Top Ten Quotes About Madoff

Well, not quite ten. So we’ll start closer to the top. What follows are some comments from around the Jewish world that struck me as particularly powerful and telling. They are presented with very little or no comment. They are all in the hameivin yavin category.

Number 4 Quote
Pinchas Landau, writing in the Jerusalem Post (December 19), writes a devastating analysis of the seriousness of the scandal. He may get the reason for Orthodox culpability wrong (see the next quote for a more accurate depiction of Orthodox wrongdoing), but he does not mince words about the extent of the damage. His analysis is reminiscent of the words of R. Shamshon Raphael Hirsch regarding the 4-5 fold penalty for stealing sheep or cattle, owing to the damage inflicted on an entire economic enterprise (i.e. animals that graze without protection) that relies on community honesty to survive.

What is abundantly clear is that Bernie Madoff is a mass-murderer. We will never know the names of the people who are going to die because of him, but he has killed numerous would-be recipients of medical care, welfare support and just plain money to pay the bills with, from the host of charities and charitable people he has wiped out; killed them as sure as if he took a gun and shot them through the heart. The bullets have been fired and will hit their anonymous targets. Some will die, others “merely” suffer from sickness, pain, poverty and the rest – all due to Madoff…

Yet it goes much further than responsibility for misery and mass-murder. Madoff committed a crime against humanity, in the most fundamental sense of that overworked and abused term. Typically, in the context of the entire financial crisis, it is the gentiles who have identified this central issue, quicker and more clearly than the Jews, including – perhaps especially – the Orthodox rules-observant but mostly morally blind “religious” Jews.

See, for example, an article by David Callaway on the MarketWatch financial site called (www.marketwatch.com/ news/story/bernie-madoff). He put his finger on the reason why this is a crime perpetrated against every human being, of whatever race, creed or nationality: “Death of faith far more damaging than credit crisis” was his subhead, effectively summarizing what he had to say. Many people and organizations have lost money, but everyone, include people clean of any direct or indirect exposure to the scandal, feels stained and, yes, poorer as human beings, on discovering that a person could systematically lie to, cheat and rob his friends, neighbors, business and social partners and acquaintances, coreligionists, and just plain folks – in that order! – all the while maintaining a facade of bonhomie, “genius” and even integrity…

The financial system that grew up over 30 years has evaporated in the space of 18 months, taking with it not just the phoney money it spawned, but a far more basic requirement for economic activity, indeed for human existence: faith in people and the implicit assumption that what they say and do rests on a minimal moral base, in which doing deliberate harm to other people is unconscionable.

Number 3 Quote
Rabbi Shaul Robinson used his Shabbos morning derashah last week to focus on the lessons that the rest of us can learn – those who are neither money managers nor sitting on seven, eight, nine or ten figures of “discretionary” capital to invest. His honesty is astounding. I hope it will be infectious and take hold in communities to the right of Lincoln Square Synagogue. Although he addresses the Modern Orthodox community, much of what he says is relevant in altered form to people much further to the right.

Because lets be honest: If this scandal had affected the Chasidic community, if it was a Charedi Jew what would we have said ? Look at those people, what are there values, look at how much better than them we are.

But it didn’t. it wasn’t a Chasidic Jew from Brooklyn, it was Yeshiva University trustee from Manhattan. It was one of us. At least as near as makes no difference. – and so we must ask the same question – What’s wrong with us?

And here is a sobering fact – it is we, the modern orthodox Jewish community that has been the most affected by these events. Over a billion dollars of money held by modern orthodox institutions, or by modern orthodox philanthropists has disappeared! [YA – It has since been argued that this number is far too low. Members of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue alone lost some two billion.] Has gone up in smoke…. No, the answer is that we have misused our wealth. We have seen our wealth as everything. We have judged ourselves and others by how much we have, how wealthy we are.

There is absolutely nothing wrong in working hard and making a living, indeed in becoming rich. But we have forgotten that there is more to life than wealth. And that the true worth of a human being is not what they are. And that when we try and keep up with the wealthy rather than living our own lives is when disaster strikes…Worse, we have said koche viotzem yadi asu et hachayil hazeh– our strength, our power has got us this. We have stopped believing that Hashem runs the world. We have thought that our wealth buys us security, immunity. The truth is it buys us nothing, because as Tanach and Chazal remind us over and over again it can be taken from us in an instant – and isn’t that the truth.

Worse we have begun to construct a model of the successful Jew, started to build a type of orthodox Judaism that requires at the very least affluence but ideally serious wealth to fully be part of…We have communicated to a generation of kids that to be a doctor a lawyer, a professional, to say nothing of a teacher, a social worker, is to be a loser.

We have constructed in our minds a value system that says wealth is the most important thing.

Number 2 Quote
Maharal of Prague did not lose any money in this scandal. But, not surprisingly, he did scoop the rest of us regarding the nature of wealth. In free translation, here is a money quote from the second perek of Nesiv Ha-osher. [Thanks to my dear friend Rav Shaya Karlinsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Darche Noam for pointing out the passage.]

When is it so [that a blessing of either wisdom, strength, or wealth is the equivalent of all blessings]? – only when it is a gift from Heaven, and by force of the Torah. The strength and wealth that are of human manufacture are naught….By Torah is meant the protocol with which Hashem ordered the world, assigning wisdom to this person, strength to that, and wealth to another. Whatever accords with the order ordained by G-d has staying power. Whatever is outside of the Divinely dictated order, however, is an essential departure from the way things were meant to be, and has no permanence. This includes Man’s acquisition of these blessings through his own devices, and not as a result of Hashem conferring them upon him…Moreover, when a person achieves them not through the Divinely imposed order of the way things were meant to be, they are the equivalent of an extra appendage. Anything more [i.e. an allusion to the laws of treifos, where an extra organ part is the equivalent of a missing organ part] is the same as something missing.

