Monday, May 19, 2014

scandals, corruption, and crime

At what point do isolated events congeal into a pattern?  How many stories does it take of Rabbonim and/or “frum” Jews being indicted for financial crimes, for using physical abuse to coerce people to give gittin, for abusing children, of Rabbonim who sound like politicians as they struggle to walk back statements that never should have been made – and these examples are from LAST WEEK’s news alone – until we say that these are not isolated instances, but are indicative of broader and deeper problems?  Lest I be accused of unfairly attacking chareidim, the problems are by no means limited to their world alone.  We can just as easily talk about the allegations against YU that were dismissed because the statute of limitations had passed (that may absolve guilt in a court of law, but what about the moral stain?) or what Moody’s calls “poor financial oversight” that led to the University’s current fiscal crisis.  Sadly, there are enough stories to go around so that no one needs to feel left out.

What always comes to my mind when I think about these things is the quote of Abbie Hoffman, who during the Chicago Seven trial screamed at Judge Julius Hoffman that he was a “shande fur de goyim.”  For some reason this one quote even makes the Wikipedia entry about the trial.  Abbie Hoffman is certainly no one’s idea of a poster boy for Jewish ethics.  Abbie Hoffman in no way identified with Torah values.  Yet, nibei v’lo yada mah she’nibei.  Even Abbie Hoffman’s shmutzed up neshoma recognized that there is behavior that is a “shande fur de goyim.” 

How is it that in an age when people walk around knowing sophisticated Ketzos and R’ Chaim, people have forgotten something so basic as what a “shande fur de goyim” means? 

And that should be the least of the reasons to avoid behaviors that give rise to news stories.    What of the fact that it’s a shande for our neshomos?  What happened to having an innate sense of integrity and moral discretion?  Some things you shouldn’t need to look up in a Shulchan Aruch or ask a Rov about.

At our Shabbos table I mentioned the Netziv’s pshat in “lo tigal nasfshi eschem” (maybe more on that in another post) that even though there will always be wrongdoers, G-d does not let the  isolated behavior of individuals cloud kavyachol his positive view of the community.  So my wife asked why I don’t do the same, to which I responded that, “I’m not G-d.”  Her answer: “But you’re supposed to imitate him.”  Touche. 

So that’s the positive note I’m going to end on.  Hopefully the past week represented just a coincidental coming together of isolated strands of news.  The multitude of chessed done and Torah learned that will never be reported in any newspaper still outweighs the bad apples, and the moral compass of most people still points in the right direction.  Let’s keep it that way.


  1. How can you equate "using physical abuse to coerce people to give gittin" to the other items on the list?

    1. I didn't mean to suggest all the items on the list are equal.

  2. I still have my zeideh and the previous generation embibing the same mussar lesso, BE A MENTCH!!! Thats all that matters, be a mentch and a good jew. The greatest compliment to get from them was just that. So your right, what is it now?