Judge Everyone Favorably, Reprise

letter-447577_1280

Does everyone favor their own, except the Jews? It is we who have a Mitzvah to love our fellows like ourselves, and to judge every other Jew favorably, as we would like ourselves to be judged. Based upon two recent cases involving secular courts, bad judgments, and community support vs. condemnation, we are failing.

Yesterday in New York, Gov. David Paterson commuted the sentence of a father jailed for protecting his son and family. By my reckoning, the father should never have seen the inside of a prison, except that the justice system in New York has bizarre notions of what qualifies as self-defense — but here are the facts, so you can make your own judgment:

Aaron White was at a party, a “beer bash.” He was accused of having posted online threats against a girl at the party, and was told to leave. Although the accusation was false, he complied and went home. But a gang of five other teenagers decided that throwing him out of the party wasn’t enough, and went to his house, calling him on his cell phone to inform him that they were on the way to beat him up.

His father, John White, was awakened by his panicked son: “some kids are coming here to kill me.” When the mob pulled up, John White walked down the driveway of his elegant house, holding his handgun. He intended to scare them off, and to protect his son’s life.

According to White, as he was turning away, Daniel Cicciaro tried to take the gun, and the gun went off during the dispute. According to Cicciaro’s friends, he tried to bat away the gun, White brought it back to bear, and fired.

It makes no difference. Neither, in my opinion, does it make a difference that the Whites are African-American, while Cicciaro and his friends are white, or that the KKK torched White’s grandfather’s business in Alabama in the 1920s. African-Americans point to a very different result in Texas, where Joe Horn, who is white, saw four dark-skinned men robbing his neighbor’s house, called 911, and with 911 recording exactly what happened, walked outside, confronted them, and then shot them. Horn was never prosecuted and is regarded as a hero in his community. Blacks are justified in calling the difference racism.

Justified, but wrong. In my opinion, the difference is that the laws in Texas are sane, and those in NY are not. The laws in New York are the reason why Bernhard Goetz was prosecuted for attempted murder and first-degree assault after being surrounded by four teenagers with sharpened screwdrivers, and shooting them. In that case the races were reversed, and the prosecution driven by equally convoluted laws.

Texas recognizes something called the Castle Doctrine, which says that a person may use deadly force to defend his home and/or any other innocent persons legally inside it, from violent attack or an intrusion which may lead to violent attack. The law also applies to a neighbor’s house when the neighbor has requested that you watch it. Horn went even a step beyond that, because he didn’t even know his neighbor… but the men were shot after they charged onto his property in response to his verbal warning that he would shoot them if they moved.

Even if the account of Cicciaro’s friends is entirely correct and accurate, the young man was not batting away the gun from a 56-year-old in order for he and his four buddies to come in for tea. Attempting to bat away that gun was the first overt act of violence, and White had every right to defend himself.

But be that as it may, there is no question that the trial in the White case was racially charged. The NY Times described the courtroom as “blacks seated on one side and whites on the other.” I would’ve been seated with the “black” side, I suppose, but among those present, they were all siding with “their own.”

When the accused party was an Orthodox Jewish couple in another recent case, we saw a very different reaction from that couple’s community — ours. Instead of siding with our own, we sided against it, with the flimsiest knowledge of the facts of the case.

A couple named Heidi and Mendi inadvertently placed a custom, human-hair sheitl (wig) in a dry cleaning bag. The dry cleaner, rather than setting it aside, dry cleaned it — which completely destroyed it.

The couple foolishly decided or agreed to let their case appear on The People’s Court, a popular television show in which a retired judge hears the case, conducting a binding arbitration session in front of the cameras. The couple says that their intentions were good — that even if the dry cleaner lost the case, she would end up being paid more for the TV appearance then she lost in the decision. Nonetheless, it was obviously foolish for an Orthodox couple to go on the show. First of all, for a young woman to claim she has “nothing to wear” unless she has a $3000 custom wig says something about a segment of our community that I think we ought to be very hesitant to display in front of the world. To blame a dry cleaner for not knowing that a wig in a dry cleaning bag isn’t supposed to actually be dry cleaned is questionable, and to expect a dry cleaner to know the outrageous value of a custom, human-hair wig is itself completely outrageous.

But that wasn’t why the judge got angry at the couple.

In her closing remarks, the judge claimed to have called up the Georgie wig company to check the facts, and was told that there had been no such purchase. As described in the Forward:

The couple presented a Georgie invoice for $3,000. But the suspicious judge phoned the wigmaker during a recess — and found out they don’t even stock the wig at the center of the case. And the real $3,000 perruque? “You are passing this excellent wig on your head, that costs $3,000, as the receipt for the wig that you want to be recompensed for here,” said Judge Milian, pulling out the invoice with a flourish.

What followed was a tremendous hue and cry from the Orthodox community — against the couple. I am not talking about the purportedly-Orthodox gossip blogs, from which we would expect no better. I am talking about Orthodox rabbis who were strident in their immediate condemnation of the couple for the tremendous Chilul HaShem, desecration of G-d’s name, caused by their dishonesty.

The aforementioned dishonesty, as it so happens, may not even exist — and we only know it due to Rav Yair Hoffman’s personal effort to hear the other side of the story. There are two companies called “Georgie,” resulting from a very unpleasant breakup between Georgie herself and her ex-partner (and ex-husband) many years back. Georgie herself was in France during the trial. The judge never spoke to her. Georgie says that she knows the couple well, recognizes the destroyed wig as her work, and personally put together (in under 24 hours) the wig that Heidi now wears.

The judge decided to do her own detective work, called Georgie International instead of Georgie herself, and leaped to conclusions. And much of the Jewish world went right with her.

