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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Legal Symposium: Men Only

In light of the most recent major scandal involving Orthodox Jews and assorted crimes from money laundering to kidney brokering, the Agudah decided that perhaps it was time to dedicate an asifa to yashrut, which they named the "Legal Symposium." Given that major frum publications have managed to ignore decades and decades of organized financial crime, it certainly is a step in the right direction to even acknowledge that a criminal case took place. The Yated didn't once mention the Spinka case, nor did its online counterpart YWN. I did not read the Yated at the time of the Los Angeles to Brooklyn money laundering arrests which hit the airwaves in a very similar way (1994 I believe), but I doubt those were mentioned either.

But, as I tell my kids, the longer you wait to clean up a mess, the harder it gets to clean it up. This pronouncement is normally made as I shoo them out of the kitchen when something sugary. Once the stickiness hits the soles of the feet, I'm stuck cleaning not just a section of a floor, but numerous floors, surfaces, and soles of shoes. I'm choosing to take the mere mention that not every single black hatted member of the klal is anything but meticulously observant of basic financial decency as a positive sign. The case of the bochurim in Japan has resulted in pronouncements that the women should take on extra stringencies in tzniut, so I think we can at least be appreciative that the asifa has a more direct connection between the crime and the solution. Of course, a large gathering isn't going to solve any issues. The entire house is a sticky mess and the cleanup project is going to be massive.

The asifa to promote a basic message that all 10 of the aserot hadibrot actually still apply in this day and age (and no, mesira is actually not one of the aserot hadibrot, although VIN and YWN commentors seem to have a different set of 10), featured a rather strange lineup of speakers indeed including the zealous Rabbi Avraham Schorr and the Spinka Rebbe who just pleaded guilty to a major criminal tax fraud and money laundering. I'm not quite sure what to make of inviting the Spinka Rebbe to sit in an honored position and declare that there is no longer a need to do things illegally. The entire speech struck me as bizarre. I don't want to get caught up in the speeches quiet yet. It seems to me that greater effectiveness could be achieved by inviting someone who has actually sat in prison (and hasn't re involved themselves in more criminal activity), or, perhaps even better yet, inviting that person's wife to address the crowd (from behind a mechitza if necessary) about what the fallout criminal activity is. Of course, if there is no real fallout, the situation is far worse that most are willing to face.

Naturally, the asifa was only open to the men folk. While there have been a fair number of "frum" women who have been hauled in by authorities for various types of criminal theft and fraud, including one women and her husband who were hauled in shortly after the recent major scandal in New Jersey, I have made the point before that (naive) women are the ones who get to pick up the pieces. When a male criminal meets his fate, he gets 3 square meals a day, while the wife is stuck with the weight of the home squarely on her shoulders.

I will continue to try and make the case that finances are the women's business too (presumably she is signing on the Federal 1040 and should know what she is signing) and hope that those who read my blog will help get that message out at the grassroots level because I believe it is a very important one. While criminal activity, especially organized crime, is largely a men's club, it is necessary to given the ladies a seat at the table in their own home, if not the community at large, to help provide some "checks and balances." If the community is actually serious about starting to fight this evil, they can't exclude half the population.

As it stands, the women are asked to work and provide support to a growing family during the initial stages of the marriage, but don't seem to have much of a role beyond that. In terms of the individual household, it is very important for women to have a voice in the family's finances. Women tend to bring a different set of needs and wants to the table. Women tend to focus on security and balance out husbands that might tend towards great risk. Introducing a more risk-adverse voice to sit at the table certainly is unlikely to cause great harm.

Ultimately, the mess that the kehillah at large faces isn't just a men' issue. Perhaps the Agudah just couldn't find an arrangement to accommodate both genders. But I hope that if the subject of yashrut is to become an ongoing subject, that the womenfolk will be invited to that table too.

Back to the speeches in the next post. I need to cut this post off before it becomes a small book.


Yael said...

When my husband the initial article on VIN/TYW, he muttered, "Spinka Rebbe, hmmm, that sounds familiar." He did a quick search and found out about the legal procceedings. How ironic to give an invite to someone who just was convicted of illegal money practices, and then everyone on the comments pages of the abovementioned sites said how wonderful it was that he spoke. The quotes were about how the money laundering was "necessary" at the time! Oy vey.

SephardiLady said...

The content is more troubling. "Out of necessity" we engaged in these crimes. Next a declaration that everything can be done legally and now 'we' know that. And lastly a pitch for a new tzedakah.

A whitewash of a decades old problem to say the least. There have always been frum lawyers and accountants to guide the kehilla. But, really, it isn't so complicated. Sure, putting together a legal benefits package that includes a tuition benefit is something I'd consult a good lawyer about. But the charges were not about uncross t's and undotted i's, they were about a deliberate scheme of organized crime, a scheme that was known and that went from coast to coast.

As for the necessity. . . .the solution isn't to start another tzedakah, it is to take a look in the mirror and figure out how to get rid of the "necessity" to steal. Of course that will involve real change.

