How Can We Mitigate the Effects of Wrong Doing By Religious Jews?

There are few Jews in the world, who weren’t pained with the stories and photographs in the newspaper and the live pictures on television showing our rabbeim in handcuffs, stoic faces, being marched off the bus and to court. We read every word in the paper and ask ourselves, how could this happen? And during the nine days no less. We try to give benefit of the doubt, but it is difficult. We see the sight of an 87 year old rabbi, the pinnacle of wisdom and holiness, with his head hanging low, being marched off to what might be his ends years in prison. We want it all to turn out to be a big mistake, for our brothers to be cleared of all wrong doing. We cry for the communities who have to deal with the loss of their rabbinic leaders and their trust. It’s devastating.

Since this website is Beyond BT, I want to suggest a new discussion post topic related to this.

Does anyone feel particularly embarrassed because it’s religious Jews, and it’s hard enough convincing your secular family that you’ve chosen the right path, but this doesn’t further that cause?

When the Madoff scandal hit, we were all embarrassed that he was Jewish, but for me, seeing religious Jews in handcuffs, with their long beards and peyos and kippot and tzizzis, it’s all the more painful. And I find myself wondering what my family is thinking, and if they will use this to further their already negative perceptions of religious Jews. Ideally, we understand that every religion has people off the derech, and it doesn’t mean the whole derech is bad. We have peaceful Muslims trying to convince us of that all the time.

So is anyone embarrassed about this latest shanda, as it relates to how your secular family already views religious Jews?

72 comments on “How Can We Mitigate the Effects of Wrong Doing By Religious Jews?

  1. Yakov,

    I have nothing against these heroes whatsoever.

    They stand out against a background of the widespread antisemitism of that time. In virtually every country in continental Europe, the Nazis found enthusiastic helpers.

  2. Something else we should never forget: -the website of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous

    Bob, you explain the sin and self interest in what these gentiles did. Ingratitude is, in my book at least, a worse sin than what you’re calling “beyond chutzpah”.

    Nathan -thanks for the source of the quote. Good to know.

    Shanah tovah.

  3. Nathan,

    Since your argument is now with Shlomo HaMelech, you should consider the abundant evidence supporting his general statement quoted from Mishlei.

  4. Responding to Yakov (message 49):

    “The kindness of the nations is sin” -meaning that nothing gentiles do can be truly good -it is only self-serving, as the commentary in my copy of this text goes on to explain.

    Dear Yakov,

    “The kindness of the nations is sin” was not invented by the Talmud; it is a Bible quote from the Book of Mishlei (Proverbs) chapter 14, verse 34.


  5. If the assumption going into a study of Chazal is “I’ll pick and choose those of their basic ideas that I consider to be of value”, the result will not be pretty. Especially if the student denounces their other ideas that he finds wanting. Whatever pose is struck in expressing this attitude, it still goes beyond chutzpah.

  6. Yakov,
    Thanks for taking time to reply on this thread.
    “I came into this with my eyes already open though, because I saw that despite the ugliness there was genuine good, truth, and beauty in Orthodoxy too -but I came in resolved not to accede to the xenophobia, and to confront and condemn it when i can. We needn’t sacrifice our consciences on the altar.”-what a beautiful statement.

    Please feel free to email me, as I’d like to discuss THE UNIVERSAL JEW with you. My email address is on my blog.

  7. Yakov, you should also entertain the idea that many non-Jews are not what they appear to be (to us today).

  8. Shalom Shades,

    Thank you for your thoughtful letter and your excellent reading recs. I’m certainly always glad to have company in my deep discomfort. Rabbi Adlersteni’s article was very good, and I found R. Weinberg’s letters to R. Atlas at yutorah and R. Schacter’s “Facing the Truths of History” article is there as well. I read and appreciated the letters, and have started “Facing.” I reccommend these articles to anyone who is interested in the subject being discussed.

    I’m not “somewhat puzzled” by the quotes I mentioned though, I, without ambiguity find them false and pernicious, and until otherwise proven, I (obviously) have no qualms about saying so, and feel that every religious Jew with an ounce of decency should denounce them as a product of their times, although a number of obviously decent Jews clearly disagree with me. (nothing new about good Jews disagreeing with each other) . To be clear, I’m not condemning the sages, only certain things they said -and further, I am giving them the benefit of the doubt, not chalking their sayings up to pure malice, but to prejudice derived from their own awful experiences. I realize that some may not be willing to make such a separation/distinction between sages and their sayings, but I am, and if I thought I had to only be respectfully “puzzled” by their (anti)worldist comments, I don’t think I would remain in the fold. Better to be an honest heretic than a hobbled hypocrite. (I’m not saying that anyone else is either of these things, only that that’s how I’d feel.)Thank God, I have options, and don’t have to choose that.



  9. “Any honest holistic view of Judaism has to face the ugliness directly, not pretend it doesn’t exist in our texts, traditions, and is active in our culture. Too often, I find, the kiruv krew hide this stuff from bt eyes. ”

    Kiruv may not want to bring these things up in intial stages, and therefore focuses on the positive statements in kiruv seminars.

    “I came into this with my eyes already open though, because I saw that despite the ugliness there was genuine good, truth, and beauty in Orthodoxy too -but I came in resolved not to accede to the xenophobia, and to confront and condemn it when i can. We needn’t sacrifice our consciences on the altar.”

    I’ve been thinking of these items(and other categories of questions) over thirty years, without necessarily resolving them. I am NEVER afraid to use my mind. However, my conviction is that God and the Torah are ultimate sources of goodness.

    The issue of statements regarding non-Jews was dealt with by no less a figure than R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg z’tl who had “trouble” with them.