We have an obligation to judge our community and its citizens favorably. Two months ago, an Orthodox blogger hastily endorsed the condemnation of Kollel life by an anonymous, troubled young Kollel student which appeared in the pages of Yediot Achronot. When I questioned the intelligence of anyone who would believe an account which the student himself recanted, saying that “any intelligent person understands that the things that [he] said are not correct,” the aforementioned blogger then turned on me, saying that I “seem to constantly doubt any negative news about the Charedi world and accuse the media reporting it of anti Frum Bias.”

Well, in this case, he was at it again. Here are his words:

This couple were caught in a lie… they used fraudulent documentation to ‘prove’ the value… My guess is they took advantage of an old wig that inadvertently got mixed in with their laundry. They saw an opportunity for a quick buck and they tried to pull off a $3000 fraud. The exposure of this fraudulent couple was in front of millions of people who watch this program…

I can just see the thinking: ‘What does the dumb Shiksa sitting on the bench know?’ ‘We can easily snow-job her.’ ‘And those foreign born dry cleaners?’ ‘What a bunch of rubes!’ ‘This’ll be the easiest $3000 dollars we’ll ever make!’ ‘Besides – they’re all Goyim; it’s a Mitzvah to steal from them!’

He called them a fraudulent couple, he labeled them a pair of liars, and then segued right into an anti-Semitic stereotype, claiming that they represented those Orthodox Jews who believe it is a “mitzvah” to steal from non-Jews. Pressed by a commentor to think about the other side of the story, this blogger remarked that “if there is an explanation that… even clears them of any fraud — I will publish a complete apology.”

Along came Rabbi Yair Hoffman, and published an explanation that clears them of any fraud. The blogger, far from “publishing a complete apology,” claims to “remain skeptical,” and then falls back on the Chilul HaShem that resulted because the young couple “chose to be on the show.”

As I have already said, I believe it was an incredibly foolish and misguided decision for an Orthodox Jewish couple to put themselves in front of the cameras on The People’s Court. But a foolish and misguided decision is a far cry from intentional deceit, and for causing the Chilul HaShem that resulted from the Judge’s rush to judgment, offering up her own false testimony without the least opportunity for cross-examination or rebuttal. The “complete apology” is fully deserved… and still pending.

As for whether I “constantly doubt any negative news about the Charedi world,” I am guilty as charged. It’s called Havei Dan es Kol Adam l’kaf zechus, judge every person favorably, which we are obligated in Halacha to apply to any person who generally conducts himself in accordance with the practices of a G-d-fearing Jew. And not only that, but I seem to be proven right more often than not. What is the defense of those who rush to conclude that the evidence is overwhelming, that the so-called observant Jew must be a charlatan and a faker — only to repeatedly be proven to have both failed to judge favorably, and to be wrong to boot?

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46 Responses

  1. Leon Zacharowicz says:

    I’m glad to have stumbled on this article, and the responses. I was reading about all sorts of dangers to world Jewry, until I realized that the case of the washed wig is clearly uppermost on many people’s minds, so to speak.

    At risk of getting scalped, may I suggest that we consider more serious topics for concern. I for one think shooting a teenager in the street is not so easily justifiable. A 56-year-old man who steps into the street with a loaded gun, and aims it at teenagers, was taking the law into his own hands. He could have, and should have, called the police. To whitewash that crime, and compare it to the washed out wig and worries about a TV show, is a leap I am not willing to take.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    2. in my comment above is for cases among Jews.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    1. Nearly always, the euphemistic term “antisemitism” has been specifically about hatred of Jews, without reference to other Semites.

    2. There ought to be at least a Kol Korei against subjecting oneself to a “reality TV” court. How is this any more permissible than going to a real secular court, as opposed to a standing beis din?

  4. Esther says:

    If Arabs can be “anti-Semites”, self-hating Jews can be too. Yes, it’s an paradox, which makes it all the more painful.

  5. Yaakov Menken says:

    mb is coming “late to the party” and hasn’t read up. That’s not a problem, except that his speculations are unfavorable to the couple. It’s inappropriate to inject ‘boich svaros’ (‘gut opinions’) to denigrate them, based upon mistakes in his reading.

    Who told mb that the judge got a “satisfactory answer” from Sylvia? She did not, and Rabbi Hoffman addressed this point specifically: “The judge called Sylvia, Georgie’s assistant, who told the judge that, yes, Heidi purchased a wig from her. Georgie herself was, in fact, away in France. The judge asked to confirm the receipt. Sylvia responded that she was not in the office and the call was forwarded to her cell.” We know from Shlomo Klein that the judge called that Georgie company as well.

    The original wig, which was destroyed, cost $3000. The fact that the maker did them a favor, and built a replacement in 24 hours which she provided at cost, in no way changes the correct amount for their damages. That was no lie and was the correct amount for their claim, by any reckoning, whether or not the judge might reduce it.

  6. Chochom b'mah nishtaneh says:

    mb,

    Why is the damage only $1,500? Heidi paid $3,000 for that wig.

    She bought another for $1,500. That is not the one that was damaged.

    The fact that Georgie was nice and gave her a discount does not mean that there was not $3,000 loss. If Heidi decided not to wear a wig anymore, does that mean that there was no damage?

    If she purchased a cheaper wig because she could not afford a replacement at the same proce, does that mean that there was not $3,000 of damage?

  7. Miriam says:

    You know what? I welcome a lawsuit by the Hershkowitzes. That should get us to the bottom of this – one way or another.

    Oh Harry you’re just being silly now. Why is it such a personal issue for you?

    In fact the more I think about it, I wonder whether there was any chilul Hashem at all – with regard to the regular viewership. These kinds of surprise twists and turns are typical fodder on People’s Court nowadays, and people watch for the entertainment. eLamdan said it right: Reasonable people will not judge all Jews by a statement made by a reality TV judge. Or by a reality TV participant.

    All the damage control going on now is internal – for all us religious Jews who saw this partial episode and are flexing our armchair juror muscles. I still maintain that reflective and analytical discussions have their place – but the “reactivity” does seem to be creating its own chilul Hashem.