Sorry for the tone all. The more I try to wrap my head around the speaker lineup, the more I feel the invitation was misplaced. More on that later.

Avi said...

Harking back to the Guru post, your views here on women's sad (in this context) need to take care of themselves financially actually makes you quite compatible with Suze Ormand...

SephardiLady said...

If I'm compatible in this area, fantastic. Dave Ramsey too makes the point that both parties need to be involved in the family budget and financial decisions. I've been making this point long before I discovered either guru. My mother always stressed the necessity of knowing what is going on financially. Sadly, I have too many friends who are left out of the pictures and just have permission to spend. I think the husband feels "manly" that way, but ultimately it will catch up to him. If there is criminal activity, the fallout is even worse.

Commenter Abbi said...

How is anybody in the non Charedi community supposed to have a shred of respect for the charedi community when their flagship org. puts up a non repentant criminal to talk about yashrut? If this wasn't real, I would think this was a lead up to a punchline.

I truly feel I'm living in the time of the Shoftim: "ish hayashar b'einav ya'aseh"

Anonymous said...

1. Until someone shows me a transcript in English, it won't be clear to me how repentant or non-repentant the Spinka Rebbe was.

2. If any people rounded up in the last sweep turn state's evidence against others, will they then be reviled as informers by those who now call them an informer's innocent victims?

Ariella said...

"Naturally, the asifa was only open to the men folk." Did they do this to avoid a mixed audience, or to prevent the women from bothering their pretty little heads about financial maneuvers?

Avi said...

@Ariella - to prevent mixed dancing.

Anonymous said...

It's baby steps, at best, but we should at least try to give them credit for that. I've read a lot of blog posts about the asifa, but yours is the only one that mentioned the female aspect, so you really shed light on a different perspective.

Anonymous said...

The women needed to be there as well. And someone should have discussed the basement businesses that pay no tax (and no unemployment insurance, and no sales tax, and no...).

And I HATE asinine pronouncements such as -

The case of the bochurim in Japan has resulted in pronouncements that the women should take on extra stringencies in tzniut

NO, NO, No, no, extra tzniut in dress is not necessary. What is necessary, is extra tzniut in business, and extra stringencies in honesty. What is necessary, is to shun those rich folks that acquired their wealth in a dishonest manner. What is necessary, is to spit out those criminal elements from the community.


Avi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Avi said...

Mark, the lawyer did discuss off-the-books businesses. He was actually quite explicit about it.

He talked about a lot of other things, too, and unfortunately provided some mixed messages:

-they really are out to get us, therefore we need to be conscious of our behavior at all times

-they aren't out to get us, therefore we need to be good citizens and stop trying to game the system

Which is it?

Somewhat Anonymous said...

He talked about a lot of other things, too, and unfortunately provided some mixed messages:

-they really are out to get us, therefore we need to be conscious of our behavior at all times

-they aren't out to get us, therefore we need to be good citizens and stop trying to game the system

Which is it?

They are out to get us to the extent that they will prioritize and relish the chance to prosecute us if we are found breaking the law.

They aren't out to get us if we follow the law.

Makes sense to me.

Commenter Abbi said...


Uh, in any country that runs according to the rule of law, lawbreakers are prosecuted. That's just the way it goes.

Asserting that "they" relish the chance to prosecute us only whitewashes the core ethical rot that seems to permeate the frum world at this moment.

It's wrong to steal because Hashem says so- no matter who you're stealing from, no matter if they love or hate to prosecute us if/when we're caught, no matter how many kids you have to feed or what color shirt or tablecloth you use on shabbat. It's just wrong to steal.

The statement that they "relish the chance to prosecute us if we are found breaking the law." reminds me of the Palestinian admonishment to suicide bombers to stop killing Jews because it hurts their cause. Not "Stop killing because it's wrong to kill".

Avi said...


Yep. There seems to be three justifications used when Jews are caught breaking the law:

1. They're out to get us, so we need to take all we can
2. It's too expensive to live as a frum person, the only way to make it is to cut corners
3. Everyone else is doing it (variant on #2)

(there's also, "because I can," the Madoff rationale, but that is more rare.)

It's easy to counter #1 by pointing out that modern Western countries (and the US in particular) allow us the freedom to learn, daven, dress, and truly live the way Hashem wants us to. Not only that, the government provides subsidies for our schools and our poor, and the US government even funds and protects our foreign interests more often than not. How DARE any Jew think that they are justified in subverting even the most minor laws of this great country?

If you can break down #1, then #2 and #3 (in part, the purpose of this blog) are, in some ways, the easiest to address. If you don't have any justification other than "this lifestyle is too expensive" you have to find a way to make the lifestyle less expensive, or you change the lifestyle. The Torah certainly does NOT allow you to skirt taxes so that you can keep your son in law in kollel.

Oh, but wait, no, they're out to get us. (I believe he meant the media, primarily, but the damage is done.) If they really are still out to get us, some will remain justified in whatever they can get away with. Until they're caught.