    R. J. J. Schacter writes in TUM Journal about R. Weinberg(inter alia in article of “Facing the Truths of History”):

    “Knowing about Rabbi Weinberg’s struggle regarding the rabbinic attitude to Gentiles is particularly important, I was told, because it enables Jews deeply troubled by these issues to retain their spiritual compass; to recognize that such inner struggle can be legitimate as long as it takes place within the context of an ultimate commitment to the sacrosanct and immutable character of the halakhic tradition…”

    Rabbi Adlerstein, on Cross Currents outlines an approach and notes that:

    “Within this group are many of the passages that are extremely dismissive of categories of non-Jews. Many of them, in fact, were aimed not at all non-Jews but at the idolatrous near-savages known to Chazal.”

    Rabbi Berel Wein writes regarding slavery:

    “Even so, the matter does not rest easily for us for the concept of slavery itself remains somewhat repugnant to our sensibilities and society. I have no magic solution to this difficulty. My faith is not shaken by it and I can remain puzzled and yet a believer”

    The point is that you can remain somewhat puzzled by certain areas without calling them “junk”, and you are in good company!

  10. Neil, thanks for the recommendations. I have read “The Universal Jew” and will look out for “Eyes to See.” I’ve also read things like Rabbi Sacks’s “The Dignity of Difference” I appreciate the work of writers who try to promote a more universal ethical vision of Judaism, and I believe that highlighting the unviersalist elements of Judaims is important, but at the same time, I feel that they’re white-washing things, that ultimately these are apologetics, ignoring truly tough, very ugly quotes like the ones I cited above, and frankly voices, messages and emphases like the above writers have been minority voices and influences in Orthodoxy throughout Judaim’s history. The xenophobes can also abundantly find their views supported. -and though surely there are hundreds if not thousands of sources encouraging ethical behavior to gentiles, and there may even some sources that may even go so shockingly far as to admire or praise specific gentiles, as I said in my original comment here, unfortunately most of those sources still urge good behavior from pragmatism (from fear of retaliation) rather than idealism -than because being good to others is intrinsically right. Any honest holistic view of Judaism has to face the ugliness directly, not pretend it doesn’t exist in our texts, traditions, and is active in our culture. Too often, I find, the kiruv krew hide this stuff from bt eyes. I came into this with my eyes already open though, because I saw that despite the ugliness there was genuine good, truth, and beauty in Orthodoxy too -but I came in resolved not to accede to the xenophobia, and to confront and condemn it when i can. We needn’t sacrifice our consciences on the altar.

    Moshe -you make an interesting point about written things being more easily misunderstood, and thank you for the gentle spirit of your letter. I’ve certainly experienced that. Still, for example, my copy of the Hassidic book I mentioned before has a explanation interpolated that makes it clear that at the very least it is currently thought by the editors that the sefer’s author’s intention was as clear as his language was apparently unambiguous as to his understanding of that at least seemingly very straightforward passage of Gemara. Some things may be cloaked in mystery and hard to interpret, but this particular example semms ultraclear. And more than the oral law protecting itself from misinterpretation it also protected us against others discovering in what low esteem many of us held them then, and sadly now. If you know of an esteemed source with a more benevolent interpretation of that passage of gemara and tanya, I’d love to hear it, but they appear as straightforward as they come.

    Bob and David, I also appreciate the gentleness of your rebuke. I do respect Chazal though, but just as I don’t take or hold in high regard their medical or scientific counsel -which were very much of their time, I don’t have to esteem seemingly worse-than-racist (worldist!) comments, which also were clearly influenced by their experiences in a distant time and limited locale. When it comes to oxen goring, how high a sukkah needs to be, and two guys fighting over a talis though, I hold Chazal’s opinions in the highest possible regard. I’m definitely not throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. I am open to learning that in fact someone of esteemed authority believes that this gemara doesn’t mean what S. Zalman and his followers believe it means (and I have had a number of troubling passages explained to me convincingly before -one good source: ) -so please, by all means, show me, and if it’s persuasive -or even just plausible, I’ll concede that I’ve been needlessly disrespectful. Or defend the statement as I understand it and tell me why Chazal were clearly right in understanding the nations to be completely incapable of doing anything good or of moral value. Cite great and esteemed commentators. Interestingly, no one is refuting my case, only objecting to to my apparent lack of respect for the words of the sages, but if I wasn’t consciously being respectful I’d have used a much stronger word than “junk.”

    Kind Regards, Yakov

  11. Hi Yakov,

    This is why the ORAL law was meant to be ORAL. As we who have been misunderstood through email can attest – the written words is interpreted by those who are reading it.

    Derech Eretz Kadma LaTorah – if people would have the proper Drerch Eretz they would not have misunderstood these teachings. I personaly may lack Derech Eretz but my teachers did have Derch Ertez and taught me the proper way to relate to all people.

    With the proliferation of educators and education vehicles you are bound to have peoiple without the proper Derech Ertez getting involed and spreading wrong teachings.

    Just take Succos for example – how Klall Yisroel were Makreiv Karbonos for all of Mankind. … Bais Tephiloh La Chol Ha’Amim was what the Beis Hamekdash was called.

    The Whole world will eventialy need to come to Tikun – even though it now falls mainly on our sholders. And eventhough it may look like we are failing – We can’t claim to know what is going on in Heaven and maybe that which we do need to do (in our generation) is being done with Flying Colors.

    Either way – those of us who have been blessed to have had universaly accept Gedolim as our guide on how to understand and approach Chazal and all of the People in the world, Ashenu!

    K’Siva V’Chasima Tovah

  12. Yakov,
    Take a look at the chapters in “EYES TO SEE” by R Yom Tov Schwartz (Urim Publishers) regarding Orthodox relations with non-Jews or the book “THE UNIVERSAL JEW” by Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (Feldheim) for his summary of R Hirsch’s view on our mission and relation to both Jews and non-Jews.

    There are authentic Torah sources out there that actually show respect towards non-Jews.

    I know there are plenty of “frum people” (and I use the term with a smerk) who seem to forget that everyone was created in Hashem’s image, but b/c “frum” society looks down on others (even other Jews) that doesn’t mean that this is a Torah true outlook.