  8. mb says:

    Let’s give Heidi and Mendi the benefit of the doubt for a moment.
    The Georgie lady said the replacement wig that Heidi was wearing cost $1500 because she felt sorry for them.
    Therefore the damages were only $1500. Why were they suing for $3000? After all as the Georgie lady said, “Torah learning Jews don’t lie.”

  9. Chochom b'mah nishtaneh says:

    Miriam,

    I think that all this posturing about the chillul haShem that resulted from this couple going on the show is missing the point. In fact, it appears that they did so as a FAVOR for their cleaners, to adjudicate the case in a manner that would mitigate the loss. Much the opposite of “a” blogger’s contention that they were only out to cheat the “goy.”

    The much much greater chillul haShem from all standpoints, and most certainly a halachic standpoint, was the one pointed out by R’ Y’ Menken, and that is the rush to belittle Heidi and Mendy and, in fact, all frum appearing Jews by dint of their being just that, frum Jews. And being so obuderate as to not accept a very likely explanation of what actually happened, a story that was supported by outside parties.

    It is not enough for all those commenters and posters to posit what must be the case without doing an IOTA of investigation, but they must also deny what turned up in an investigation because it had not been shown in a non-jewish TV show or court. (And I must define investigation to mean more than quoting what is posted on other irreputable blogs.) All that is needed is to be “dan l’kaf zechus” and that is without the premise of “beyond reasonable doubt.” The dina dimalchusa crowd is happy to ignore that basic premise of dina dimalchusa.

    To Harry,

    The court judge did not mention Heidi and Mendy’s last name out of respect, do you feel that it is appropriate for you do so? Do you so feel it necessary, or even appropriate to afford them even less respect then the court jester?

  10. mb says:

    “mb, it seems that the judge called Sylvia, got her on her cellphone, not in the office, and then called “back” after looking up the wrong Georgie company, and getting that company’s office.”

    Why would the judge call another number after getting a satisfactory answer to her question?

  11. Harry Maryles says:

    You know what? I welcome a lawsuit by the Hershkowitzes. That should get us to the bottom of this – one way or another.

  12. Miriam says:

    Judge Milian is like Dr. Laura in that she has these entertaining rants. She often accuses litigants of fraud, and throws them out for getting unruly. Just browse some of the other You Tube links and you’ll see some (and waste a lot of time….) The only reason she didn’t yell at the frum couple in Joe Hill’s link was because they were sweet and elderly.

    Heidi and Mendy approached their TV appearance with too much innocence. And isn’t it a shame they didn’t RUN to that laundromat the second they got that strange call (“Halo meester du wanuz vash dees?”). But they didn’t commit the fraud suggested on TV – her expensive wig really was wrecked by the laundromat.

    But meanwhile there was a chilul Hashem. Not intentional or accurate, not like criminal acts that unfortunately garnish the frum community from time to time. But I think part of Harry’s reaction is that we as a Jewish community can’t afford to simply whitewash these things – we need a clear, simple and intelligent response if we want to retain/regain our nobility as a people.

  13. dovid 2 says:

    The only worthy limud from all this brouhaha and the above comments is Shua Cohen’s “We are in golus…we are only temporary guests in this country…when oh when are we ever going to learn to keep a low profile, especially in these dangerous days of chevlai Moshiach.”

  14. mb says:

    I’m sure they signed away any and all rights before appearing on the show.

  15. Yaakov Menken says:

    mb, it seems that the judge called Sylvia, got her on her cellphone, not in the office, and then called “back” after looking up the wrong Georgie company, and getting that company’s office.

    This is about when it should dawn on Heidi and Mendi that they have a reasonably good case for libel. They are not public figures, and the judge did inadequate research before denouncing them publicly as frauds. This resulted in massive damage to their reputations.

    They’ll need to ask a Sheylas Chocham to know if it’s worth it, but a lawyer would smell money.

  16. mb says:

    I don’t get it. Sylvia, the assistant to the wig maker who was in Paris, answered the phone in Georgie’s Wigs and confirmed the sale? But S.Klein confirmed the judge called him and he denied knowing the customer?
    Somebody explain, please.

  17. Shua Cohen says:

    Yossele wrote: “According to the episode, the judge examined the tag inside the wig. She said she researched the pricing of the wig as new. She said it was “like a Revlon” and only worth a few hundred dollars.”

    Wrong! The judge did NOT research the price of the wig, Yossele. Here is the verbatim transcript of what the judge said:

    “In this recess I called Georgie’s Wigs and they do indeed confirm that you bought a $3000 wig, with long hair. I wager to say the one that’s on your head…[picking up the damaged wig] Georgie’s doesn’t sell this brand. I read the little tags that are on it. They have no idea who makes this. Revlon makes this for a couple of bucks. I don’t know if you got it from Revlon for a couple of bucks or if you got it somewhere else. But I sure as heck know that you didn’t buy it from Georgie, and you didn’t buy it in May, and it didn’t cost you three-thousand dollars.”

    1) The judge said that “Georgie Wigs” confirmed the sale of a $3000 wig. But, Shlomo Klein of “Georgie Wigs” wrote in an email that it was HIS company who the judge called and that the judge was told that they did not make the wig in question, and that he did not recognize Heidi as a customer. So, who confirmed to the judge the sale of the $3000 wig? It was Sylvia, the assistant to Georgie the woman (who works out of her home, NOT “Georgie Wigs” the company) who confirmed the sale in phone conversation #1. So, the judge’s statement: “you didn’t buy it from Georgie” was erroneous! Indeed, Heidi did not buy the wig from “Georgie Wigs” the company…BUT… she did buy it from Georgie the sole-proprietor. Rabbi Yair Hoffman was quite correct that the judge believed that she was speaking with ONE Gerogie Wigs, never knowing that she, in fact, spoke with two.

