More Bad News for Orthodox Jews

If you haven’t seen the front page of a newspaper in the last couple of days, there was a big arrest yesterday in the state of New Jersey which included three mayors, two assemblymen, and five Orthodox rabbis. The charges were for public corruption and money laundering. I don’t know the details of the case, but from what’s come out so far, it doesn’t look too good for these guys.

This is not the first time we’ve seen Orthodox Jews involved in a scandal and I’m sure it (unfortunately) won’t be the last. It’s very disheartening to see any of our leaders involved in crime, but I think we feel particularly betrayed when leaders, who claim to be religious, succumb to corruption.

It seems more often than not, that the people who get caught up in these illicit affairs are the ones in positions of power. As a person who’s never had too much power myself (other than throwing around the occassional “who’s the boss in this house?” when the kidlets get unruly) while I can’t speak from personal experience, I can imagine how easily power could get to one’s head.

The Torah imagined it too, which is why the commandments regarding a king (the Biblical model of a powerful CEO or government leader) are rather strict. As it says in the book of Deuteronomy about a king:

“But he shall not have many horses… and he shall not have many wives and he shall not have very much gold and silver… and he shall write himself a copy of this Torah… and it shall be with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life… so that his heart shall not be high above his brothers…”

Since polygamy was banned in Judaism 1000 years ago, we can’t relate to the multiple wives thing exactly, but we’ve certainly seen leaders in the recent past get into trouble with extra-marrital affairs and prostitutes while in office. The Torah seems to be warning us that powerful people must be extra careful to keep their sexual desires in check.

In terms of a king of limiting his number of horses and his amount of gold and silver, we can easily replace those things with cars (and other material posessions) as well as money. The Torah appears to be telling us that power in addition to wealth and materalism is too hot to handle, so those in power should live more simple physical existences. 

And if all those restrictions weren’t enough, the king is commanded to do one final thing. He has to personally write a Torah (a process which takes a year to do), schlep it around wherever he goes (those things are huge!), and read it every single day so that he remains humble and doesn’t let the power overtake him. These rules, in truth, do not apply to the leaders of today, but imagine how much less trouble they’d get into if they followed any part of them.

There’s one final point I’d like to make, which I think is the most important message to take away from a scandal such as this. While it’s very easy to look at fallen religious leaders and wonder “what’s the use of trying if even the role models fail?” I’d like to offer a different approach. Disappointment can cause us to throw in the towel or it can inspire us to work even harder.

According to Jewish phiolosphy, we Jews are judged by God individually and as a nation. What that means in practical terms is that we are a living, connected being, so if our left leg is broken, our right one has to get stronger to compensate. If our eyes go blind, then our ears have to listen more carefully. If a part of our community has lost its way, then those of us who are left to care must put in that much more effort to tip the scales in the other direction. I’m ashamed and disappointed like everyone else, but I also have more resolve than ever to live honestly, righteously, and create some positive press for our people. Who else is with me?

Lost and Phoned
Michael Jackson: Better off Dead?

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  1. Thanks for the encouragement and wise insight; truly we have a lot to do, the “am haaretz” to show the compassion, goodness, beauty, and respectfulness for others that is Torah.

  2. I’m with you =)

  3. “More Bad News for Orthodox Jews”
    I would propose that this is bad news for all Jews….the antisemitic persons of the world will jump at any chance to quantify their world view….the ignorant of the world will see this and say…”look at the Jews doing bad things”….not look at the Orthodox Jews…..
    we are all in it together regardless of how we Jews accecpt/understand/and or cooperate with each other…

  4. I agree with you completely, if the allegations are true. I would add one other thought. Let us take a breath or two before we believe what the media say about our people. It is possible, even probable, that such corruption has occurred, and that the stories are 100% factual. But we are slow to believe the stories in the MSM about our particular camp. Let us be just as wary about believing stories in toto until we have more evidence. When the Columbine thing happened, world Jewry went bonkers trying to be the first to beat ourselves up. “Where have we gone wrong as a people? Dylan Klebold is Jewish!” It turned out that they were a bit too quick to accept the blame. Klebold’s father was Jewish. Klebold wasn’t. And we had a friend in the secret service who had to spend $10K to prove that he was not guilty of a ton of wrongdoing. (He and his partner had caught Hillary in the act in the Filegate scandal; and she and Bill went to no end of trouble to get their careers wrecked.) In the end, his career was wrecked, even though he was exonerated. I like to wait a while before I believe bad press against us.

  5. Thank you for addressing this delicate issue. It is a very sensitive subject especially sine the governments informant is also an Orthodox Jew who has been investigated for bank fraud. Its always better to address this in our community than to sweep it under the rug and have people loose hope & faith. Judaism is perfect that doesn’t mean that all Jews are. We are here to learn & grow and Complete our Tukun Olam(correction in the world).

  6. It makes me sad to read all the “bad Jewish news”. I realized that those making headlines are really a small minority of the Jewish people! Its just repeating the same headlines over and over makes it sound like its LOT of Jewish people.
    So i resolved NOT to read this bad news, unless it affects me directly in some way because i am finding it a bit too much Lashon Harah

  7. Karen- we certainly are all in this together, and I tried to make that point at the end of the blog.
    The reason that I specifically said “Orthodox” in the title, though, is that when Orthodox Jews behave in a negative way, it doesn’t just fuel the virtriol of the anti-Semites, it fuels the vitriol of fellows Jews (who are not Orthodox)!
    Also, the goal of this site is to improve the public perception of Orthodox Jews. Far too often, the whole Orthodox community gets lumped into the same category as the few bad seeds out there.

  8. rutimizrachi- Of course we don’t know if the allegations are true. I tried to touch upon that at the beginning of the post, but it’s good that you mention it explicitly here.
    The reason that I wrote about this is case though, was to give some understanding of how pious people could fall. The Torah, itself, anticipates that corruption due to power will occur unless the leader makes serious efforts to avoid it.
    Also, until all the details unfold, I wanted to inspire my readers to come away from such news with strengthened resolve to create positivity instead of the more common result of losing hope.

  9. shorty-
    I understand not wanting to read about this stuff, but I felt compelled to write about it since the information is already so widely disseminated and I wouldn’t be telling anyone anything they hadn’t heard. Since it was already so public I wanted to put a positive spin on it.
    Also, in regards to the laws of lashon hara it is generally not a sin to repeat things that have been told “in the presence of three persons.” The idea is that if it is told in the presence of three persons, it is already public knowledge, and no harm can come of retelling it. However, even in this case, you should not repeat it if you know you will be spreading the gossip further.

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