And now, the Number One quote on the Madoff scandal is from…
Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlit”a. Actually, it predates the entire episode. I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the story, but paraphrasing Rabbi Wein, if it hasn’t happened yet, it should have.

The story is that a rich person came to him for guidance/ a berachah/ solace after taking a major hit in the growing recession. “Rebbe – I lost a hundred million dollars!” He got no sympathy, but an icy stare. R. Chaim Kanievsky broke the silence. “There are people here with no food on the table, no parnasah, no way to pay the rent. Just what were you doing with a hundred million dollars before you lost it?”

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37 Responses

  1. dovid says:

    Jaded Topaz, I apologize. I saw your January 1, 2009 @ 4:20 am lengthy write-up only after reading Leah’s — January 12, 2009 @ 11:23 am comment which made reference to your Jan. 1 comment. Your write-up certainly deserves a response.

    First your questions:

    Question 1: “Do you have firsthand knowledge of the actual story facts?”
    Answer: No. I heard the story from Rabbi Zelig Friedman, Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva Zichron Eliezer (telephone #: 718- 336-9629/336-0640). I personally knew Rabbi Mattis Mendel. All my children learned in Yeshiva of Brooklyn before my family moved. This story is in line with his outlook in life and his personality. In addition, I vouch for the integrity of Rabbi Zelig Friedman, a talmid of Rabbi Avigdor Miller (whatever my vouch is worth). If you feel strongly, I have no hesitation getting in touch with Rabbi Shlomo Mendel, the current Rosh Yeshiva to confirm the story.

    Questions 2 and 3: Did Rabbi Mattis Mendel provide an exact reason on as to why he did not want to accept the donation to support torah in question? / What factors did he involve when making his decision?
    Answer: I personally didn’t hear an explanation for his refusing the donation. It is possible he explained it, but I doubt it very much. Yeshiva of Brooklyn is a charedi institution. Rabbi Mendel was its dean. If you are charedi, you don’t need an explanation as to why a donation from Barbra Streisand is unacceptable, especially since Ms. Streisand learned in Yeshiva of Brooklyn. If you are not charedi, no explanation will convince you that Rabbi Mendel did the right thing.

    Question 4: How did he reconcile the donor’s feelings and intentions with his mystifying decision?
    Answer: For one, his decision is mystifying to you, but from a Torah perspective it is not mystifying at all. With regards to Ms. Streisand’s feelings and intentions, Rabbi Mendel addressed them on the spot. He sincerely thanked her for remembering Yeshiva of Brooklyn and for her show of gratitude. Rabbi Mendel meant every single word. He was a man of truth that many of us have no concept of.

    Question 5: “hamalbim penei chaveiro berabim” comes to mind for starters, and “berabim” is an understatement.
    Answer: Where is the “hamalbim penei chaveiro” here? There was no putting anyone to shame. Rabbi Mendel, like any rosh yeshiva, has the prerogative of rejecting a donation. Furthermore, where is the “rabim” that you are talking about? The meeting most likely took place in Rabbi Mendel’s office. His office is about 120 ft x 60 ft. So, your issue is not an issue.

    Question 6: “…what do any of her personal career choices, life choices, hobbies, accomplishments and or philosophies have to do with what appear to be (if the facts touted about often when the story is cited are facts) laudable, exemplary/ praiseworthy/earnest and honest attempts to support one of the core elements of Judaism, the learning of Torah.
    You will find my answer in the three questions below.

    I answered your questions in good faith and to the best of my ability. The following are my questions to you:

    1. Why do you automatically assume Ms. Streisand’s intentions as “laudable, exemplary/ praiseworthy/earnest and honest …”, while you suspect Rabbi Mendel of trampling on other people’s feelings and embarrassing them in public, and you suspect me of intellectual dishonesty by repeatedly suggesting that I am peddling a story that is not based on facts? You made twice reference in your write-up to the beraisa in Shabbos 127a. One line below that beraisa (three lines from the bottom of עמוד א) and again second line on עמוד ב, the beraisa discusses the virtue and obligation to judge one’s fellow Jew favorably. Your choice of quoting only part of the discussion reflects either ignorance or something considerably worse.

    2. You are writing “This donation story keeps resurfacing every once in a while and every time it does, it seems to makes less sense on a halachic and logical level.” What are your Halachic qualifications to enable you to render an opinion on the facts presented in this story, even if the story was a hypothetical case study (which most likely it is not)?

    3. You are writing: “…. see shabbas 127a for a blatant Talmudic proof on just how important the learning of Torah is.” Notwithstanding Torah’s primacy, am I justified cheating at taxes, or following in the path of Bernie Madoff and donate “the proceeds” to a Torah institution? If not, why not? You may argue that Ms. Streisand earned her money through her hard, honest work. The drug dealer and the mafia man who kills on contract also earn their money through their “hard, honest work”. The answer is because of מצוה הבא בעברה loosely translated as the goal does not justify the means. Ms. Streisand, as a former student of Yeshiva of Brooklyn, is not the example that our daughters should consider, let alone follow. Her life style and the way she earns her money are absolutely antithetical to Torah. Hence, her donation is טרייפע געלט (tainted money).

    Jaded Topaz, you don’t have to agree with me, but the mere fact that you don’t see a problem for a charedi yeshiva to accept a donation from Ms. Streisand, makes me believe that the answer to my question #2 is: “NONE”.

    “But I learnt that if you build your own bais medrash then you can make the rules”

    Jaded Topaz, you and I, and Barbra Streisand don’t make the rules. We follow them if we have fear of G-d, or we ignore or trample them, if we don’t. But if we chose the last of the thre, our money is טרייפע געלט (tainted money), notwithstanding our pompous claims of tikkun olam (Streisand’s mantra), or “laudable,exemplary/ praiseworthy/earnest and honest attempts to support one of the core elements of Judaism, the learning of Torah.”

