Accountable - A Torah Guide to Fiscal Responsibility
There are, to our great shame, Orthodox Jews who have committed serious financial (and other) crimes...and the days when that fact could be hidden are now, thanks to the popularization of the Internet, long gone. If we care about protecting our families and communities from corruption, we've got to respond with clarity and determination.
Unfortunately not everyone in the Orthodox world seems to understand it that way. A disturbing number of frum individuals and organizations seem to assume that any outwardly religious Jew who is tried or convicted of a financial crime must somehow be perfectly innocent and the victim of a dishonest and antisemitic court, not to mention a deeply corrupt Federal Administration.
In advocating such versions of the events, one risks making heroes out of people who are most likely unrepentant criminals.1 Worse, an entire generation of Jewish children will grow up convinced that the most benevolent and generous government in the history of our exile lacks the basic rule of law and whose most trusted judges are nothing more than the willing puppets of dark political interests. Think about some of the consequences: if the government is as crooked as some Jews would have us believe, then may we not conclude that it is reasonable to "take back" - or withhold - what's "rightfully" ours (i.e., through tax evasion or welfare fraud)? Will that not inevitably help further break down any psychological resistance to financial crime that still exists in the frum community?
What right do we have to ignore the possibility that the courts are right? Or, if even that's too much, to ignore the perception that the courts are right? Is this approach likely to enhance basic moral standards among frum Jews?
In the 1970's, Rabbi Shimon Schwab wrote an article (later included in "Selected writings: A collection of addresses and essays on hashkafah, Jewish history and contemporary issues" C.I.S. Publications) in response to criminal convictions of "frum" Jews engaged in white collar crimes. I would imagine that, were he alive today, Rabbi Schwab would have applied just these sentiments to the many similar horrors we face today. What else could these words mean:
Certainly we are not sitting in judgment of the persons who are publicly accused and we have to wait (to see) whether the indictments will be borne out by irrefutable evidence. However, be it as it may, the Chillul Hashem is there in the worst possible way. “Rabbi” so and so, who sits in court with his velvet Yarmulka in full view of a television audience composed of millions of viewers, is accused of having ruthlessly enriched himself at the expense of others, flaunting the laws of G-d and man, exploiting, conniving and manipulating - in short, desecrating all the fundamentals of Torah Judaism. And this sorry onslaught on our Jewish sensitiveness is repeated by similar allegations, proven or unproven, involving more prominent men who are stigmatized as orthodox Jews, sometimes even with so-called rabbinic diplomas.
...The Chillul Hashem of a few individuals provides excuses for the doubter, and encourages the desecration of Torah learning, Torah education and Torah influence. To defraud and exploit our fellowmen, Jew or gentile, to conspire, to betray the Government, to associate with underworld elements all these are hideous crimes by themselves. Yet to the outrage committed there is added another dimension, namely the profanation of the Divine Name and that means the profanation of all that is supposed to be held sacred by us as well as - in their heart of hearts - by the perpetrators themselves. What a sorry picture that is.
...Suppose I have cheated my neighborhood or my Government and then I stand in the midst of a congregation of honest and decent men and women to recite the Kaddish which is the prayer for Kiddush Hashem in the world. What audacity! What a shame! Can there be a worse contradiction than the strict Sabbath observer who may also be a stickler for Kashrus and who at the same time violates the spirit of Shabbos and Kashrus during the week with non-kosher money manipulations?
...Therefore, no white-washing, no condoning, no apologizing on behalf of the desecraters. Let us make it clear that anyone who besmirches the sacred Name ceases to be our friend. He has unwittingly defected from our ranks and has joined our antagonist, to make us all suffer in his wake. And - noblesse oblige - the more prominent a man has become in orthodox Jewish circles the more obligated he must feel to observe the most painstaking scrupulousness in his dealings with the outside world.