    2) In phone conversation #2 with “Georgie Wigs” the company, it was accurately learned that they did not sell the wig in question (as confirmed by Shlomo Klein). The judge then SPECULATED that the wig was no more expensive than a Revlon wig. So many blog commenters have erroneously asserted that it WAS a Revlon wig…but they just didn’t listen carefully when the judge added that she had no idea if they got it from Revlon or SOMEWHERE ELSE.

    3) The woman, Georgie, (a) confirmed that she was in France when the show was taped and never spoke with the judge, (b) examined the destroyed wig and verified that it was her custom creation, and (c) contrary to the judge’s accusation that Heidi “didn’t buy it in May,” showed on camera Heidi’s name in her appointment book @ 12:00 on May 3rd (if you pause the video you can clearly see Heidi’s appointment).

    BOTTOM LINE: The judge was unaware that she spoke with two different “Georgies,” which confusion led to a monumental mix-up and false accusations against Heidi and Mendi.

    In truth, none of the players here had bad-intentions, but were victims of human error. Heidi and Mendi erred in agreeing to appear on this nationally viewed TV show. We are in golus…we are only temporary guests in this country…when oh when are we ever going to learn to keep a low profile, especially in these dangerous days of chevlai Moshiach. And for her part, the judge could not have known that there were two “Georgies.” She honestly believed that one and the same “Georgie” sold Heidi a $3000 wig, but that the damaged wig wasn’t it! Given the circumstances, it was an honest error.

    I believe that a Chilul Hashem was, indeed, caused. The limitations of daytime TV (which did not allow for a full investigation of the facts) combined with the foolish decision by Heidi and Mendi to appear on national television (without considering the possibility that the situation could spin horribly out of control) resulted in Orthodox Jews appearing to look like scoundrels and thieves. Our Torah Hashkafa tells us that there are NO coincidences… the Ribbono Shel Olam allowed the situation to spin out of control before the eyes of a million goyim in order to teach us something. In my humble opinion, that something is to remind us that we are Jews first and only tangentially “American;” other than for purposes of earning a livelihood, during the time that we must sojourn in this country we are ill-advised to participate in the culture which surrounds us.

  18. dovid 2 says:

    “… it’s a Mitzvah to steal from them!”

    This statement was apparently made by one of our own. So, it’s not anti-Semitic. It is ‘only’ against halacha. The Rambam states explicitly in Hilchos Deos that is fobidden to deceive a Gentile. In Europe of yore, Yiden were thrown into jail for being Yiden, or for failing to pay up their debt to the poritz, but not for fraud. Based on the fact that some of the American federal penitentiaries today have plentiful kosher food supplies, minyanim three times a day, and even daf yomi shiurim, the inmates availing themselves of these minyanim and shiurim must hold that if it’s not a mitzva, at least there is some hetter for it. Yonason Rosenblum made a comment in one of his write-ups that the presumption of honesty of rabbis and Jews with beards no longer exists today in business circles.

    Esther: “טעות גוי מותר – which is both wrong and bad enough,”

    Actually, טעות גוי is מותר according to the Rama in hilchos g’nevah in the Shulchan Aruch. What it means is that while we are not allowed to trip him, if he, on his own, made an error in our favor, we are allowed to avail ourselves of it. While the poskim recognize this hetter, they advise us against availing ourselves of such errors. The Beer HaGolah writes that he personally knew of Yiden who tripped Gentiles into making errors in their favor and as a consequence the scoundrels became rich and powerful, but there was no brocha in their gain and in the end they lost everything, absolutely everything. The Beer HaGolah quotes the Sefer Chassidim (It was written by a rishon, long, long before the ‘chassidim’ of our day). The sefer writes about Yiden who returned טעות גוי of considerable value to their rightful owner resulting in kiddush HaShem. These Yiden experienced brocha and wealth.

  19. Chochom b'mah nishtaneh says:

    Excellent. Harry comes and posts here proving the author’s point. Doesn’t get any better then that.

  20. eLamdan says:

    R’ Harry your logic is confusing. If they are proven 100% innocent would they still need to apologize? If the answer is no as you imply than why not assume they are innocent until proven guilty?

    Second, your line about apologizing for “inadvertent errors” is quite the understatement. You aren’t making inadvertent errors, you are simply continuing to attack people for basically no reason.

    Finally, this whole Chillul Hashem argument is ridiculous. They did nothing wrong to you, and even if they have made a Chillul Hashem it is not your business to call for an apology. It is bein adam l’makom. Also, the fact that people who are antisemitic might now use this case to boost their false stereotypes about Jews is not a Chillul Hashem, it is simply bigotry. Reasonable people will not judge all Jews by a statement made by a reality TV judge.

  21. Yaakov Menken says:

    My problem with Dr. Bill’s comment was that he said judging favorably applies to direct testimony in front of Beis Din, specifically excluding what is reported through intermediaries. That could lead to confusion, because it is clear that the obligation to judge favorably applies to every person in every situation, regardless of how the person heard the information — specifically relevant, of course, to Loshon Hora.

    Yossel needs to go watch the video. As I said, “all of this was said by Georgie herself on a video available on YouTube. Rabbi Hoffman didn’t guess, he investigated more thoroughly.” It is, of course, entirely untrue that this point was not addressed, as it is one of the very first questions that was asked. According to Rabbi Hoffman, Georgie had no advance warning that she was about to be interviewed. He asked her about the tags, and she told him that every custom wig has tags on the various parts, which was obviously what the judge saw. She knows, because she re-examined the wig herself after it was destroyed.

    I called my wife’s sheitl-macher (trust me, we don’t spend $3000) and without any warning or context asked the assistant who answered the phone whether or not it is true that custom wigs have tags on the various parts. She said that that is generally the case.

    Does anyone honestly think that Judge Milian has seen a custom wig from the inside before? What idiocy is this, to condemn this couple before making the most basic effort to find out their side of the story? Whatever it is, it is only surpassed by those who continue to condemn the couple by ignoring things like Georgie’s interview, and then claiming that such a basic point has not been addressed.

