Is it Chilul Hashem?

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Last week a venerable rabbi pleaded guilty to having amassed a fortune by selling non-existent insurance policies to trucking companies. Many prominent figures in the Orthodox community testified as character witnesses to his many acts of chesed and the like.

My question is — and I really don’t know the answer — was there a chilul Hashem (disgrace of G-d’s Name) involved in Orthodox Jews providing such testimony in the hope that the judge would impose a mild sentence? Does such testimony imply that we think it is o.k. to steal from “the goyim” if the proceeds go to good Jewish charities? I assume that there are two sides to this issue.

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8 Responses

  1. Aharon Eliyahu says:

    Before one asks the question of whether there is a chilul Hashem, and before everyone gets bent out of shape, one must know the facts.
    Private letters to the presiding judge were written, as is the expected mechanism in such cases, regardless of the religion of theb person involved. Everyone acknowledged the person’s guilt. How these became public is unknown, but is clearly illegal. That should bother people, yet i did not hear any comments about this.
    No letters in any way suggested that the person used the stolen funds for good causes and that this justifies the crime. (Indeed, the convicted person himself was a victim, is quite broke, and did not make money off this crime). He accepted however his responsibility for the crime, and is dearly paying for his mistake.
    Numerous errors and mistakes in the reports in the press were present – why is no one bothered that they are being over on accepting lashon hara; and they are far guiltier of sin in doing so than the person involved in the case.
    The letters written by hundreds of individuals talk about the lifetime of chesed this individual did with funds earned legitimately and honestly throughout a long and distinguished career, which is unfortunately being overshadowed by errors in judgement late in life. (I hope none of us are ever faced with difficult ethical challenges – don’t be so quick to judge someone else).
    In summary, an elderly man with a lifetime of good deeds made a mistake for which he is now going to serve time. The American legal system allows and requests statements from people who know the character of the person to inform the judge so he can appropriately decide upon the correct sentence. The letters acknowledged guilt and asked the judge to view the person’s life in-toto, as is done for every person convicted of a crime.
    Please think twice before accepting lashon hara and adhere to the dictum of chazal that you must judge people “lekaf zechus” – always assume the best case scenarion, not the worst.
    May Klal yisroel be a light onto the nations – and even when we seemingly are not, let us make sure we adhere to our Holy Torah and its laws rather than participating in further sins and worsening an already difficult situation for the family and friends and all of the Jewish people.

  2. David Zarmi says:

    This is a very thought-provoking question. I just wanted to rephrase it as being a question of what the limits are to how we should try to benefit our own people within the laws of the the country we live in. I just took Evidence in law school and here I’d be curious as to whether the man was already convicted or was trying to avoid conviction (under the mercy rule a criminal defendant who is pleading not guilty is allowed to bring character witnesses on his behalf to convince the jury he didn’t commit the crime). Once he was already convicted it seems somehow worse. But if American law allows a criminal defendant to get some clemency for community works, can we use that loophole? Does it make a difference if the good works are not just for Jewish charities, but for American charities in general? Does it make a difference if it’s in front of a jury or just a judge?

    Or is that still too public?

  3. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    I think the point of the character witnesses is that while the defendant did not withstand temptation, he is basically a good and caring person. There is a broad spectrum of crimes between jaywalking and murder, and a sentencing judge needs to know whether the defendant is an inveterate sociopath or simply weak.

  4. Adam Steiner says:

    It definitely casts a shadow over the Orthodox community. I can picture those outside the community saying that we condone stealing, embezzlement and fraud as long as the person is nice and gives a small portion to good causes. When required we send dozens (or hundreds) of letters trying to get criminals off. Or, alternatively, they will say “everyone else does it so why shouldn’t they?” That is equally as bad.

  5. Some Reader says:

    When you say “his many acts of chesed,” are you referring to what he did with the stolen money?

  6. Gil Student says:

    I’d think that those institutions should have appeared in court to return the tainted money they received.

  7. David Brand says:

    Lumpy,
    I think that R’Rosenblum’s question was NOT whether the actions of the man who perpetrated the fraud constituted a Chillul HaShem, as they most certainly did. The question was if testifying about the many good things that he did with the money constituted a Chillul HaShem. I’m inclined to think that it’s a bad thing to publicize(or to testify) about the institutions that benefitted. It seems that there is no question that this man stole money and used it for his own purposes, no matter how noble. People could easily say that the charity was to mollify his guilt, and not because of his higher motives. Even worse, there is nobody here saying that he gave 100% of the stolen funds to charity. How much did he keep for personal use? Even if he did use 100% for charity, which would have made him into a sort of Robin Hood, it still would have been wrong, because the money did not belong to him. So, I can’t really see any positive outcome of many people testifying to his many charitable contributions.

    One thing that will certainly happen, though, is that every neo-nazi and skinhead website will pick up this story and “prove” how unscrupulous Jewish businessmen are. That’s sad for all of us.

  8. Lumpy Rutherford says:

    >testified as character witnesses to
    >his many acts of chesed and the like

    I guess Robin Hood was also a big צדיק (holy man) too.