    With regard to “not accepting the funds to teach torah in a destitute school would result in less torah and fewer students being taught and schooled in this particular Jewish school”, your concern is misplaced. Yeshiva of Brooklyn is, thank G-d, striving and growing. Even without accepting Barbra Streisand’s donation. Or because of not accepting it.

  2. Leah says:

    Jaded Topaz:comment # 26): I believe you have misunderstood the point here. If the money here is earned by unscrupulous behavior then the very institution that stands behind a high moral standard comes into the very least, questionability, let alone bigger moral problems. Think about it, Jaded, if a Torah institution that upholds the high standards that the Torah demands starts excepting any money earned from a profession that is undesirable because of it’s poor behavior then that VERY institution comes down levels far and fast. It really is like saying, “Eh, who cares how the money was earned, so what if it’s prostitution or Jews singing Chrismas carols or theft, eh, these women are 2009 ers, we have got to give them a chance. Take the money, more people will learn Torah so what’s the harm?”
    Jaded, the lack of a Jewish career path is NOT the issue, it’s WHERE exactly the money is coming from. If you are talking about the mob, I am sure they may welcome such money-not a Torah institution, no matter what the year or the gender of the person donating. To answer your comment / question on if people who behave unscrupulously are allowed to give/or not to give $ or time or the like to a Torah institution or tzedaka: Yes, of course they can. The rav is also qualified and should make the decision for his institution if he wants to accept it or not. It is his call to make.

  3. dovid says:

    After reading two comments to my January 4, 2009 @ 6:57 pm comment, I saw that a disclaimer is in order. My comment is misleading in that it gives the reader the impression that my Torah knowledge spans throughout Tanach and beyond. The truth is I have been learning Chovos HaLevavos in earnest for the past 7-8 months. He quotes extensively from Tanach and Gemara. Many of the quotes in my comment were his quotes in the sefer Chovos HaLevavos.

    I would like to direct the attention of those who are learning or consider learning mussar to the advice Chaim Luzzato gives in the הקדמה
    (preface) to his sefer, Messilas Yesharim. He cautions us not to read his sefer (or any mussar sefer) from cover to cover like a novel, but to dwell in every subject that the sefer covers until we absorb and adopt the concepts as our own. I wish everyone of you the staying power and הצלחה in learning and acquiring the concepts and values disseminated in mussar sferim.

  4. anonymous says:

    Dovid, I beg to differ with you on your last comment here. You said that you are not a tzaddik. After having read your entry here, I believe that you are.
    I have never read words more eloquent and non-judgemental. Yasher Koach! Keep up your learning.

  5. Yehoshua Mandelcorn says:

    “And now, the Number One quote on the Madoff scandal is from…”
    I, for one would prefer to believe that the quote is inaccurate or taken out of context. I sence such a response could drive the rich person away from Judaism. There is a time and place for harsh rebuke, but the situation depicted (an initial encounter) is not the time and place.
    Perhaps there are some missing details.
    I am not a Kiruv (reach out) expert, perhaps someone with relevant experience can comment.

  6. yy says:

    “Stop being TB. TB stands for Toxic Bluff, TuBerculosis, Treife Business. Start being a BT. It stands for בעל תשובה, Break Through, Better Thinker, Better Times (ahead of us).”

    You’re on a roll, R’ Dovid! Powerful comment. Some important sources. Creative pshat on the TB concept being the inverse of BT!!

    Still, it might be wise to calm down the mussar. “Stop being” is never a helpful way to address someone in pain. When this yid tells us, in the opening comment of this thread, that “I have lost my religion, even as I continue to formally keep mitzvos to avoid losing my family, friends and neighbors. What a scary thing!”… he’s calling out for help.

    Not Mussar.

  7. dovid says:

    To my fellow Jew (who used to call himself Tragic Baboon)
    Your first comment dated Dec. 26 touched a raw nerve. Your question of wrongdoers getting away with their deeds, while righteous people suffer has troubled Jews for the past 3000 years. Moshe Rabainu asked your question. Dovid HaMelech, prophets Chavakkuk and Malachi among many others asked your question. My favorite one is Chavakkuk‘s
    תחריש בבלע רשע צדיק ממנו (Will you keep quiet when the wicked man devours one more righteous than him?). I am not a צדיק. I wish I were. But I am heads and shoulders above the scoundrels that lied and cheated me from our own communities. The prophet Malachi writes (3:15)
    “גם בחנו אלקים וימלטו” (They tested HaShem and got away with it.). You hear that? They got away with it. But not quite. We have the Tana Nittai HaArbeli assure us that absolutely no crooks escape retribution, unless they undo their crimes as the Torah demands. The prophet Malachi, four verses later describes the retribution awaiting the wrongdoers. Reward for mitzvos and punishment for averos are a fundamental tenet of Judaism. What demoralizes many of us, you and I included, is that we don’t witness the downfall of the reshaim, or at least not right away. There are a number of answers to this concern. I will venture two. (Chovos HaLevavos’s lists many more.) (1) Hashem gives opportunities to the wrongdoers to rectify their crimes. (2) Hashem tests you and me to see whether we join the club of crooks, or even regret losing out by not joining up with them. Or, hopefully we pull back in disgust. In conclusion, The Rock, His deeds are perfect, for all His ways are just. The bad guy doesn’t get away with his crime.