    I have no idea what Yossi Ginzburg is talking about, saying that “the obligation of ‘dan l’kaf zchus’ does NOT trump the obvious Chilul Hashem,” and frankly I doubt that he does either. It is of a piece with calling “odd and vaguely threatening” my point that commenters here, interested in intelligent discourse, are unafraid of signing their names. It makes no sense. On the contrary, the askanim are not anonymous, and neither should be those who claim that they are misusing their closeness to the Gedolim who lead us. It is cowardly in the extreme to make accusations and condemnations while using a moniker instead of a real name. My point was and remains that, B”H, many of our commenters are cut from finer cloth.

    The question is not whether a Chilul HaShem occurred, but whether the young couple caused it by fraudulently claiming a piece of junk from Revlon was a custom wig. There is no zero-sum game here. It is not either/or. The fact that there was a Chilul HaShem caused by the judge’s accusation does not automatically make that accusation true.

    This is why Harry has the truth completely backwards. He made immediate condemnations of this couple with no evidence, and now refuses to apologize until, in his opinion, they are “cleared.”

    First of all, to any fair-minded person they have been cleared for quite a while already. We have the interview with Georgie. Everything she says, she claims is based upon firsthand knowledge. What possible basis do we have for questioning her veracity? We have Rabbi Hoffman’s article and his own comments here, in which he tells us that he gave Georgie absolutely no opportunity to prepare her remarks — “she is either the greatest forger and liar that I have met in a long time, or she is telling the truth” — and which references an email from the other Georgie company. That e-mail, from Shlomo Klein, states that it is his recollection that he was personally asked whether or not some markings in a wig were theirs, and he said no, and then said “I do not know if you are aware that there are two separate entities… Furthermore, I do not recognize the plaintiff, nor the type of receipt shown in the video.” The receipt to which he refers is the one that Judge Milian held up, which was from Georgie herself.

    Either all of these people are lying, including Rabbi Hoffman, or the couple has been cleared. You can claim Georgie alone has a personal connection to the couple, but even if it is so strong that she would lie for them, how does that explain her ex-husband’s email? If Harry really thinks that “they have not been cleared,” then how does he rely on the Kashrus of other people in restaurants, in synagogues, and everywhere else? If there are, indeed, “other reasonable explanations” backed by even a scintilla of evidence, then let him put them forward instead of merely alluding to them in order to add to his calumny of this couple.

    But even without all of that, it is irresponsible and completely against any semblance of a Torah Hashkafah, a Torah-based outlook, to shoot first and ask questions later. The fact that a Chilul HaShem occurred did not justify Harry Maryles calling them a “fraudulent couple,” as he has admitted. But he has not apologized, despite his promise to do so. It is obvious that he’s not related to this couple, and has no clue what they have been put through by irresponsible yammering by people — like I said, not gossip blogs, but rabbis and others “of repute” who bought in without any investigation. Instead, he has the gall to demand an apology from them for being the victims of a baseless accusation of attempted theft through trickery. What they did wrong, which all agree they did, is not even worth discussing while the couple is being tarred and feathered for something far greater which they never did.

    I too stand by what I said. If he truly wants to be Mekadesh Shem Shamayim, sanctify G-d’s name, there are any number of things Harry could do, all far closer to home than waiting for this couple to apologize to him for being the victims of false accusations. If anyone wants to cast aspersions on this couple, the least any fair person can ask for is a modicum of evidence.

  22. Joe Hill says:

    Yossel — She didn’t say its worth a few hundred. Listen again. She said for all she knew it could be worth as little as that. She was making rash assumptions, as she was wont to do.

    Harry — Keep waiting for the producers. They will not be responding to you. They are in the entertainment business. Not in the business of truth. Your apology will still be “forthcoming” when you reach the beis din shel maaila.

  23. Yossel says:

    According to the episode, the judge examined the tag inside the wig. She said she researched the pricing of the wig as new. She said it was “like a Revlon” and only worth a few hundred dollars. Why don’t any of the authors of the articles defending this couple address that point, I wonder?

  24. Harry Maryles says:

    I stand by what I said. They have not been cleared. There are still too many questions. What Rabbi Hoffman did was some detective work that provided a reasonable alternative explanation. But there are other reasonable explanations that may not be so kind. I would have to hear the response from the judge to Rabbi Hoffman’s detective work to know if she erred in the way he surmises – or if there are other factors that support her decision. I have contacted the producers of the People’s Court to try and get her reaction and have not received a response from them. In the meantime – the Chilul HaShem is too large to simply say, ‘Let’s be Dan L’Kaf Zechus’ ‘They were innocent.’ ‘Let’s forget the whole thing’.

    When they are fully cleared – or if they apologize for being involved in this massive Chilul HaShem – one of their own making by agreeing to appear of the show – innocently or not – my apology will be forthcoming. Their images are now the personification of stereotypical anti-Semitic canards about us. That requires some contrition on their part and not merely protestations of innocence.

    I have apologized for inadvertent errors and will do so again. But I do not take Chilul HaShem lightly. Even if they are pure as the driven snow this event cries out for an apology – along the lines I suggested in my post – for being involved. Innocently or not!

    I agree with Othonomics. As I indicated in response to one of my commenters, I would have loved to leave sleeping dogs lie here and not bring up this Chilul HaShem again at all – unless there were new developments or an actual apology. But since you, Rabbi Menken, have dredged this incident up again with an accusatory tone towards me – I had no choice to respond.

    One more thing. It really does not become you to accuse those who are able to vent their frustrations with ‘the system’ on my blog and call them Leitzim. Talk about accusing the innocent!

  25. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    You say I appear confused and ask what crime they committed: Read the post, please. I say clearly that they committed no crime, but that the obligation of “dan l’kaf zchus” does NOT trump the obvious Chilul Hashem, a point you assert without proof. Perhaps it uis you who are confused.

