Abramoff and BTs

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I got an update from someone who has known Jack for many years. He is in fact a BT (Baal Teshuva, lit. “Master of Return”), meaning he did not grow up Orthodox. He only became Orthodox during his twenties. But not only that — he never attended yeshivah, Kiruv/BT or otherwise, at least to the best of my source’s recollection.

So it’s not as if he had the opportunity to learn, which was the center of the debate/discussion here over the past day.

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13 Responses

  1. Zachary Kessin says:

    Speeking as a BT who has never attended any Yeshiva at all I think blaming his lack of Yeshiva education for what he did is quite frankly silly. Fraud is a crime of commission not of ommision. We are not talking about someone who did not know that you are not allowed to speak between washing and eating bread (for example) but someone who very clearly acted in a way that was unethical and possibly illegal.

    You can spend many years “learning” Gamara in a yeshiva and still be a theif, or not, and you can never learn in yeshiva and do your best to be a model jew (or not).

  2. Shalhevet says:

    Could this not fall under the category of “Loshon Horah” (forbidden speech)??

  3. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    Although the discussion of Mr. Abramoff’s Chillul Hashem is certainly of vital communal importance, I ask that we show him some sympathy. He made the decision to wear that hat not as a lawyer deciding on his image in court, but as a man who was about to make the public declaration that would forever brand him a thief and a traitor to those that trusted him, whose family and communal life is ruined, and who faces decades in miserable and dirty and ugly prisons. The moral decisions he made in his professional life deserve public censure. The sartorial decisions he made under extreme duress do not.

  4. Bob says:

    Whoever your source is is either misinformed or deliberately not telling you the truth. I went to college with Jack and knew him well. He was an active member of the Orthodox minyan at Brandeis from the beginning. Whether he was observant before college I do not know.

  5. DovBear says:

    When a sushi bar opened somewhere he discussed in great detail with a rav about whether it was kosher despite not having hashgacha and he dealt with the owners to ascertain all kinds of details about the place (not that you would agree or eat at such a place), but he consulted with a rav

    What a shame he wasn’t so scrupulous about questions of fraud and theft.

    How can someone who sought to find the ultimate Truths… the ultimate expression of ethics found in the Torah and then do the kinds of things he has pleaded guilty to in court? How can one give up on the pleasures of complete and unfettered freedom of non Torah observance seek the highest of ethical plains and do such unethical things? What kind of person has so much disdain for his fellow human beings, the Native Americans who trusted him?

    The other players in this case include the Christian Coalition’s former executive director, Ralph Reed, the Traditional Values Coalition’s Rev. Louis Sheldon and James Dobson of Focus on the Family. All three were recruited to help Abramoff’s casino and lottery clients, and though all three are vocal opponents of gambling, all three complied. It would seem, therefore, that it’s not unusual for religious politicians like Jack to suffer from a peculiar sort of bifurcation, one that permits them to say the right things, while doing the wrong things.

  6. Harry Maryles says:

    I have said this on my blog and elsewhere but it deserves to be mentioned here. Baalei Teshuva and Gerei Tzedek (sincere converts) are in a class by themselves. They are far more elevated than those of us who are FFB (born to religious family and raised that way). Those of us who are FFB take Judaism for granted. We often do not think about the larger questions in life. Many of us practice Torah observance out of rote habit. It is easy for us. We were never seriously tempted by the “forbidden fruit” offered by general culture. BT’s came to Torah observance through a search for truth. And it is not a move easily made. To change from a lifestyle of complete freedom to do as one pleases and accept the burdon of Heaven is to make a conscious decision to deny pleasures that one ahs gotten quite used to in life and not so easily abandoned. By doing so they have given up infinitely more than a FFB ever could. Yet they do so through conviction… because they have found Emes. I stand in awe of anyone who has done that.

    This is what makes the Jack Abramoff case so perplexing. How can someone who sought to find the ultimate Truths… the ultimate expression of ethics found in the Torah and then do the kinds of things he has pleaded guilty to in court? How can one give up on the pleasures of complete and unfettered freedom of non Torah observance seek the highest of ethical plains and do such unethical things? What kind of person has so much disdain for his fellow human beings, the Native Americans who trusted him? And that trust was based on the very reputation that Orthodox Jews have ethical behavior! How could he not realize the massive Chilul Hashem he was creating?

    It makes no sense.