  13. Yakov, with all due respect (to Chazal especially!), our job is to find out the specific context and meaning of what Chazal said, not to find fault with them.

  14. Sorry to offend you David, but if one can’t call statements that completely impugn and invalidate the moral stature and even the moral potentiality of 99 percent of humanity “junk” then nothing anyone says can be considered junk.

  15. Yakov,

    You’re right about not wanting to enter into a debate. I’m relatively open to hearing alternative thoughts on most matters but this statement of yours in reference to numerous Divrei Chazal, “but I don’t believe this junk about non-Jews -not at all.” indicates how far apart we are on this matter and the futility of engaging in a conversation.

    However one might wish to understand them, I don’t think there’s a justification for referring to Divrei Chazal as “junk.”

  16. IF a given problematic behavior is endemic/systemic in some sense (do we here know for sure?)…

    … then it matters whether that behavior is endemic/systemic across Orthodox Jewry or only in subgroups. If it’s only in subgroups, only members of those subgroups, as opposed to outside observers, can really address it successfully.

  17. I agree with those who say that we need to admit that this is in some real sense an endemic or systemic problem for which we all need to feel some sense of accountability or role. it is not just a few isolated cases which can be easily dismissed.

  18. Bob, one of the main definitions of being moral is: being good to other people. and also, being good.

  19. Hi Bob -of course I believe that non-Jews can hate us, oppress us, or simply have interests that conflict with our own -to lesser or stronger degrees, for rational or irrational reasons. That doesn’t mean all of them or even most of them are bad people. Even in Nazi-occupied Europe there were extraordinarily good people who risked their lives and their families lives on a daily basis over years to help us, and even many of those who didn’t help us directly were merely ordinary people, scared of risking their lives for strangers, very little different from how most of us would have behaved -that doesn’t make them bad people -it just makes them ordinary, weak people.

  20. Yakov,

    Do you distinguish between situations where the non-Jews are out to subjugate or kill us and situations where we co-exist in a more-or-less peaceful, more-or-less lawful society? The former situations have been much more common historically and still exist in much of the world (think about what goes on in the UN and its associated organizations, for example).

    WW2 is not that long ago. People with personal or family memories of the Shoah vividly recollect the bad side of Esav and Yishmael. America has been categorized as a malchus shel chessed, but adjusting to its unique reality is not a trivial challenge.

    I’ve been revolted in the last few days by the many fawning tributes to the well-known American journalist Robert Novak, a meshumad and arch-enemy of Israel, and a supporter of Hamas. Hardly anyone on the Web other than Debbie Schlussel called him what he was. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has shown its disdain for Israel at every opportunity (even more so than Condi Rice did). What all this may portend for Jews in America is unclear, but, in any case, we need to be on our best behavior for both moral and practical reasons.

  21. Hi David,

    In answer to your question, I should clarify that I did not say that this was the sole reason, but “at some level” this was part of the reason. There, I’m sure, are a complex of faxtors, but this, ifeel is one of them. Let me preface this response too, by explaining that my object in writing here isn’t to depress or disillusion people, or to give fire-power to the anti-semitic idiots -i’m not saying anything they’re not aware of already (thought they likely misconstrue it) I’m dreading answering you though because I really don’t want to be dragged further into a debate. This is so time consuming, and little effective, for people seem bound to misunderstand or be offended.

    I believe it (our Orthodox culture) to be part of the reason for the corruption and inconsideration in part because throughout the course of my learning, I have seen Halachic moral preference for Jews expressed everywhere: in regards to everything from saving a life on Shabbos, to speaking ill of others, to returning lost objects, to loaning money and onwards,and I believe that this two-tiered moral system inadvertantly fosters a disregard and even a disdain for others, and even the Talmud frequently at least seems to disparage gentiles. I’ve read good expanations of how the texts really mean something else, but the obvious meaning is at minimum misleading -even to some learned Jews, I believe. A certain very popular Chassidic text even states that the souls of gentiles “contain no good whatsoever” and cites the gemarra that says “The kindness of the nations is sin” -meaning that nothing gentiles do can be truly good -it is only self-serving, as the commentary in my copy of this text goes on to explain. (Even the term “righteous Gentile” has a sting to it – like someone exclaiming how articulate a person of color is.) Call me an apikoros if you want, but I don’t believe this junk about non-Jews -not at all. I know too many extraordinarily kind, moral gentiles to believe this stuff. I’m not saying that Jews shouldn’t receive preference from each other -most in-groups have privileges for memebrs, and the Torah’s conceit (I just mean the idea that it propounds) is that we’re not just a club, but a family, and there’s nothing wrong with this (it is beautiful, even) but unfortuantely, many seem to take that (wrongly) as license to actually treat non-members poorly. Further, the whole “Chosen people” concept unfortunately contributes to a certain level of arrogance (again from I believe, misunderstanding) and unfortunately for some Jews it comes to mean that only Jews are worthy of real consideration -preferably Orthodox jews. Yes, there are multiple injuctions to treat the stranger well that can be found in the Torah and the Halacha, and there are many instances of Torah Jews doing nice things for gentiles, and of course we are explicitly prohibited from stealing and from deceiving anyone, but unfortunately many of the good things that we’re told we can do are phrased in terms that make it seem that we are to do or be allowed to do this -not because it is right or obligatory, but because it might cause us to be disliked -which I think is a shabby, non-moral reason -though it certainly has utility, and its better than nothing. It is clear that we don’t have actual license to steal, lie, or harm others in any way, but somehow our culture (not the law, but the culture) fosters an arrogant attitude that can lead some of us to do these things anyway.