    I am further bothered by your rather odd and vaguely threatening statement about commenters using their real names, unafraid, as if they shouldn’t. This sounds ominous and very Taliban-like. Are you implying that those who disagree with you are being put on some list, or was this just a pointless comment?

    I personally find it wonderful, that people of intelligence are becoming unafraid of the anonymous “askanim” that are running the religion so poorly. Yes, I have derech eretz for Gedolim- but for real Gedolim, who use their power and knowledge not with Papal infallibility and self-importance but with reasoned and careful and informed knowledge.

  26. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Menken writes: On Dr. Bill’s points: (2) This mitzvah is not at all limited to a Beis Din, on that he is mistaken. See Sefer Ch”Ch Issurei Loshon Hara 6:7 and Issurei Rechilus 5:6.

    2/3 is not bad! however on 2) i wrote: “The phrase applies in particular to a those sitting in judgment.” In particular, means not limited to but especially to. And by in judgment I meant a broader group than just a formal BD.

  27. Yaakov Menken says:

    On Dr. Bill’s points: (1) I agree this should not be restricted to observant Jews. It is certainly appropriate to judge every person favorably. We’re not the only ones to believe that a person should be considered innocent until proven guilty. But we have a special obligation, as I said, regarding a “person who generally conducts himself in accordance with the practices of a G-d-fearing Jew.” (2) This mitzvah is not at all limited to a Beis Din, on that he is mistaken. See Sefer Ch”Ch Issurei Loshon Hara 6:7 and Issurei Rechilus 5:6. (3) He is again correct that there are “more significant examples of individuals being labeled something or other unfairly,” but due to the extremely public pillorying of this couple, this is an outstanding example of how off course we have gone.

    Similarly, Yossi seems very confused. What “obvious crime” did this couple commit? Sharing with the world how much they spend on a sheitel was dumb, but not criminal. Thanks to Rabbi Hoffman’s work, we now know that the most likely case is that this couple did nothing that “makes Jews look crooked.” And we most certainly do have the obligation to be Dan L’Kaf Z’chus prior to concluding that they caused a Chilul HaShem, rather than being hapless victims of a capricious “verdict” based upon the judge’s own shoddy research (which, of course, is outside the rightful purview of a judge).

    I don’t know if ‘Orthonomics’ means before Rabbi Hoffman’s research, or after. Rabbi Hoffman’s “amateur investigation” is what exonerated this couple from the charge of intentional deceit. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

    Let me just point out something in closing. The Orthodox blogger I mentioned in the article has now, far from apologizing, gone after the couple again, by name, demanding that they apologize to the community in the midst of all of the unfair charges leveled against them. He claims that I am more concerned about his apology to the couple than about “the Chilul HaShem they caused,” although there is now no evidence that they caused the Chilul HaShem of being held up as liars and frauds. [On the contrary, one of the reasons for my post was to do my small part to mitigate the Chilul HaShem which resulted from the judge’s irresponsible accusation and verdict. Demonstrating their innocence reduces the Chilul HaShem, while merciless accusations against them only magnify it. Honestly, which one of us seems bent upon painting the situation in the darkest colors imaginable?]

    In doing so, he falsifies what he said at the outset. He now says that I cited his “offer to apologize if they were proven innocent.” This, however, is not at all what he said, nor is “guilty until proven innocent” in accordance with Halacha or simple fairness. What he actually said was: “If there is an explanation that turns this into a Kiddush HaShem or even clears them of any fraud – I will publish a complete apology.” What Rabbi Hoffman provided, certainly taken together with Georgie’s own statements, is exactly what he had asked for, an explanation that clears them of any fraud.

    What this blogger has created is a true Moshav Leitzim which flourishes in the comments, offering such gems of wisdom as:

    A) A woman (Georgie) “is not believed as a witness.” That this commenter doesn’t understand the difference between being patur mi’eidus vs. being “not believed” (think Inyanei Issur V’Heter, for example) is besides the point, as the entire condemnation of this couple as frauds begins with the “testimony” of a non-Jewish woman (the judge). [Stunned by the obvious lack of logic, I asked this fellow straight out, in private correspondence, “Do you only use your brain to see the worst in people?” He apparently mistook this as a compliment, and has posted it as part of his comments on that blog.]

    B) “If proof is possible to be obtained like in this case, and there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why it is not obtained, then DLZ [Dan L’Kaf Zechus] does not apply.” Due to private correspondence, I can tell you that this commenter was talking about the wig itself. Georgie already said straight out that she recognized it as hers, and this fellow wants it sent to a lab for independent testing — and to further claim that it is justified to condemn the couple until they do so! Again, “guilty until proven innocent.” Is this the Torah community or Salem, MA in 1692?

    I have noticed that a much higher percentage of the commenters here, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with me or any other writer, are unafraid to sign their real names to their work, instead of sniping at the couple and falsifying simple and obvious Halachos from behind a veil of anonymity. [Though, I should note, he has received a hailstorm of criticism for his recent “guilty until proven innocent” “they must apologize” posting.]

    Our friendly Orthodox blogger promised that “if there is an explanation that… even clears them of any fraud – I will publish a complete apology.” Rabbi Hoffman provided that explanation. Is this blogger a mekayem devaro, a man of his word? The clock is ticking.

  28. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    No, letting it die isn’t serving the public OR Hashem.

    In the language of the mishna, “Echad shogeg v’achad meizid b’chilul Hashem”, and this trumps the obligation to be “dan l’kaf z’chus”. As both the Shu”A and the Gemara put it, “Ain adam dan elah mah she’ainav ro’os”.

  29. Orthonomics says:

    I think that at this point, it would be a favor to just let this episode die a needed death and just accept the mussar that we can take away from it. No one here is qualified to properly investigate the claims or properly conduct a “peer review” of the judge’s own investigation. Amateur investigations are not only ill advised, but sure to raise further questions. In my opinion, calling the community out for not exercising enough dan l’chaf zechut by introducing more “facts” causes further and unnecessary speculation, not greater benefit of the doubt.