    I am taking the liberty to give you a piece of advice. Instead of focusing on the bad guys within our communities, search for greatness in our midst and get inspired by it. The story is said of a person who stopped being observant after witnessing a Jew in a concentration camp charging a full day’s portion of bread from fellow Jews for the privilege of putting on the tefilin he owned. It’s a well known story. The one to whom he was telling the story answered, that if anything, his belief should have been strengthened after seeing tens of Jews willing to give up their bread to fulfill mitzvos Hashem. The massacre in Mumbai gave us a glimpse into the lives a four Jews, of whom we would have never heard in normal circumstances. It’s worthwhile reading about the Lubavitcher couple’s weekly schedule. It was grueling. They carried themselves with a smile year after year. They fully dedicated their lives for the physical and spiritual wellbeing of Jews whom they didn’t know, in the middle of nowhere. What they have done is common to Lubavitcher shluchim everywhere. Many of us, myself included, used to make comments about Lubavitcher Chassidim that were not charitable, to say the least. Gavriel and Rifky Holtzberg had to die for us to realize how wrong we were. I read an article in HaModia about Leibish Teitelbaum, the third victim in Mumbai. I never felt so small. His day was packed with Mitzvos. Notice that normally these people would have lived their lives in total anonymity and holiness. How many more like them must be around? They are the majority. They are the ones that count. The little scoundrels are little annoyances in our lives.
    I suggest that going forward, stop calling yourself Tragic Baboon, or TB. Demoting yourself to the status of a baboon, might give you a short-term comfort and relief. A baboon has no responsibilities. A tzelem elokim has plenty. Stop being TB. TB stands for Toxic Bluff, TuBerculosis, Treife Business. Start being a BT. It stands for בעל תשובה, Break Through, Better Thinker, Better Times (ahead of us). Hashem roots for your spiritual success. Have a few good friends who root for your success as well. You don’t need many. Learn mussar. Chovos HaLevavos is an exceptional sefer. There are other mussar sfarim around. Find the one that works to you. Find a shul where people don’t talk. And attach yourself to a Rav or Rosh Yeshiva. I sincerely wish you the best in everything.

  8. yy says:

    You’re right, Dovid (24). One must be very careful in imposing our personal standards and certainly when it comes to labels on anshei tana”ch. Moreover the brothers were in an entirely different category than the others. Good diyuk.

    I nevertheless felt it important to share with precious TB who is really suffering that I can identify with the gut level disgust. It’s VERY natural. And not new to Jewish history. There are good guys who fall terribly and get back up, even higher, and there are sometimes even great tsaddikim who fall so low we cannot fathom (Korach). The common denominator is that during their fall undoubtedly there were many average Yidden who were going wild trying to figure out how the “system” of Am Kadosh could produce these characters.

    Nu-nu. Life goes on and Torah etenally beckons.

    Ayeicha?

  9. Ori says:

    James W, did you mean Jews preferring each other when it is legitimate (I have the right to support whatever charities I want), or when it is not (if I hire a Jew over a more qualified applicant, I’m betraying the share holders of the business)?

  10. Bob Miller says:

    The Madoff scheme was all the more heinous because it intentionally took advantage of the social links and trust among Jews, to victimize charitable individuals and institutions.

    Stealing money from charities was a key element in Madoff’s “business” plan:
    http://money.cnn.com/2008/12/29/news/newsmakers/zuckoff_madoff.fortune/index.htm

  11. Leah says:

    Hey James W. There is an excellent documentary produced by one Jewish man. I think his last name is Levy. I wish I could remember the name of it. Bottom line is on his many tours and interviews with the people of NYC he talks to a group of “Palestinian” youths. There are approximately 3 or 4 young adult Palestinians there. They are horse playing with each other over the hood of a car and Levy is interviewing them and the scene is a telling one I will never forget. One young Palestinian, while playing with his friend says in this heavy NY accent, ” Ya see. We Palestinians don’t care abouts each other- not like you Jews. When you Jews get money, you helps out each other- you give it away to another Jew. Not me. If I get money I aint given it to my “friend, here.” To me it was very telling. What is important James? If you want to say that Jews stay within their own network, well then that’s wonderful! Jews help out others as well, but don’t mistake for a minute that we should not be centered around our own flocks to help them out. We really should. There is nothing wrong with this. “If you see that your brother is struggling, help him out.” I am even obligated to help out my brother-literally, first.

  12. Jaded Topaz says:

    Dovid,

    I’m not fan of unverified growth oriented sentences that eventually become unverified lesson in a stories…. In order to properly analyze any purportedly non-tall tales of tzaddikim in the city stories, it’s always good to have all the relevant facts and information handy for a better sense of context.
    This donation story keeps resurfacing every once in a while and every time it does, it seems to makes less sense on a halachic and logical level.
    Do you have firsthand knowledge of the actual story facts?
    Did the Tzadik in Brooklyn provide an exact reason on as to why he did not want to accept the donation to support torah in question?
    What factors did he involve when making his decision?
    How did he reconcile the donor’s feelings and intentions with his mystifying decision?
    “hamalbim penei chaveiro berabim” comes to mind for starters, and “berabim” is an understatement.

    But the crux of the issue is, what do any of her personal career choices, life choices,hobbies,accomplishments and or philosophies have to do with what appear to be (if the facts touted about often when the story is cited are facts) laudable,exemplary/ praiseworthy/earnest and honest attempts to support one of the core elements of Judaism, the learning of Torah.

    According to the Artscroll Siddur Section Morning Prayer page six referencing Talmud, shabbas 127a , when discussing the concepts that one can enjoy in this world and still not diminish his reward upstairs……., honor due to father and mother, acts of kindness, early attendance at the house of study morning and evening, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, escorting the dead, absorption in prayer, bringing peace between man and his fellow, it concludes with the fact that Torah learning is equivalent to them all !

    As such, I every time I read or hear this vague lesson in a story it just confuses my sense of the importance of torah learning even more.

