Contradictory Impulses in Light of Scandal
The Orthodox Jewish community is having contradictory impulses in light of the latest scandal: the New Jersey corruption probe that snagged several Orthodox Rabbis in money laundering and tax evasion, and another orthodox Jew in a long standing racket to sell human organs for transplants. Pictures. like the one above, have prompted strong reactions.
On the one hand we have the typical defensive and insular responses. The Israeli Sephardi Orthodox party Shas, downplayed the significance of the crimes and blamed the whole thing on antisemitism. "FBI Sting Motivated by Antisemitism" reads the headline in their party newspaper. Similarly, and more shockingly, the father of the main FBI informant, Solomon Dwek, is sitting shiva for his son. According to the elder Dwek - a prominent rabbi himself, the major sin in this case was not the money laundering nor the trade in human organs, but the shame the incident has brought in the Jewish people (and the "God fearing" segment of the Jewish people in particular.) And the person who is primarily responsible for that are not those who committed the crimes - corrupt rabbis and greedy businessmen, but those - his son in particular - who cooperated with the secular (and goyish) authorities to expose these crimes. "Stoolie Dead to his Daddy" reads the headline in the New York Post.
The elder Rabbi Dwek, went so far as delivering a blistering speech at a public gathering, in which he denounced the actions of any Jew being an informant against fellow Jews, and requested the community’s prayers for him in a time of suffering. And then, as if to underline the point, the elder Dwek taught a class together with one of the men caught in his son’s sting. Apparently neither Rabbi Dwek nor his followers saw the irony of giving such a lesson in their synagogue, pictured to the right. The inscription over the door reads "This is the gate to God, the righteous shall enter."
On the other hand, we have some long needed soul searching.
In an article from The Forward, echoed in other media, some rabbis have been admitting that the fault may indeed be with the accused, and more significantly that the whole insular (narrow and self absorbed, others may claim) Orthodox lifestyle may be partly to blame.
“It has been an awful week, and an awful few months, and that places a growing obligation on us to change the direction" says Daniel Feldman, a rabbi at Yeshiva University.
Yair Hoffman, a Long Island Haredi Rabbi offered: “We’ve got to re-conceive our relationship to the country we’re in. This is a beautiful country. Its laws are proper laws that are designed to help its citizenry, and we’re not dealing with a situation where Jews are necessarily the underdog — a situation that at times can contribute to a mindset of, ‘Let’s not necessarily observe the law.’”
The same Rabbi, writing on an ultra-Orthodox web site observed: "The fault may partially lie with us and our system of education."
Perhaps most significantly, Rabbi David Zwiebel, head of the main ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization, Agudath Israel, speaking at a public meeting said: “There are a lot of benefits of insulating oneself from the broader culture around us, as we do. But one of the costs of insularity is perhaps a lack of appreciation of the importance of compliance with secular law. That is a message that is important for people to hear.”
Why is any of this important to the majority of liberal or secular North American Jews?
Because, sadly in my opinion, ultra Orthodox Jewry has a disproportionate influence on the rest of world Jewry. Most of the Jewish community spends too much time looking over its right shoulder to assure itself of its own authenticity. The modern Orthodox, look to the Ultras; the Conservatives to the modern Orthodox; the Reform to the Conservatives; etc etc.
As a fabrente Reconstructionist, who believes that "living in two civilizations" (well actually more than two) is not only a matter of practical necessity but also a positive value to be pursued, these baby steps on the Jewish right are a welcome sign. Lets hope they grow into a major shift in attitude, and are not overwhelmed by the more traditional voices of the elder Rabbi Dwek and his allies.