    The episode sadly aired during Parshat Miketz. In the words of Rabbi Mansour: , “Yaakob understood what far too few people today understand – that showing off material success, especially in periods of financial instability, invites hostility, not admiration. When a person flaunts his wealth, people around him become resentful – not his adoring admirers.”

  30. Chochom b'mah nishtaneh says:

    If the said moralless blogger feels that appearence alone on such a prgram is a cillul hashem, why does he espouse his “Harry” like opinions on public radio shows or in print media? Does he not consider the chillul hashem there?

    Is not one of his regular rants that we should not be so different from the goyim? Well, would that not include being on TV?

    One of his favorite terms that he bandies about is “chillul hashem” . Yet the true chillul hashem, painting anything a frum jew, or certainly a visibly frum jew,does in the most negative light and with an absolute presumption of guilt and prejudice is one that his blog is guilty of as its raison d’être .

    But he enjoys his moment in the limelight. For the life of me, I cannot understand how any rational person would even pay his posts any attention at all. What shines through is his prejudice and anger control issues, not logical thought or sense.

  31. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    How is it that so many Orthodx Rabbis can attack viciously people that commit an error of minor degree (i.e. My Uncle the Netziv, Rabbi Slifkin, et al) and stand up to defend clear premeditaed Chilul Hashem such as obvious crimes?

    While this case was NOT criminal, the Gemara says that the primary purpose of Yiddishkeit is to make Hashem beloved in public (Sheyehai shem shamayim miskadesh) and this type of behavior clearly failed at that. Like the many criminal cases recently in public, this type of behavior makes Jews look crooked, and as such should be condemned.

    Attacking those that point out what is wrong is not only defensive knee-jerk reaction, it is harmful. Until people accept Mussar, they cannot improve, and that includes the rabbinate that is showing such failure to cope properly.

  32. dr. bill says:

    You write: “It’s called Havei Dan es Kol Adam l’kaf zechus, judge every person favorably, which we are obligated in Halacha to apply to any person who generally conducts himself in accordance with the practices of a G-d-fearing Jew.”

    a few points:

    1) I see no reason to restrict this to observant Jews. Such statements might, God forbid, contribute to disregard for (the property rights of) non-Jews.

    2) The phrase applies in particular to a those sitting in judgment were laws of direct testimony apply, specifcally excluding what is reported through intermediares, translation, etc.

    3) In a climate of rampant suspicion in many quarters, among the examples I would choose is not an unfortunate, disputed and convoluted wig story. Our community has more signifiant examples of individuals being labeled something or other unfairly.

  33. Yair Spolter says:

    Kol Hakavod, Rabbi Menken!

    This is one of the best posts I’ve seen on this site (and I like a lot of them)!

    The halachos of dan lekaf zechus are so antithetical to the modern, secular approach to news reporting, and there is no doubt that we have all been influenced by the way of thinking that pervades the society we live in. I think that you illustrate this point beautifully, and all those who disagree with you should ask themselves, “Am I familliar with this mitzvah and what it demands of me, or am I defining the ‘proper Jewish attitude’ based on my personal opinion of what is right and wrong?”

    There is no doubt that refraining from judgement of other Jews in accordance with the halacha is a huge step towards finding favor in Hashem’s eyes and bringing the geulah. Thank you for your insight.

  34. Joe Hill says:

    “What a rotten anti-Semitic lie.”

    Esther: Considering where the quote is coming from, that is indeed an accurate assessment.

  35. Joe Hill says:

    Here are at least two previous appearances by frum people (including a couple) on “The People’s Court”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLzz6Wx4MYQ

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0U66GQMmTY

    One is over a year old and the other more than three months old. We heard no outcry of “Chillul Hashem” for their mere appearance on the same show.

  36. Esther says:

    ‘Besides – they’re all Goyim; it’s a Mitzvah to steal from them!’

    I live among the frummest, most insular, narrow-minded, bigoted Jews in the western hemisphere and I have yet to hear this disgusting rationalization from anyone. The worst I’ve ever heard is that it’s not an aveira, or טעות גוי מותר – which is both wrong and bad enough, but far from ‘it’s a Mitzvah to steal from them.’ What a rotten anti-Semitic lie.

  37. Yair Hoffman says:

    Yasher Koach for your comments. It was clear to me that Georgie was not lying. The way she showed me everything in her books, the fact that I came right away with a video camera without her knowing leads to one of two conclusions. She is either the greatest forger and liar that I have met in a long time, or she is telling the truth. The conjecture was based on the fact that Sylvia was called as well as the email from the other Georgie company that said it was called.

    The judge made two calls either because she disbelieved that the number on the receipt was real (and used the “yes, we made it” from that call) or because she called back after googling it.)

    I was very very taken aback by the reactions of those who doubted Georgie, the frum employee of the rival Georgie, the couple, Sylvia, and my hashara of Georgie’s integrity. What was the alternative? That Sylvia said we don’t make that wig after hearing serial numbers?

    Georgie also has serial numbers on her wigs.

    Thank you for your article. Just a quick note for those who are dan lekaf zechus. The Vilna Gaon writes that those who are melamend zchus on others gain favor and love from HaKadosh Boruch Hu. Here there is no leap of faith – it is 5 to 1. She, the judge, blew it.

  38. Tal Berg says:

    The REAL problem is that people spend $3000 to cover their hair with other real hair, to make it look like it’s not covered. The whole concept is just insane. And that is called “modesty”? Is $3000 modest?

    Why dont people improve their midos instead of twisting halocho?