    A lifestyle is just that, a lifestyle. Modesty in dress with fully frum habits are worth absolutely nothing when it’s just used as a cover-up for bad middos and the perpetual attempts at institutional image control and what will the neighbors or students think.
    What really matters in real pretend-free Judaism, outside the ego system is good middos , the truth, understanding and appreciating the efforts of others, the others that may differ on a philosophy level. and most importantly or just as importantly, what matters is torah learning and supporting torah learning .

    Reasonable minds would conclude that not accepting the funds to teach torah in a destitute school would result in less torah and fewer students being taught and schooled in this particular Jewish school. And judging from the description of the classrooms not much usage of the building left. Of which once not inhabitable anymore would most likely result in the dissolving the school due to lack of funds and a growth in religious-less public school loving students, or at least the probable potential ……
    As such, this story makes even less applicable and less sense halachically and logically in 2009.

    Leah, I don’t understand your logic.
    Are you suggesting that if a career path does not have Judaism as its main theme, this factor would then in turn not allow, dis-bar or dis-qualify the individual from supporting the learning of Torah. What on earth? Please see shabbas 127a for a blatant Talmudic proof on just how important the learning of Torah is.
    The workplace of 2009 is not necessarily similar to the workplace of 1909.
    Also women have careers that make them feel good about their life these days.This doesnt mean they cant love/learn and or support torah.

    Torah learning that does not dis-include women in 2009 is still a problem though. But I learnt that if you build your own bais medrash then you can make the rules ;-)

  13. dovid says:

    “. Personally I’m always floored by the Jewish creeps that pop up in the Parshas, such as Korach, Zimri, the Meraglim… and to some extent the 10 brothers of Yosef”

    Greater people than you and me would never call any of the above Jewish creeps. Dovid HaMelech called Yosef and his brothers nothing less than שבטי קה.

  14. Moishe Potemkin says:

    In the spirit of “if it hasn’t happened yet, it should have,” the (formerly?) Wealthy man then explained to Rav Kanievsky that in the “da’as torah” era, the only people with the influence to change the “no parnasah” situation are the gedolim.

  15. Toby Katz says:

    “Jews favoring there own kind just because they are jews (jewish life is centered on this theme and it played out here, very obviously). And please, don’t argue with this comment because it is so true and very obvious. It’s really sickening and pathetic. By the way, I am Jewish so I know, and I hated this partialism my whole life. I give work to the best person, not the Jew.”

    Comment by James W

    —–
    What you see as “sickening and pathetic” is the glory of the Jewish people, that we care for each other and look out for each other. We are a small people, historically hated and persecuted, and we have survived throughout centuries of exile, war, poverty, and anti-Semitism, only because we looked out for each other and took care of each other.

    I have known non-Jews who looked at the Jewish people with admiration and respect for the way that we take care of our own. I’ve heard a Jamaican lady say, “I wish my people took care of each other the way your people take care of each other. We could learn a lot from the Jews.” She told me that the pastor of her Jamaican church speaks admiringly of the Jewish people.

    It is the glory of the Jewish people that no Jew ever dies of hunger or ever dies alone, anywhere in the world, if he is part of a Jewish community. To a Jew, all Jews are his brothers and sisters.

    Now you might ask, how would I feel about Italians helping other Italians in New York? How would I feel about Chinese immigrants in San Francisco helping other Chinese in the same city? Well I will tell you — I would feel that that is normal, decent and the right thing to do!

    Turn it around and ask, how would I feel about a Chinese person who refused to help another Chinese person, or an Italian who refused to help another Italian, on the grounds that he “loves all humanity and doesn’t want to be particularistic”? Well, I would feel that that person was being disingenuous. It is a proven fact that people who love “humanity” in general but no particular nation or group in particular, tend to give less charity and to participate less in volunteer activities.

    I can just imagine what people would think of Jews if Jews did NOT help each other and left each other to fend for themselves in times of trouble. I can just imagine what they would say if Jewish institutions, schools, charity organizations and hospitals could not rely on Jewish benefactors.

    In fact, if Jews lived by the policy that James W advocates, then by definition there wouldn’t BE any “Jewish” schools or charity organizations. There would only be non-sectarian “humanitarian” schools and institutions. There would not, in fact, be any Jews left in the world, if Jews had historically followed the policy advocated by James W — the policy of studied neutrality towards one’s own people.

  16. yy says:

    TB – I hear you, loud and clear.

    The pain of being lead to believe that a certain system of values is meant to produce an Am Kadosh and ends up churning out something rather opposite or at least far from that ideal is an awesomely horrible sense of betrayal. It leaves desperation and disgust. No hole seems too low to escape this sad hypocricy.

    Yet Yehoshua’s chidings should not be sidelined so quickly. You’re not the first Jew to struggle with this. I don’t know if Seichel is really an answer, Yhoshua, but kishke certainly isn’t. Remember the Chossid in Chovos Ha’Levavos? He cries out that even if G-d would strip him of all his worldly goods and torture him, etc, he couldn’t prevent him from loving Him, blessed be He.

    What really is the alternative? Any religion have a better track record? Of course not. Were there better times in Jewish history and the solution is to plug back into them? Hard to say. Personally I’m always floored by the Jewish creeps that pop up in the Parshas, such as Korach, Zimri, the Meraglim… and to some extent the 10 brothers of Yosef until Providence helped them get back to their senses.

    What can we do? H’s world is tough. He gave us a path for succeeding and promised that there’s a nation who are destined to preserve that path and that SOME of their remanats will make it until the end.

    The question is if you want to be one of THOSE?