    Secondly, I have repeatedly witnessed this disdain for and disrespect towards gentiles and toward secular law and society being expressed by orthodox Jews -from rabbis and respected community memebers on down to young children. Not universally -i’ve met plenty of others who object to it (though relatively few who do so outright). You’re right, there are bad people everywhere (and good people too), but few groups give such direct license to see other groups of people as deserving of second-class, rather than first class treatment. (To be clear, I believe that really, we ought to be obligated to give first class treatment (beyond the worldly accepted statndard) to everyone -and royal treatment (beyond first class)to fellow Jews. (I don’t claim to practice this, just that it ought to be what we aspire to -nor should we be arrogating this standard to ourselves though -I believe we should be striving to lift the worldly standard to our own -don’t ask me how.) The degree of prejudice and dehumanziation I’ve seen in Orthodoxy -of anti-“Goy” sentiment is unlike anything i ever experienced in the secular world, with the possible exception of foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Republican and anti-George Bush sentiment from liberal friends (though the anti-Obama sentiment among many frum Jews is equally rabid and irrational.)

    In short, that’s at least one part of why I believe some Orthodox Jews are inconsiderate of others and don’t respect the law. Non-Jews and secular Jews can do terrible things too, but those things usually contradict their accepted cultural norms. (our law prohibits these things, but our culture, as stated, has one side of it that contributes to these thigns and inadvertantly supports them.) In order to turn this around, our communal leaders need to stamp out this disdain and emphasize teaching of human unity and goodness and obligation to all humanity -not for PR, not to look good, but for real. (of course, they’re in a bind because, they want to prevent assimilation, which is one of their misbegotten motives for the demonizing and dehumanizing of the secular and gentile world -but there’s got to be a better way than conditionings kids with the “that’s goyische”/”That’s Jewish” dichotomy.)

    Peace y’all. Please don’t hate or misconstrue what I’ve written. I don’t think I’m going to respond to any posts for a while -this is just too much work, and raises too many hackles.

  22. Moshe, I appreciate and value the spirit and substance of your reply. Thank you.

    Bob made a similar comment in #35, and I appreciated that as well -thank you, Bob.

  23. Yakov,

    You wrote:

    “that at some level their actions grew from Orthodoxy’s own culture of disdain for the outside world, and we can’t hide from that”

    I’m just wondering how you know that this is the reason for it? Perhaps it’s due to the fact that these are widespread problems found in literally every segment of society? I don’t know a single racial or religious group that isn’t plagued by money laundering and bribery. There are plenty of individuals who commit these crimes on a daily basis. Why is “Orthodoxy’s own culture of disdain for the outside world” necessarily the reason for this?

  24. Yakov,

    I feel your pain – but you are being way to harsh and one sided. You are throwing out the baby with the bath water. Sure it is all wrong and I agree – and it needs to be addressed 100% and I’m sure it is. But let’s not loose perspective in our evaluation of people. But forget about other people – and lets just focus on ourself. I don’t know about you – but I have faults and I make mistakes – yet I still have a holy neshoma and am the bearer of a sacred trust – and so are you.

    One day we will get to where we need to be – but I am confindant that in order to rise – we must all feel our light within and not drag ourselves down to a place where we realy are not.

    We all really have a lot to be proud of – yes we have work to do, some more than others – but we have so much goodness to share and that means you too!

  25. Maybe in the muddle of my prose I could have been clearer. First off, I do dissociate myself from them in the sense that I’m ashamed by them, angry at them, and I condemn them -I’m just glad that they were not hiding and trying to pass themselves off as something they were not, so that another community could take the blame. They believed themselves to be orthodox and so did we, and thus its right that our community should be looked at with skepticism. It seemed like some people here wanted hareidi or hassidish criminals to disguise themselves: either as Modern orthodox people, or as secular people -and this is not right -and pointless, given that Jews are Jews are Jews and the world doesn’t distinguish much at all.

    I myself am not a black-hat uniform wearing person and am not always or even usually blatantly Jewish in costume -i don’t believe that’s a requirement. I don’t believe I have to do anything specifically or assume any additional responsibilities just because other Jews are corrupt: I just have to continue to strive to do the right thing -and sometimes that may entail speaking out -but Orthodox Jews as a whole, especially communal and organziational leaders do need to realize that the actions of these corrupt individuals didn’t take place in a vaccume -that at some level their actions grew from Orthodoxy’s own culture of disdain for the outside world, and we can’t hide from that -the world -and God, is going to hold us accountable -and those with influence and power may be beginning to finally address some of these issues. So when i used the word “dissociate” I was referring specifically to the idea that Jewish criminals from yeshivish or chassidish backgrounds should have hidden their religiosity by taking off their religious costumes -which would have made it possible for other yeshivish and chassidish people to dismiss the problem as one that didn’t really affect their communities, and thus real change in Orthodox attitudes towards gentiles and the secular law wouldn’t be being addressed in the way that they’re beginning to be addressed now.

  26. Yakov said “Otherwise, its too easy psychologically to dissociate ourselves from them -oh -they wear baseball caps and colored shirts, and therefore couldn’t have been really frum, and thus we exculpate ourselves from moral responsiblity.”

    Yaaov, since, as another Jew, you find it improper to dissociate yourself from them, what moral responsibility do you now feel you must personally assume and what actions will flow from that?

  27. Nathan and Mr. Cohen,

    The above cited supposed Talmudic ‘principle’ -and I use that term loosely, is advised to protect the individual from shame and his family and acquaiantances from being demoralized by his fall -it isn’t to protect the Jews as a whole from shame. And I think the passage is referring to giving into sexual lust more than it is succombing to the temptation to fleece people, the government, or organizations.

    The fact is, most of us, even if we remove our kippahs and tzitis are distinguishable as Jews. (And come on, an (older than 21 yo) Orthodox Jew wearing a baseball cap fools nobody.) A sinner is a disgrace to the Jews no matter that he dresses like everyone else or that he goes to a different town to sin and victimize others.

    The poster who wanted to de-Jewify himself for his meeting with the disabilities board isn’t going to a place where he’s certain no one knows him, and his object (of getting a stipend) is not intrinsically wrong -but he’s ashamed of the possibility of being associated with other ostensibly Orthodox people who may have sinned, and being penalized for the association (which would be illegal, and unlikely to happen, provided his case ewas good.) The verse cited simply doesn’t apply here.