  7. Bob Miller says:

    Maybe the Orthodox image out there has been generally positive; why else would someone claim
    to be Orthodox in order to make a good impression? Could this (at least ’til now) be progress?

  8. Caveman says:

    As someone who knows Jack I just wanted to confirm that what Yaakov has written is correct. I can’t say that I know
    the ins and outs of his life, but in response to Anonymous, I would say with some confidence that Jack and his family are involved in the frum community where they live. Jack started a new Yeshiva High School that eventually closed, but how it started was fraught with controversy. I know that about 20 years ago when he would eat out at a local treife resteraunt he made some very specific arrangements for them to get him kosher food. When a sushi bar opened somewhere he discussed in great detail with a rav about whether it was kosher despite not having hashgacha and he dealt with the owners to ascertain all kinds of details about the place (not that you would agree or eat at such a place), but he consulted with a rav, his wife goes to the mikva, and his kids go to very normal and frum schools.

  9. Justin A says:

    Forgive me but the depth of Mr. Abramoff’s observance doesn’t seem relevent.

    Any one of us who has lived in a large (read: Wealthy) Jewish community knows that what he has done, while on a tremendous scale, is not unusuall. These kind’s of money games, and white collar “it doesn’t hurt jews” crimes are commonplace. Community leaders (not just rabbium) often turn a blind eye, and if the donations are large enough they are some times even encouraged.

    I’ve delivered tefilin to jews in prision, and seen how far this goes. From bribery, to insurance scams, to drug dealing (or at least lending the money for it). You may argue that the prison population does not acurately represent the normal kehila; true enough. However I’ve yet to see a community that didn’t bend the rules, sometimes just a little, often quite allot, to acomadate a rich jew, who supports the community.

  10. Anonymous in LA says:

    Just curious… if someone isn’t observant or sufficiently knowledgable about halacha, but just wears the garments while perpetrating indiscretions and worse, is it not a lesser level of chillul Hashem? Tinok sh’nishba eats a cheeseburger is not as bad as someone who’s grown up shomer kashrus, right?

    Aseh lecha rav ukneh lecha chaver. Moreover, if the man never had Rav nor chaver close enough to give him tochachah, it’s hard to classify that person as ever having been “frum” by the least of standards.

    Side story. In college a Korean dorm-mate of mine named Sam decided to psych-out his classmates in an Organic Chemistry test (this was the course intended to weed out those who weren’t going to cut it as pre-meds). A Jewish guy on my floor had a kippah with “Sam” embroidered on it and “Korean Sam” borrowed it to wear to the test and sit in front. An Asian with kippah in the early 1980’s? Well — the thinking went — people would be too panicked about the grade curve to inquire deeper as to whether Sam was actually Jewish.

    If a Buddhist woman puts on a nun’s habit and commits a crime, does that shame Catholicism?

    Here are some simple questions to start with:

    – Where has he davened for the Yomim Noraim for the last decade?
    – When was the last time someone saw him put on tefillin?
    – Wife a regular mikve-goer?
    – Where do his kids go to school?
    – Who are their rebbes?
    – Do any of the congregations in the BH area remember seeing him as a prominent out-of-place teen?
    – What do his college dorm-mates recall about his level of observance and interest in seeking Torah education?
    – Did he ever go to Israel as a teen? If so, how could he NOT have been steered by any of the persuasive kiruv folk at the Kotel to a BT yeshiva?

  11. YM says:

    This weeks Time magazine has Jack on its cover. The article talks about him eating treif chicken and then telling his prospective native american clients that as an oppressed Orthodox Jew he can understand them, yadda, yadda.

    I don’t know if anything in this article is true, but if it is I think we don’t need to wallow so much in self-reflection about this, since it seems like his Orthodoxy was rather mis-informed in most respects.

  12. mb says:

    Maybe Rav Adlerstein was being a little nuanced. Regardless which Yeshiva Mr.Abramoff did or did not attend, he probably had a Rav. I’ll leave it at that.

  13. Steve Brizel says:

    Abramoff’s not attending yeshiva really isn’t all that relevant. He purported to represent himself as a
    a Torah observant Jew when in fact his actions are a tremendous Chillul HaShem. Since when is such
    conduct even remotely excusable regardless of a person’s education or lack thereof. Again, do any of
    the relevant Psukim, Sugyos or Halachos provide an exemption for such conduct on the basis of one’s
    lack of education?