Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Stinka From Spinka

Yesterday afternoon the television news was abuzz with the arrest of the Rebbe of Spinka on a variety of white-collar charges, including income tax evasion and money laundering. According to the government (he has yet to be tried by a jury and is presumed innocent) he solicited large donations from wealthy people in our community, then kicked back as much as 95%, giving the donor a tax deduction 20 times what he was entitled to. I am no longer surprised by news of this sort, just thoroughly disgusted. It seems that ingratitude is the new Jewish virtue. We enjoy in this country the tranquility and freedom that eluded us throughout our long galut, and this is what we give in return. Earth to Harediland: Wake up. We’re not in Poland or Hungary any more. The American government does not persecute Jews. Whatever the gemara might say about the permissibility of defrauding Gentiles or a Gentile government (which ours is not, Jews having achieved high office up to and including running for Vice President) does not apply in our enlightened society. And the intrinsic evil of the rebbe’s alleged crimes is compounded by their inevitable consequence: massive hillul Hashem. It seems to have escaped the notice of the haredi world that such actions confirm all the tired old stereotypes that Gentiles have of us. Jews are dishonest connivers. Jews are greedy. Jews are grasping. Jews are money grubbers. Jews don’t uphold the law of the countries in which they live (hey man, remember that one?), ad infinitum. For those who think that skulduggery of this sort can be kept to ourselves, be assured that news of the rebbe's arrest was splashed all over the Internet (see link above) within hours of its occurrence.

The presumption of innocence may keep the Rebbe out of jail for the time being, but it does not entitle him or his hangers-on to our respect or trust. For that, those who presume to be our authority figures must be above suspicion. One who has such a cloud hanging over him (so much the more if the charges are substantiated) cannot be trusted in matters of kashrut or as a witness on a document of halakhic significance such as a ketuba or get. They should not be invited to our functions, nor should they be honored in our synagogues. In short, they should be ostracized from the society of honest men, a powerful sanction as long as man is a social animal (and a sanction which needs to be applied to men who unreasonably withhold gittin from their wives). And any parent with a child in Spinka’s yeshiva needs to ask himself or herself if (s)he wants his or her child taught by men of such dubious character.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am bothered by the malicious glee that some other blogs have shown over this occurence (not this blog though).

The Spinka Rebbe is a major figure in chasidic Judaism. If he is guilty (and we must presume he is innocent until shown to be otherwise) then the implications are tremendous. It's one thing to say "Well, it was a no-good underling and he knew nothing about it" but if a leader like this is directly involved, how can any of the remainder be trusted?

Fri Dec 21, 08:29:00 AM EST  
Blogger Orthonomics said...

Thank you for pointing me towards your excellent post. I think you write beautifully about the implications and I just fear what is coming next (only days ago I caught a story about impending audits, on Yeshiva World-which hasn't even reported this case- in Orange County NY on Medicaid fraud and the writting is on the wall if you look at the figures).

Fri Dec 21, 09:10:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Major figure in the chasidic judaism" is a bit of an overstatement. He is one of many Spinka Rebbes.

It remains a tragedy and a scandal that deserves all of our outrage.

Fri Dec 21, 10:33:00 AM EST  
Blogger Zev Stern said...

Glee? I'm experiencing many roiling emotions over this and similar stuff: sadness, anger, embarrassment, disgust, but not glee. Not even schadenfreude (Ovadia 1:12-13), since this kind of thing happens in modern circles too; remember Bernard Bergman and the nursing home scandals of the '70s? We just never learn.

Sat Dec 22, 09:49:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you are way overboard about "above suspicion." You've never heard about police getting it totally wrong?

I'm not so foolish as to think "oh, he must be innocent." Nothing doing. But it's totally unfair for you to say he should be ostracized simply because he was *accused*.

I guess you don't think the presumption of innocence means anything as far as rabbis go?

Mon Jan 21, 02:33:00 AM EST  
Blogger Zev Stern said...

It goes as far as to keep him out of jail, sure. It does not exactly do wonders for his credibility. I've seen too many of these instances in our community to give him the benefit of the doubt as far as standing in the community is concerned. Sure, police can get it totally wrong at what they think is a violent crime about to happen, e.g. Amadou Diallo and Gideon Basch. But the police aren't even involved in white collar crime until the investigation is completed and somebody needs to be arrested. The government usually doesn't even bother with these cases unless the evidence is ironclad, and they usually end in guilty pleas, not jury trials. Here, the government allegedly has the rebbe on tape discussing his scheme.

Tue Jan 22, 06:51:00 AM EST  

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