Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Adar 5761 - March 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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The Truly Jewish Response
by Rabbi Avi Shafran

In a widely published recent opinion piece, UAHC (Reform) president Rabbi Eric Yoffie cites the case of four men serving prison sentences for misappropriating public funds and claims to have been unable to find more than "a single example" of an Orthodox leader "who has spoken out publicly against [the] reasoning" that misusing such funds in order to keep Jewish communities or institutions afloat is wrong.

He would have done well to have contacted Agudath Israel. We would have happily sent him material from Agudath Israel national conventions and conferences of recent years -- which are routinely attended by thousands of Orthodox Jews -- where both major addresses on the topic of financial integrity and roundtable discussions with titles like "613 / 9 to 5: The Challenges to Observance and Integrity in our Business and Professional Lives" abound.

We would have gladly provided him our press release of November 24 of last year, for example, recounting how, at our most recent convention, revered Council of Torah Sages senior member and dean of one of the largest Orthodox yeshivos in the United States, Rabbi Avrohom Pam, stated "clearly and unequivocally that it makes no difference whether one is acting as an individual or on behalf of an institution, or whether one is dealing with a Jew, non-Jew or government -- meticulous honesty is the mandate of every Jew and must certainly be the hallmark of every observant Jew."

Rabbi Yoffie could have read on about how Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe and Rosh Agudath Israel, sounded the very same theme at the same gathering, averring that "honesty in all matters, including financial ones, results in 'the sanctification of the glory of Heaven' -- something...that Jewish religious law requires of... every Jewish man, woman and child."

And, further, how the Rebbe went on to characterize such behavior as "the overriding challenge and the basic underpinning of Jewish life," whose opposite, G-d forbid, is Jewish life's "ultimate failure."

Rabbi Yoffie could have read even more, about how Rabbi Perlow called it a desecration of G-d's name when apparently observant Jews engage in questionable practices or seem to differentiate "between glatt kosher and glatt yosher" - between meticulous observance in realms like kashrus, on the one hand, and similar stringency in the realm of financial "straightforwardness" on the other.

Those comments, and similar ones offered by Rabbi Elya Svei, dean of the Talmudical Academy of Philadelphia, were made before close to 4000 Orthodox Jews, and were shared with the media and widely reported.

And they represent only what is said at Agudath Israel conventions. Orthodox Union and National Council of Young Israel gatherings have placed similar focus on the importance halacha puts on integrity in financial dealings. Meanwhile, in yeshiva classroom after yeshiva classroom, in study hall after study hall, Orthodox Jewish scholars teach their students that "chosomo shel Hakodosh Boruch Hu emes" - the very "seal" of the Holy One is truthfulness.

Yes, there are individuals in our community who may forget those lessons or allow temptations to obscure them. (More about them in a moment.) But they are only individuals. If every leader or teacher would have as successful a track record as Orthodox leaders and teachers do in inspiring followers or students to self-improvement and high moral standards, the world would be a far better place than it is today.

Rabbi Yoffie would also have done well to read further still in the press release cited above, and to seriously ponder the Orthodox sages' additional admonition that Jews avoid not only dishonesty and desecration of God's name Hashem but also the haughtiness of being judgmental of people who are not equal to the challenge, and the moral duty we have to recognize the toll taken on some by extreme financial pressures.

Had he done so, perhaps he would have been a bit more empathic of those he scorned as stealing money "and then defending their actions on the grounds that the money did not go directly into their own pocket." Condemning what they did does not preclude recognizing that theirs were crimes of desperation, not venality, or empathizing with the dire circumstances that led them to act as they did. For none of the men to whom he referred used ill-gotten gains to afford themselves lavish lifestyles, neither directly (as Rabbi Yoffie admits) nor indirectly. Surely it behooves religious leaders not only to call for strength but to feel, and show, compassion.

Both together, the condemnation and the compassion, the tochacha and the rachmanus, comprise the truly Jewish response.


[Rabbi Avi Shafran serves as director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America and as American director of Am Echad]


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