  39. Yoni Doe says:

    It was not just “foolish” for them to go on the show. That very act itself was a Chilul Hashem. Many of the people who I know who viewed this video stopped it after a minute or two in disgust, without knowing anything about the outcome. In fairness to the couple I don’t want to rehash all the particulars as to why, even without that horrible finale, their appearing on this show was an embarrassment to us all. Suffice to say, what do you expect when you agree get paid to appear on a TV show who’s goal it is to entertain the lower socioeconomic tiers of society?

  40. Miriam says:

    The problem with “People’s Court” versus a real court case, is the judge was still time-bound for the recess, while in a real court the couple could have had an additional day to substantiate the purchase. Nonetheless, one should never assume because they are in the right that any court case will actually come out that way.

    The couple prepared their case in a way that created a large doubt: “How to evaluate the damage?” In Rabbi Hoffman’s interview, Georgie says they expected something of a compromise and submitted the brand new $3000 value as a starting point. Perhaps they were hoping for something closer to the $1500 replacement made “at cost,” according to Rabbi Hoffman’s interview of the couple. During the case they didn’t discuss the replacement (“I have only one wig – no the one on my head is not the one in question”), which created the incorrect impression that the damaged wig could have been an old and cheap one anyway.

    But the point that has been made more recently, including by Rabbi Menken above, is – while it may be entertaining to discuss whether they distorted evidence, whether they committed fraud ch”v, or legally or halachically what size of settlement they are entitled to – what are the parameters for discussing the affairs of another Jew when they appear in the media?

    Somehow I don’t think halacha expects a whitewash approach to every appearance of Jews in the media (“they’re Jewish it must be the goyim are distorting things”). These kinds of stories make great and perfectly valid material in a classroom or at a Shabbos table discussion – what was right, what was wrong, what are the possible explanations for what we don’t know for sure, what can we learn from this, etc.

    The problem becomes when people draw the quick sound-byte conclusions that we’ve gotten used to in this technological age – we heard many immediate cries of “chillul Hashem” as if they were indicted or convicted criminals, and only days later a more nuanced “we shouldn’t take our personal affairs onto TV.”

    Rabbi Menken writes:

    I am not talking about the purportedly-Orthodox gossip blogs, from which we would expect no better. I am talking about Orthodox rabbis who were strident in their immediate condemnation of the couple….

    It’s a valuable lesson: the shoot-from-the-hip attitude we encounter via technological communication has become an infection. We need to be more careful. The mitzvah of dan l’kaf zechus teaches us that we don’t know the full story, and usually never will.

  41. eLamdan says:

    I agree with what you wrote here. As I’ve commented on other blogs – the judge was in the wrong here. Her job is to judge the case – i.e. to decide whether the plaintiffs are owed money. When they failed to bring in evidence she should have simply dismissed their case – case closed. She is not in the position of investigating and accusing. Furthermore, anyone who accuses someone of something like this really needs to give those being accused more of a chance to respond. A quickie interview after the case is not sufficient.

  42. Yaakov Menken says:

    Yankle still fails to note that Georgie herself came forward to clarify. It is now apparent that the judge only made one call, to the wrong company. She never called the correct Georgie, who was in France. It is still possible that the judge did first reach an assistant at Georgie’s who did not have information, and then called the second, but we no longer need that in order to absolve the couple of any deception. How would Georgie’s assistant have flatly denied that Georgie sold them the wig, when she herself knows that she did, having made both it and its replacement?

    Rav Hoffman fulfilled the Mitzvah of judging favorably when one doesn’t have full information. He demonstrates how it ought to be done — by making conjectures that show their innocence, knowing full well that a large percentage of such conjectures (like all other conjectures) will turn out not to be accurate. Rebbe Akiva did the same thing. Yankle seems to find fault in Rav Hoffman for his guesses not being perfectly accurate. Given that Rav Hoffman was, according to Georgie herself, perfectly accurate about the true subject — whether or not the couple engaged in any deception — Yankle’s nitpicking seems rather pathetic.

  43. Yankle says:

    Another great example of where the “explanation” falls short. Who cares if Georgie was in France she has workers who manage her store doesnt she, and more to the point she COULD have workers making the Judge’s claim believable. Hoffman fails to adaquetly explain why the judge would claim that she spoke to georgies who sold her a $3000 wig but not the brand, that two phonecalls took place requires a huge leap of the imagination that this couple does not seem to deserve.
    This is what Hoffman claims “This next paragraph is conjecture.

    It is likely that the judge then Googled the company named Georgie and made a second phone call. She spoke to someone at the other Georgie Company. That person said that the markings on the wig are not from a wig that they manufacture.

    It is not clear why the judge called the second company. It could be she suspected that the receipt was phony and that the number that was called was just a shill for Heidi and Mendi. When she later said that Georgie confirmed that the wig was purchased by her but not that one the judge was conflating both phone calls.”
    this is a direct quote from Hoffman, he agrees it is a guess.

  44. Bob Miller says:

    Regardless of what the couple did or did not do, some lessons may be learned:

    1. Jews should not flaunt affluence.

    2. Jews should allocate their money wisely.

    3. Jews who pick even justifiable public fights with non-Jews should first consider all the implications and potential fallout for themselves and the rest of us.

  45. Yaakov Menken says:

    Yankle needs to read a bissel mehr. As I wrote, “Georgie herself was in France during the trial. The judge never spoke to her. Georgie says that she knows the couple well, recognizes the destroyed wig as her work, and personally put together (in under 24 hours) the wig that Heidi now wears.” All of this was said by Georgie herself on a video available on YouTube. Rabbi Hoffman didn’t guess, he investigated more thoroughly.

  46. Yankle says:

    The problem is Yair Hoffman’s expalnation is that requires a huge leap of the imagination. The judge claimed she called Georgies who said that they sold her a $3000 wig but not the brand the couple was trying to collect for. In other words she called the right Georgies (according to her), Hoffman “resolves” this by guessing that the judge called both Georgies one of whom sold the $3000 wig and the other who denied selling the brand and combined them into one jumbled statment.
    The justification for not judging the couple favorly was their foolish decision to appear in the first place