    Nor does it apply to the person who runs any kind of store or business where he or she is a fixture there -as Nathan suggested -wearing non-frum clothes is deceitful because it is trying to pass off the blame which should be rightfully associated to the community with which you sartorially identify (and from which you came) to one with which you don’t and from which you likely didn’t come. One shouldn’t cheat or steal period, but if one does, one should not try to look secular, or Chinese, or Muslim, or black, and thus make secular Jews or some other community look dishonest instead of the orthodox. This is a completely unethical, ignoble, irresponsible strategy -not just the original crime is loathsome, but so is (and even moreso is) the attempt to hide and let the blame fall where it doesn’t belong. If the criminal is one of our own, our community bears some of the blame. Both a Bernie Madoff who never pretended to be Orthodox and a revered Sephardic Rav who never pretended to be secular are, I think, morally preferable to an Orthodx Jew who pretended to be secular or a secular Jew who pretended to be Orthodox in order to deceive people, receive some benefit, and pass the buck on his community receiving the blame should he be caught, by letting
    the “other” community take the fall. This is so low and reprehenisble.

    And referring to Bob and Menachem’s posts: if the recent scandal had involved secular Jews -it wouldn’t been have been quite as Jewcy for the media, but it still would have been quite juicy -witness the attention on Madoff, witness the Wall Street scandals of the ’80’s: Miliken, Boesky, Levine etc. Frankly, better we as a community and yes, even the secular world should know we have criminals and dirtbags amongst us: child molesters, tax cheats, bank defrauders, bribers, bribees, murderers (see B. Goldstein), corrupt politicans (see the Shas party, Jack Abramoff), illegal organ traders, illegal slum landlords, illegal caterers, thugs and rioters, illegal polluters, abusers of animals, patrons of prostitutes, employers of illegal underage immigrants and so forth in our midst than that they should have publicly hid their Orthodoxy, and thus we and the public would be none the wiser and doing nothing to rectify the situation. Sinners -wear your uniforms so that we may know you and know that we have a sickness in our community. (of course, the sad converse of this is: trust no one just because they’re wearing the garb and talking the talk. -because they can gull us too.) Otherwise, its too easy psychologically to dissociate ourselves from them -oh -they wear baseball caps and colored shirts, and therefore couldn’t have been really frum, and thus we exculpate ourselves from moral responsiblity. (of course, its stupid and wrong to think that someone in a colored shirt and a baseball hat is less religious or ethical or worthy anyway -but that’s a different issue.

  28. Talmud, tractate Moed Katan, page 17A:

    Rabbi Ilai taught:
    If a person realizes that he is losing the struggle against temptation, then he should go to a city where he is not known, dress in black clothes, cover his head in black, and do what his heart desires, but not desecrate the Name of G_d in public.

  29. Very often, photographic images are the steering wheels that determine the direction of the international news media.

    Most of the time, the new stories are built around the photographs, not the other way around.

    When there is no photograph, the probability of news coverage declines greatly.

    But when news organizations get their hands on photographs of people who look bizarre or different, the probability of news coverage increases greatly.

    This is one reason [but not the only reason] why any news stories involving Chassidic Jews will always be condsidered important by the news media, evem when the facts of the story are trivial.

    There is a famous quotation from the Talmud: If a man can not resist temptation, he should dress in black and go to a place where nobody knows him, instead desecrasting the name of G_d.

  30. Menachem,
    We actually agree that the accused in the news would do better (for us anyway) to look like everyone else. My point was that they might not see this as necessary for the reasons I gave.

  31. Bob,

    I have to disagree with you here, at least in part. There’s no question that the more pious one “looks” the more harshly he’ll be judged. (And IMO, rightfully so.) I’m very confident that if the recent FBI scandal had involved completely secular-looking Jews the focus of the media attention would have been much greater on the politicians involved and less on the Jews. But because they were pious-looking, and pious-looking Rabbis to boot, the media, understandably, decided that they were more newsworthy.

    Lawyers and businessman know from experience that it does make a difference whether or not you are wearing that Yarmulka. Sometimes, yes it’s anti-Semitism, but often it’s just in the melting pot that is America people become uncomfortable when others draw attention to their differences.

  32. Nathan,

    This is a doubly deceptive prescription. Human beings should never cheat other human beings -no matter what they’re wearing. Everyone knows who’s a Jew: even when Jews are secular, they’re usually ID’d as Jews, and “represent” for all Jews exactly as do the Orthodox. It doesn’t matter whether they perceive a Jew as a secular or Orthodox -the key word is always going to be “Jew.” You’re also falling into the same silly trap everyone else does of associating clothing with virtue or the lack of it. Genuinely good people can be dressed as immodest slobs and corrupt people can be dressed as immaculate tzniut black-hatters (and of course, vice-versa.)

    One common complaint of the anti-semites for many years has been that Jews try to pass themselves off as gentiles, as full-fledged Americans, Englishmen, Germans, or Frenchmen changing their names and taking off their kippahs -but they fool almost no one, and many people despise the deceitful embarassed attempt at camoflage, especially since they feel (wrongly or rightly) that the Jew is going to try to pull a fast one anyway -and they’re rather know from the start that they’re clearly dealing with one of those “sharp” Jews. A Jew can’t win -traditionally garbed or incognito/assimilated-garbed -we’ll all hang together. Doing the right thing should be done solely because its right -not because we expect to be lauded or loved for it -or condemened or hated for not doing it.

    This is what Leonard should consider when he goes before the board -they know you’re a Jew already and it doesn’t matter what kind -to them it doesn’t matter if only your father was Jewish -you’re a Jew to them (and who knows? They could be Jews too.) I understand your fear and concerns, but you won’t be fooling anyone. They know that secular, liberal, and Orthodox Jews can be honest or corrupt -and if they were to learn that you were Orthodox when you appeared not to be, they’d lose all respect for you -because you’re trying to deceive them -which is dishonest and thus in itself a chilul Hashem. You’re rationalizing deceit by calling it “histadlus with seichel” the same way someone else rationalizes not following the law. By doing this you become yet another reason that people won’t trust Jews.

