a torah blog i assume and with that goes dan lkaf zchus, ie innocent until proven guilty. This goes for everyone accused. Wouldnt we want the same to be done if we were chas vshalom Setup?!?

    1. Look at the evidence. Dan l'kaf zechus does not mean you have to allow yourself to be taken for a fool. Tamim t'hiyeh *im Hashem Elokecha* -- but when dealing with your fellow man, don't be so gullible (not by vort -- it's the Chofetz Chaim's).
      The denials do terrible harm. When the Jewish community rises to the defense of people against whom there is overwhelming evidence of guilt it reinforces the impression that we are more interesting in defending one of our own simply because he is one of our own rather than defending the interests of truth, justice, and yashrus. In some circles they are collecting for pidyon shevuyim for an admitted pedophile. At what point does it end? At what point do you start to care about the innocent people defrauded and hurt?

    2. >>>this is a torah blog

      Learning Torah should increase our moral outrage at the injustice, not cause us to look the other way. The community should be picketing outside these folks' homes until they provide answers. Instead, you won't even see the story mentioned in the most widely read community newspaper.

  9. Lu yetzuyar the accused would make a public statement to the effect that they are innocent- that they were set up by a villain to look guilty while the true criminal remains untouched, or that they were misled and misunderstood the law, that there are mitigating circumstances- or whatever defense they could say, we certainly ought to go to kabdeihu ve'chashdei'hu. But in this case, all they did was sit in court and weep. Have they made any statement of denial or innocence? I've made a fool of myself twice, defending individuals that at least claimed innocence, and who eventually were proven to be, respectively, a mevazeh divrei chachamim and a menuval. But at least say something!

    1. Exactly my impression as well.