  17. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Tragic Baboon — I feel your pain and I am not monkeying around. I think the anecdotal evidence that you see of misbehavior by frum Jews is much less than the baseline of people who quietly do acts of kindness and raise their kids to be good Jews and good human beings. When such Jews misbehave there is some kind of problem that they have and a failure of their free will in doing the wrong thing rather than the right. G-d created people to be free agents and not robots. I think deep down inside we appreciate that being the case, otherwise we wouldn’t mind being brainwashed etc. The downside is when someone lands on the wrong side of that free will. But that is Hashem’s world. I don’t know you personally and therefore can’t presume to say what is motivating you to say what you are saying. But I think you have to ask yourself what it is that is bothering you. We can only really affect mostly our own behavior, certainly not the actions of those who make the headlines. Blaming either Hashem or the headline-makers doesn’t help us. We have to focus on what we can do for ourselves and those close to us.

  18. Shades of Grey says:

    Without commenting on this particular case(I didn’t read the complete essay)there might be cases of disagreement on what does, or does not, cross the line in these matters, even among those who are influenced by the approach associated with R. A. Kotler zt’l.

    For example, see Rabbi Feldman’s response, linked below, regarding how to describe Yosef(Winter,2002 and Summer 2002 Jewish Action).

    http://www.ou.org/publications/ja/5763/5763winter/LETTERS_.PDF

    http://www.ou.org/publications/ja/5762summer/ASTORIED.PDF

  19. Ori says:

    Tragic Baboon: I am unable to continue to believe in the divinity of the Torah when I see that the people its institutions produce are on average no holier (or less holy, depending on my mood swings) than the people holding all kinds of other persuasions.

    Ori: It’s impossible for us to objectively evaluate holiness. We can, however, evaluate other things which may correlate.

    Are there statistics for violent crime, property crime, divorce, etc. in Charedi society vs. Modern Orthodox society vs. Heterodox Jewish society vs. general society? Which way do those statistics point?

  20. Tragic Baboon says:

    Yehoshua Friedman: You dismissed my complaint as specious based on an unfortunate choice of words. The point is not so much that I want to “hold God accountable for the failings of his adherents” but that I am unable to continue to believe in the divinity of the Torah when I see that the people its institutions produce are on average no holier (or less holy, depending on my mood swings) than the people holding all kinds of other persuasions. In other words, I feel like I’ve been sold a bill of goods. Is that an argument from the kishkes? Maybe so, but that doesn’t make it easier to close my eyes and pretend everything’s ok.

    TB

  21. YM says:

    I am not so knowledgable in Torah as to know that Rabbi Robinson’s drasha on the maasei Yehudah is some sort of kefirah; what is wrong with calling Yehudah on his behavior, as Rabbi Robinson does so elegantly? He was a ba’al teshuva, he could feel the pain of every man. That’s why we had men like him, and his decendent, King David. The decendents of Yosef, on the other hand, are no longer with us.

  22. Ori says:

    The story is that a rich person came to him for guidance/ a berachah/ solace after taking a major hit in the growing recession. “Rebbe – I lost a hundred million dollars!” He got no sympathy, but an icy stare. R. Chaim Kanievsky broke the silence. “There are people here with no food on the table, no parnasah, no way to pay the rent. Just what were you doing with a hundred million dollars before you lost it?”

    Ori: It’s a common view that the extra money rich people have just sits there, doing nothing. But it is usually invested in the businesses that provide the parnassah, that create and market the necessities we need and the luxuries we enjoy.

    If you put money in the bank the money doesn’t stay there. The bank loans it out. If you buy shares, usually those shares were initially sold in an IPO to finance an expanding business.

  23. Ori says:

    Rabbi Shaul Robinson: Worse we have begun to construct a model of the successful Jew, started to build a type of orthodox Judaism that requires at the very least affluence but ideally serious wealth to fully be part of…We have communicated to a generation of kids that to be a doctor a lawyer, a professional, to say nothing of a teacher, a social worker, is to be a loser.

    Ori: It would be extremely hard for a Rabbi whose livelihood depends on donations, whose dearest wish to expand Jewish education, which requires donations and high tuition rates, not to have some bias towards the people who can most support these goals.

  24. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Reb Binyamin (#9,

    You ask if I concur. I would not use the word “caveat.” For better or worse, I assume that most of our readers interact quite regularly with ideas, concepts, and approaches that differ from their own, and know how to react. So I generally don’t think of sounding warning bells. I may be wrong.

    I happen to be an unrepentant believer in the “old school” way of learning Chumash, to wit, that we never learn Torah she-b’chsav without the benefit of Torah she-b’al-peh. So I am not much of a fan of elements of the “pshuto shel mikra school” that do not feel compelled to always check in with Chazal before commenting. I’m not ready to malign them either. I am mispallel that my grandchildren will have rabbeim and moros who teach differently, and who do convey to their charges a firm belief that “Ha-Avos, hein hein ha-Merkavah.”

  25. Janet Kasten Friedman says:

    To Melissa Fay Greene: Please don’t equate Baruch Goldstein with Madoff or any other criminal. There was quite a bit of mystery and maybe also some cover-up about what exactly happened in the Ma’arat haMachpelah that fateful Purim morning. There may have been someone else there who actually killed those Arabs, or it may really have been Dr. Goldstein. We DO know:
    1) the muezzin in Hebron had been announcing in plain Arabic for most of the week before that Moslems must stock up on food and supplies because there would be reprisals for what they were planning, which was to attack the Jews. Many Jews can and did understand this message and reported it to the army.
    2) the army did nothing to prevent the Arabs from attacking Hebron’s Jews; instead they delivered to Dr. Goldstein a large supply of bandages. Dr. Goldstein was all-too experienced in emergency medicine, having treated many, many terrorist victims. He knew what the Arabs were planning. Nobody will ever know what was in his mind, but it would not be strange, evil or out-of-character for him to have expected the army to take a more proactive stand against a planned slaughter of Jews rather than sit back and wait for the death toll.
    3) the Moslem worshippers in the Cave of the Patriarchs were armed to the teeth with swords, battle-axes, and other sharp objects. They cut Dr. Goldstein into so many pieces that the hevra kadisha had trouble burying him. Nobody can prove why they were carrying all those knives. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that they were planning a pogrom.
    4) If Dr. Goldstein did indeed shoot those Arabs, it may have been in self-defense. It certainly saved the rest of the Jews of Hebron from slaughter.
    5) Dr. Goldstein was a kosher Jew and a great doctor. Its a mitzva, since nobody is certain exactly what happened in the Cave, to give the benefit of the doubt to a fellow Jew.