  33. Nathan, part of the difficulty is the very strong human power of rationalization. People who cause these problems have come up with “reasons why”, so they aren’t so ashamed as to dress like generic Americans. Also, they fully expect to pull off whatever caper they’re involved in.

  34. Yakov (message 34) said:

    “I honestly doubt that the effects the actions of Orthodox Jews who lack respect for the secular law and who show a complete lack of concern for the welfare of others can ever be countered or mitigated, because these examples are so galling and conspicuous…”

    Maybe Jews should make their wrongdoings less “galling and conspicuous” by NOT dressing in way that obvuously identify us as Jews?

    If a Jewish store owner is going to cheat or steal, then at least let him:

    {1} wear colored shirts and pants instead of a white shirt and black pants

    {2} be clean-shaven instead of bearded

    {3} wear a cap or baseball hat instead of a black kippah or furred streimel

    {4} wear tzitzit on the inside, not the outside

    {5} speak English, not Yiddish

  35. No cause for despair—Elul’s coming. We have a promise from HaShem that we’ll all eventually come to do teshuva. If communities stop and reflect because of external pressures or suboptimal motivations, that’s at least a start. Many of the abuses have gone on without any real reflection whatsoever.

    In the short term, we should possibly put more focus on what we can correct in ourselves, with all the right motivations. This can have a cumulative effect.

  36. I honestly doubt that the effects the actions of Orthodox Jews who lack respect for the secular law and who show a complete lack of concern for the welfare of others can ever be countered or mitigated, because these examples are so galling and conspicuous -and as they continue to accrete, I fully expect a real backlash. The good some Jews have done has NEVER mitigated the cumulative backlash. -and wanting to do things to rectify it falls into what i feel is the usual dubious Orthodox moral-strategy of doing certain things not because they’re good, but because it looks good for others. Granted this is a step above not caring about what others think or experience at all, but it still isn’t the right motive.

    I just saw a video which I think every observant Jew should see: a Fox news segment on an illegal Hassidish catering hall in Brooklyn, that has been operating brazenly and illegally for 7 years -even after the State Supreme Court ordered it shut down, causing enormous distress to its neighbors, Jewish and non- jewish alike. The noise keeps neighbors up late into the night. The thing is beyond outrageous, and beyond justifying. It will (it should) pain you deeply to see this:

    I currently live in Washington Heights, across from several nightclubs where the revelers and traffic and music can go on until 5 am, driving me batty, and I was going along thinking -Jews would never be so inconsiderate and completely oblivious to neighbors. Seeing this video was a huge smack in the face. I’m so ashamed, angry, and revolted -far more than at the stupid club-owners, clubbers, and hoodlums that keep me up at night.

    In a Jewish town I recently lived in, there are dozens of illegal day camps throughout the summer which move around to avoid being shut down, and dozens of illegal attics and basements being rented out by frum Jews, many of whom, do not report the income they make on renting out these illegal spaces. People notice.

    I despair.

  37. When Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky was Rosh Yeshivah [Principal] of Torah Vodaath, he immediately expelled a high school student who cheated on a test of secular knowledge.

    So why can’t our synagogues make public announcements banning all crooks, and our Jewish organizations make public announcements expelling all criminals?

    When this happens, many of our children and Gentiles neighbors will realize that Jewish crooks are only a disease on the body of the Jewish people, not the body itself.

  38. The multitudes? Do you mean the multitudes of Jews (non-Orthodox) or the multitudes of people as a whole?

  39. Bob is right. All the bad press only stress the importance of honesty, good middos, sensitivity to people at home/outside the home.

    Now, more than ever, we have to go above and beyond to create a Kiddush Hashem in all that each of us do.

  40. The only real way to regain respect as a group is to favorably impress the people we interact with everyday. No magic bullet here.

  41. If only ONE SHUL would make a very public international announcement that:

    “crooks and criminals and con men are totally banned from our synagogue,”

    then that might be enough to partially reduce the Chillul HaShem of the past two years.

    And if two shuls did this, then that would be even better.

  42. However, C. Weiss, the multitudes do not even know the phrase “Chilul Hashem”. They just know what they see doesn’t look “right”.

    Unfortunately, events such as these recently reported ones can undo tons of efforts in kiruv because it’s very difficult to get NYF people to see beyond the attitude of “you people claim to be so righteous”. That’s an expression I’ve heard literally hundreds of times, and surely I’m not the only one here who has.

    Obviously, the best defense is to show the world that this is an aberration, and not the norm in our behavior. And that means respecting not just the laws, but other people as well. This nation has been very kind to us and we aren’t the only ones residing here.

  43. To I’m Jewish,

    The words most often used by the multitudes to describe these calamitous events are “Chilul Hashem” which is a whole infinitely greater than the sum of its parts (cheating, theft, tax evasion, etc).

  44. Part of the problem is that the wrongdoing is framed in terms of “it’s bad because it made the Jews look bad,” as opposed to framed in terms of “it’s bad because it’s morally wrong to cheat / hide / not pay taxes / steal.”

    It’s rather like the little child who, when asked why it was wrong of him to steal the cookie before dinner, says that it was wrong because now he got caught.

    Until Jews can say that these things are wrong for reasons BEYOND the fact that they make other Jews look bad, we will get nowhere.

  45. Nathan,

    As you see it, how much should someone have to be like Madoff to get the full ostracism treatment, including no admission to public davening? Does it depend on things like:

    1. Amount stolen? From whom?
    2. Restitution made or not made?
    3. Level of publicity?
    4. Convicted yet or not?

  46. Bob Miller said (in message 19):


    Dear Bob Miller,

    We should draw the line with people like Mr. Bernard Madoff, who created hundreds of direct victims, and thousands of indirect victims, and made an international Chillul HaShem that will be remembered for the next 500 years.

    It seems to me that the fraud of Mr. Bernard Madoff was especially evil because a man with his impressive experience [a former head of NASDAQ] could have easily made millions of dollars a year WITHOUT any fraud.

    He was not a semi-literate high-school dropout who needed to steal food just to survive.

    When Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, his killer was publicly condemned by every important Jewish organization and leader, so why not Bernard Madoff and those like him?


  47. In my secular upbringing honestly was always emphasised, it is so hard for a current BT to see and hear what is going on. As much as we can say “don’t judge Judaism by the Jews” BTs still depend so much on role models.

    Albany, you raise an important point. Of course it’s important, for everyone not just BT’s, to have role models. But it’s also important to trust yourself. Contrary to what many will tell you, the Olam is not Sheker (the world is not a lie). There are good people and good values outside of our orbit. Not only are we permitted to bring these values with us, but, especially these days, it’s imperative that we do.

    I’ve been around the block a few times. The man, the Rabbi, at the center of my Kiruv experience recently got out of jail. He had spent 25 years physically and verbally abusing young people in his charge. (He only got “caught” by one of them.) The orthodox established rallied to his defense for years. Some still make excuses for him. One could certainly understand if a trail of off-the-derech kids were left in his wake. Some were.

    Yet,many people I know were directly affected by him. Most of them not only remained frum and grew in their Yiddishkeit, but became educators, Rabbis, and leaders. I think a lot of this had to do with their inner strength, the values they brought with them from the “outside”, and the strength of their (non-frum) families.

  48. IMO, we should adopt the relatively simple proposition that one cannot separate ritual observance from adherence to CM. When we engage in rationalizations and worse, that is when we are the most vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.

  49. Dear David,

    The RCA has taken a SMALL step in the correct direction; they have not done enough.

    It is not sufficient that crooks be denied aliyot; they must be totally banned from even entering synagogues (until they can prove they they repented completely, which includes returning all the money they stole and apologizing to all their victims).

    Even worse, the RCA decree has not been publicized in the news media, so it makes zero impact on the opinions of our Gentile neighbors.

    Last but not least, the RCA alone is not enough; the OU and NCYI and Agudah must do this also.


  50. What we need is for chareidi leaders to come out publicly and say that Rabbis who permit tax evasion and/or theft from gentiles or the government are not Orthodox Rabbis. Until that happens I am afraid that we are still going to be facing these problems. One Rabbi who has very openly been telling people for years that we can ignore some the halahcos in Chioshen Mishpat regarding these matters was recently publicly exposed in a newspaper article. Yet he is still a respected rabbi and the only condemnation of him has come out of Modern Orthodox circles. Will the chareidi spokesmen condemn these Rabbis or not? If not, why not?

  51. Dear Shades of Gray,

    I have been publicizing incidents of Kiddush HaShem for 12 years, but there is no substitute for Jews and Jewish organizations publicly speaking out against Bernard Madoff and all people like him.

    We must make public statements in front of hundreds of millions of Gentiles that we totally condemn Bernard Madoff and all those like him.

    For example, an article printed in:
    the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time Magazine and U.S. News and World Report, stating that several Jewish organizations have banded togather to condemn crooks and ban those crooks from participating in their institutions: synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, Yeshivah University, etc.

    Synagogues should not be the only Jewish institituions to publicly speak out against Jewish crooks: The Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) and JCRCs and Hillels and kiruv organizations and YU should also speak out against the Jewish crooks.

    When this happens, many of our children and Gentiles neighbors and Gentile co-workers will understand that Jewish crooks are only a cancer on the body of the Jewish people, not the body itself.


  52. 1) In our own lives we can make a kiddush Hashem as much as possible.

    2) We can point to positive examples of laymen and rabbis intercating with non-Jews and give that publicity as well.

    3) The fact that Jewish community is trying to correct it’s wrongs is also something good. The Spinka Rebbe called the gathering in Boro Park a “hirhur teshuvah”, and “kiddush Hashem”, and I agree with that(even if it shouldn’t have had to take place).

    4) Community problems can really own be solved by the community working with leadership and by Hashem!

    For example, someone wrote in an article that the “elephant in the room” is the need for better secular and vocational education in the Charedi world.

    On the one hand, Hashem can make another real estate boom. On the other hand, the financial scandals may be the way of Hashem showing communities what reality is.

    See the following quote from Cross-Currents(“Wiki-Orthodoxy and the Undervaluing of Torah”). I would emphasize that I believe that it is a merit and privelege to be able to support Torah in Israel or anywhere, and also that communities will change slowly at their own pace.

    However, the point is that G-d controls history and reality.

    “There may be problems – huge problems – in the haredi community in Israel. But we cannot afford to be oblivious to the pain of what would be involved in changing the status quo…
    Accommodating “reality” means killing the golden goose. To be sure, it is a high-maintenance goose. But it is still laying golden eggs.

    How many of us can remember the last day of summer vacations gone by, when those last hours meant so much, when closing the door on the vacation condo was so difficult, because it meant the inexorable return to a dreary reality we did not want to return to? It is hard to close doors to spiritual reverie as well.

    “Enlightened” critics may be on target with their criticism, but they should not be deaf to the beauty of the music coming from Israel, even if they do not like much of the behavior of some of the musicians. If we criticize, we must take pains to insure that we do not undervalue, under-appreciate, the power and beauty of the Torah of Israel “.

  53. What Leonard Cohen wrote in comment 7 (#2) makes me want to cry. Not because I disagree with him but, because I understand exactly what he is talking about. In my secular upbringing honestly was always emphasised, it is so hard for a current BT to see and hear what is going on. As much as we can say “don’t judge Judaism by the Jews” BTs still depend so much on role models.