  26. dovid says:

    “In what way was Barbra Streisand’s money tainted? Is the honestly-earned money of people who do not behave like Beis Yaakov girls treife? ”

    Barbra Streisand’s career spans from singing and entertaining crowds in nightclubs, to dancing, and acting in Hollywood movies, etc. Her clothes were designed not to conceal but to reveal. I don’t see how a yeshiva could take money from her. You are arguing that she “earned” her money. I am arguing that the drug dealer also “earns” his money, but from the Torah point of view, the money made in either “activity” is treif.

    The political/social causes she embraced further disqualify her from being acceptable as a donor to a yeshiva, notwithstanding her bogus claim that she promotes תקון עולם (improvement of the world).

  27. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Tragic Baboon — this is an old and specious argument that comes from the kishkes (guts) rather than the seichel (intelligence). Nevertheless it is the result of genuine spiritual pain that we all feel. If we call G-d to account for the actions of His adherents, ultimately we have to call Him to account for His entire creation and its failure to live up to the promise of the first chapter of Bereishit, where it is all called good. But King Solomon in Kohelet says that G-d created human beings straight and they went looking for great cheshbonot, that is, they tried to finagle things with the perverted use of their intelligence. Adam Ha-Rishon ate the fruit. He blamed his wife. She blamed the snake. In the end blame G-d. That won’t help any of us. It is true that we are not Madoff or any other mega-evildoer. But our job is to take full responsibility for our share of whatever we have done wrong, either personally or via our share in communal responsibility. Those of us who are employers, teachers or rabbis, or government officials similarly must take responsibility for those in our charge or under our influence. As Harry Truman said, the buck stops here.

    Dovid told the story of Barbra Streisand and S. took offense at it. Had I been the menahel of that yeshiva, I might well have taken the money. But I can see his side of the story. Someone who is unknown to the public who is not so frum donates money to a yeshiva, it’s a step up for that person to be connected to Torah. No one suffers or is mislead in that case. But if someone publically behaves in a fashion contrary to the ideals that the institution wants to inculcate in its students, it is a problem. You may disagree as to how long the girls’ sleeves should be or whatever. But if a school wants to maintain a standard according to whatever they believe it should be, and some kid comes along and flouts it, how do you justify discipline? The kid will say that this famous donor did much more serious things and you took their money with a smile at a fancy dinner.
    Now, I want to say something about the fallout of both the Madoff affair and the crash in general. Many, many honest Jews realize that they cannot afford a Torah education for their families in America. I believe that now is the time to consider aliya to Eretz Yisrael. It is time to step away from the dependence on a standard of living as opposed to real values. Eretz Yisrael with all its troubles, yes, and injustice, needs good Jews to join the struggle for a holy society the way we know it should be. The center of our responsibility is in our land. When you raise children with that responsibility, they have a better chance of turning out the way they should. You will not have to walk around all December with your eyes closed and you can get a Torah education without robbing a bank. So you will eat less meat and drive an old car or ride a bus. Isn’t it worth it?

  28. Chaim Fisher says:

    These are stunning quotes. Thank you, Rav Adlerstein, for sharing them with us.

    (James W.: Jews are required to practice favoritism to help their brothers. It is a commandment in the Torah and appears all over the Code of Jewish Law.)

  29. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    Without diminishing from the importance of the Rabbi Robinson’s overall powerful message, I think it appropriate, and I wonder if Rabbi Adlerstein concurs, that some caveat be mentioned that the picture the Rabbi paints of Yehudah is incongruous with how we are meant to view the Shivtei Yeshurun, and certainly not “as understood by Chazal”.

  30. Leah says:

    “S” on comment #7. Iam sure that the Rav is not judging people like Barbara Sreisand, yet I have to look at something that I remember being floored by. A number of years ago I remember seeing Barbara Streisand on maybe a t.v. or something in passing singing Chrismas carols on stage before thousands. I remember thinking, “Hey, isn’t she Jewish? Look, you can arue that she is secualr and all that, yet I was reallllly turned off and to be honest with you- embarrassed and mad. If the Rav mentioned here that thinks the it’s treifa gelt, I am inclined to agree- still without judging the person.
    So, “S”, the money may have been earned honestly, yet at what or who’s expense, rather?

  31. S. says:

    In what way was Barbra Streisand’s money tainted? She earned that money honestly. Is the honestly-earned money of people who do not behave like Beis Yaakov girls treife?

  32. James W says:

    Jews favoring there own kind just because they are jews (jewish life is centered on this theme and it played out here, very obviously). And please, don’t argue with this comment because it is so true and very obvious. It’s really sickening and pathetic. By the way, I am Jewish so I know, and I hated this partialism my whole life. I give work to the best person, not the Jew.