  54. Nathan: I understand your outrage and your agenda is clearly motivated by heartfelt emotions. But there is one major problem: TESHUVA. The Rambam states that NOTHING stands in the way of sincere teshuva.

    How can the kehilla judge when the former object of their scorn does complete and sincere teshuva, and should therefore be reinstated as a fully accepted Jew? If the person says that s/he’s done teshuva, are we m’dan l’chaf z’chus that they are being truthful? Only Hashem can see into the heart…for the rest of us it’s a sticky wicket. I have no satisfactory answer to this conundrum.

  55. Al Oeste,

    1. I’m not aware that the OU and YI shuls take dictation from their headquarters either.

    2. The Agudah and the others are not being asked to “attack” their core constituencies, but to set policy for the future. Even if Nathan’s formulation is too extreme, giving honors to the wrong type of people should end now.

  56. nathan
    while OU or young israel can successfully mandate their members’ behaviour, the aguda cannot attack its core constituency . also, the haredi community has hundreds of shuls, shtiebels, yeshivos, etc that are all independent businesses. i dont think they are under anyone’s control…..

  57. I’m not at all happy with those Jewish media and spokespeople who view the recent adverse publicity as the work of Jew-haters out to get us. These media perform a similar function to the false prophets of old, numbing us against the realization that we need to improve. Jew-haters always exist; why should any of us stupidly violate our ideals and give them ammunition?

  58. I am a ba’al teshuva of some 30 years.

    (1) My mother a”h, was never fully accepting of my choice. I believe that she was modestly supportive only because of her great love and devotion to my children, her grandchildren. Nevertheless, over the years she never ceased to criticize when she read about orthodox misfeasance, or experienced rude behavior from an Orthodox Jew: “YOU people are supposed to be religious, yet look at how YOU behave,” was the refrain that I would hear. I became guilty by association and it was truly embarrassing.

    (2) Soon, I will need to appear before a board of medical examiners who will rule on my application for a disability pension. In years past I would never have considered this, but, I will NOT wear my yarmulke (and I am considering shaving my beard for the interview). I fear that it will hurt my chances before the board, whose members might assume that as an Orthodox Jew I am faking it in order to get an undeserved benefit. Of course, I should rely on my emunas Hashem that whatever outcome the Ribbono Shel Olam wants will happen. On the other hand, I have to do my hishtadlus with seichel. This is the havoc that Chilulei Hashem causes in all of our lives.

  59. Our communal organizations scream loudly when someone suggests that same sex marriage might be permissible in Judaism, or that a Conservative rabbi might be trustworthy in kashrut. But what about extortion of employees, money laundering, charity fraud, selling counterfeit merchandise, promoting fraudulent investment schemes, tax fraud, and misrepresentation of business services? It is *orthodox* people who have been accused of these things over the past year. It doesn’t require suspension of “innocent until proven guilty” to say that such things are absolutely asur! Yet I regularly see excuses for such conduct coming from our community.

  60. The Orthodox Union, the National Council of Young Israel and Agudah Israel, covered by both newspapers and television news, must make this public announcement:

    From now on, any Jew caught stealing, robbing, cheating or defrauding or creating headlines that make Jews look bad, will be BANNED from all synagogues affiliated with the OU, NCYI and Agudah.

    That person will NOT be allowed to enter those synagogues, and if he enters them, then he will NOT be permitted to receive aliyot or any kind of honors or even recite kaddish. He will be forced to leave the synagogue immediately.

    Also, his monetary donations will NOT be accepted by any of those synagogues, and he will be banned from advertising in the synagogue newsletter.

    When he dies, his name may NOT appear on a memorial plaque or be announced in the synagogue newsletter. He may NOT be eulogized.

    If a synagogue officer or Rabbi does creates headline news that brings shame to the Jewish people, then he must be removed from his position immediately, even if there nobody to replace him. If he is a Rabbi, then his ordination [semichah] should be cancelled, and referred to as MISTER instead of Rabbi.

    I want to see synagogues in all 50 USA states place advertisements in newspapers proclaiming that Ponzi King Bernard Madoff is NOT welcome in their synagogues. Even though he will never leave prison alive, it is an important symbol. Our children and our Gentile neighbors must know unambiguously that we Jews DO NOT agree with or tolerate crooks or criminals.

  61. Community leaders and members need to assess what can be done to intensify the cultural barriers against wrongdoing, which is less likely to happen if no one winks at or condones it. As we each do our cheshbon hanefesh for the coming year, we can also map out how to upgrade our individual behavior as appropriate.

    Other problems to be tackled include:
    1. Ending conspicuous consumption
    2. Making communities and institutions more economically self-supporting

  62. CJ, I think you should feel embarrassed when someone in your profession tarnishes the profession. And whether you do or don’t, it IS going to affect how you are perceived by your clients, no matter how upstanding you are.

    However, even if not, this is different, and much more intense. We have a directive of interdependency (Areivut) which, as far as I know, is not included in the Series 7. As such, when we see images of our co-religionists being taken away in shackles we should feel as if it is our brother.

    Yet, that said, you are correct. The only answer to the question posed in the title is for the rest of us to be shining examples of what should result from Torah observance. And since we live in times when there is so much bad press, we actually must overcompensate. Which means that, especially in s secular setting with regard to secular laws, we must go beyond the letter of the law, and not just, as a commenter said in previous thread, hide in that grey area between what is mutar and what is assur. In order to cancel out just one public “wrong” thousands of us must be noticed for doing what is “right”.

  63. CJ (#1), in your blog you wrote that one youth throwing a stone at a demonstration can be the subject of a front page newspaper photo, and thereby cause a chillul Hashem.

    Like you, when a member of my profession or my religion does the wrong thing, I try to stand tall on my own merits and those of my honest colleagues. I don’t regret my choices, whether of occupation or degree of religous observance. Nevertheless, I do feel pain when something that I stand for is tarnished by wrongdoers.

    While the accused parties are not guilty until convicted, the appearance of impropriety and the challenges to our integrity sets back our causes.

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