  33. Melissa Fay Greene says:

    I love the story of Rabbi Kanievsky and, if only millionaires and billionaires were facing misfortune here, it would stand as a powerful rebuke to Madoff and his wealthy victims alike. Unfortunately, among the losers of their assets to Madoff are universities, day schools, synagogues, bone marrow registries, refugee programs, survivor programs, Israel teen programs, arts programs, museums, and other projects run by good people using their wealth to enrich the lives of others. All these and more Madoff destroyed, putting him, in my mind, on an awful promontory of modern Jews of shame alongside Baruch Goldstein, slaughterer of Muslim worshippers in 1994 at the Cave of the Patriarchs.
    In both cases one wants to say, “This does not represent my people. You do not speak for me. You are not part of anything I know or believe in.”

  34. dovid says:

    I would like to relate two stories I heard from reliable sources about giving צדקה from funds of dubious origins.

    1. A fact that is not well known is that Barbra Streisand learned in Yeshiva of Brooklyn for several years when it was located in Williamsburg. At the “peak” of her Hollywood career, she came to Yeshiva of Brooklyn to make a $1 million donation. Rabbi Mattis Mendel, ז’ל, the menahel of Yeshiva of Brooklyn, (he passed away just a few years ago) thanked her sincerely but told her the Yeshiva cannot take money from her. And he did not take the money from her. If you only knew the shabby condition of the elementary girl’s school bldg., and how badly they needed the funds, you would appreciate the magnitude of Rabbi Mendel’s refusal. If you only knew him. He looked like a צדיק, acted like a צדיק, lived like a צדיק, and died like a צדיק. And so are his sons.

    2. A מגיד שעור (lecturer?) at a well known yeshiva was taken around his bar mitzvah by his father to Rav Shimon Schwab, ז’ל, for a ברכה (blessing). He asked the boy and the father: Why are there no גדולים in America? After all there are many talmidim learning in Lakewood as hard and for as long hours as he saw those learning in Mir and elsewhere in the European yeshivos. And these talmidim in Lakewood, he said, are people of great talent, with exceptional mental and spiritual capabilities. Rav Schwab answered that it is because of טרייפע געלט (tainted money), i.e., money obtained through dishonest methods that were given as charity to yeshivos.

    I would like to add in this context that the Brisker Rav, ז’ל, would not take money from people that he didn’t know, to make sure that the funds that he distributed were not tainted.

    May the acts of these people inspire us and their merits shield us from retribution.

  35. dovid says:

    There have been some critical comments re. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein’s virtual sigh of relief in a previous thread that B. Madoff is not Orthodox. The criticism centered on the idea that it really should make no difference. I think Rabbi Adlerstein meant that while we are in this together, if the perpetrator had been Orthodox, it would have been much worse, because such a person should know better, should be aware he is directly answerable to a High Authority, that he is the personal representative of this High Authority among all of us and through his acts he discredits Him, etc., etc. The truth is that we should all be very concerned. While the magnitude of Bernie Madoff’s crime is hard to duplicate, the raw deception and corruption has penetrated our world as well. The owner of my wife’s business was marched out of his office handcuffed by FBI agents, in full view of his employees and people in the street on Medicaid/Medicare fraud charges, embezzlement, etc. People murmured that’s anti-Semitism. This is one case we wished it had been. It wasn’t. The fellow settled out of court, by paying back millions of dollars that he defrauded out of the system, and by promising to stay out of the industry, I think, for seven yrs. What did he do? He turned around and had his wife open a similar operation in the same industry. That he has no shame and goes around as if nothing happened is one thing. What is most offensive and very dangerous to all of us is the lack of outrage in our communities. He wasn’t thrown out of his shul. The fellow is very popular. He gives charity in grand style: his money mixed with stolen one. They may have said משברך for him and he may have said ברכת הגומל. Business as usual. His is not an isolated case. I heard a rabbi who visits Jews held in penitentiaries, that there are מנינים and דף יומי שערים in prison for Orthodox Jews. Some of them demand the highest levels of kashrus. The Agudah ran seminars on conducting our businesses with integrity for the past several yrs. That’s not enough. Why must ostracize these people. Why don’t we throw them out of our shuls? We should refuse to daven with them, we should not go to their families’ weddings, bar Mitzvos, etc. and not invite them to our families’ affairs, and entirely keep them out of our personal and communal lives. This may stop the spreading of corruption among us.

  36. mycroft says:

    “Worse we have begun to construct a model of the successful Jew, started to build a type of orthodox Judaism that requires at the very least affluence but ideally serious wealth to fully be part of…We have communicated to a generation of kids that to be a doctor a lawyer, a professional, to say nothing of a teacher, a social worker, is to be a loser.”

    All of the fields mentioned are ones where the median income is greater than the national average-even worse are those who are in the bottom 50 per cent-they are made not welcome in Orthodoxy (in the US). Both explicitly because they can’t afford the Day Schools etc and certainly implicitly. How many frum security guards does one know? IN Israel one can see those type of Jews not in the US. We are too busy praising and assuming affluence to admit what has happened.

  37. Tragic Baboon says:

    “If this scandal had affected the Chasidic community, if it was a Charedi Jew what would we have said ? Look at those people, what are there [sic] values, look at how much better than them we are. . . . What’s wrong with us?”

    Would someone please explain to me how it is possible to look at all this “Orthodox wrongdoing” and continue to believe in the God and Torah of my Orthodox Judaism? How can it be that our heilige kehillos, the members of which comport their behavior with the Blueprint of the Universe can produce so many evil man and evil deeds? How can it be that Chareidi, Chassidic, Yeshivish and MO members of the Aibishter’s am segula can lie, cheat and steal with impunity?

    I can’t escape the conclusion that God needs to be held accountable for the wide-spread failings of his adherents. I refuse to close my eyes and pretend that the Torah is still holy, even if the people and institutions it produces are anything but. As a result, I have lost my religion, even as I continue to formally keep mitzvos to avoid losing my family, friends and neighbors. What a scary thing!

    – Tragic Baboon