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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Criminal Element Takes Another Public Seat at the Dais

Crime and punishment is as old as the Torah itself. But it seems that in the past year that prominent communal organizations and segments of the Orthodox community have become very loud and bold in their public defense of convicted criminals within/affiliated somehow with the Orthodox community. So called pidyon shuvuyim campaigns to collect for the legal defense and make life more manageable for the wife and children of the convicted is nothing new. But large scale, broad based, and loud public support seems to be a new trend that has developed, I would say, in just the past year. It appears to me that there is a hashkafah of sorts that is developing and it reads like this: Hands off US.

I don't remember rallies or mass letter writing campaigns in support of the drug/money laundering rings of the mid-90's that spanned from NY to LA, but the issue wasn't exactly on my radar. There was a time where I owned a pair of pink tinted glasses and I'd like them back, thank you very much! And while there must have been some behind the scenes lobbying for President Clinton's pardons of the New Square group, when the news hit of the pardons (Jan. 2001), I believe it was the first that most people in the Orthodox community became aware of the crime (granted, the internet was only in its infancy). But my recollection of the aftermath was that most hung their heads in shame. But, I could be mistaken.

In 2009, the Agudah organized a number of business Asifas. These spawned from the arrest and subsequent conviction of the Spinka Rebbe and the New Jersey and New York stings in which arrests for money laundering were made in Deal and Brooklyn. Despite comments on blogs to "hang the mosser[s]" the public reaction of the Agudah leadership was not to organize letter writing campaigns, protests, or fundraisers. One could question is inviting the Rebbe to speak as an honored guest at a business asifa dedicated to promoting integrity was in good taste (I'd vote no since too much blame was placed on a "lack of education" when it is obvious to someone educated in such matters that you have to know exactly what you are doing to pull off massive fraud schemes***), at the very least there was some show of contrition, even if it was perfunctory. At the time of the Spinka arrests, Rabbi Adlerstein, wrote that there was a Silver Lining to the LA Scandal. He hoped that this case would be used to "reexamine issues of personal honesty and integrity" and pointed to some mussar shmoozes. I disagreed with the conclusion that these crimes were borne of insularity^^^, but shared the hope that in the internet era where stories

Well, here we are mid-2010 and it seems that promoting integrity and adherence to American Law and Choshen Mishpat might be a thing of the past. Early 2010, the Grossman Circus rolled into town. A number of Orthodox Communal Organizations, not just the usual suspects (!), banned together in a campaign that loudly called for staying the execution of a man who brutally murdered a young park police officer. The organizations involved even called in the Pope! From coast to coast, Orthodox Jews were asked to write sign petitions, write letters, and call the Governor of Flordia's office to try and stop the execution. And the community followed orders. Certainly leadership was aware that there are more than a few loose cannons that would come out of the woodwork, and the loose cannons didn't disappoint, harassing the Park family and continuing the circus with a funeral fit for a Rebbe and emotional hespedim. Treated a ba'al teshuva of high caliber (the words "ahavas yisrael" follwed his finaly Shema) despite the fact that he never was able to connect the words "I" with the "events" (i.e. murder) before his execution. On Tisha B'Av, his headstone was laid and the labels of HY"D, kedush, and hopes he will be a matzliach yosher continue. Not an ounce of tzniut was evident in this campaign!

Summer 2010, Lakewood hosts massive asifot for Rubashkin, raising upwards of $300,000 for his defense. Ten thousand are reported to have attended the men's gathering and another 3,000 the women's rally. We can argue whether or not the sentencing was excessive, and it may well be (I'm not a legal scholar, but I do know that it was within legal guidelines). But what is the ultimate message of such public and loud campaigns? What kind of society are we going to create when instead of dipping our heads in shame we loudly proclaim the great righteousness of the convicted? What kind of society are we going to create when week after week publications reinforce the notion that we live in tzarist Russia and are simply being persecuted for being Jewish? As far as I am concerned, the message being given is that corners can be cut (so long as you give plenty of tzedakah, bring the community together in achdus, or engage in great displays of Yiddishkeit).

Even worst, during the 3 weeks, a Yated columnist went so far as calling those who don't rally behind Rubashkin as having a "Goyishe Kop": "If I would not know better, I would say that they have stopped thinking in the traditional thought pattern of Yiddin throughout our galus." I'd counter that perhaps those of us with a "Goyishe Kop" are simple people who have no interest in mental gymnastics. While we have compassion for a fellow Jew, we don't act out of sheer emotion. We want to live our lives in a straightforward way where we represent ourselves in dealing with simple straightforwardness. We don't care to engage in mental gymnastics where we convert the distasteful and wrong into a mitzvah. We believe that callousness to financial crime indicates a breakdown in society and do not choose to gloss of things that are "if anything is a white collar crime." We understand the ramifications of our actions as they have consequences far beyond that of a single person and we understand that failure to recognize the rule of law will eventually bite us in the butts!

And so it has. July 28, 2010, Chabad annouces a public rally for a man who was brought to justice by those in his own community. (Background stories at VIN). And note that the ramifications of such a rally extend far beyond providing the $300,000 needed to continue paying the lawyer for legal defense. The ramifications are societal. There is callousness towards other people's money and property. There is an attack on the rule of law, a rule of law that protects me and you, our lives, our children, and our property. Try this on for size and if you watch this video, tell me what background piano music you are hearing)

"Him sitting in prison will not help anybody pay their bills. We have a moral duty to help him reunite with his family speedily."
"No children deserve to grow up without a father, especially such young children, and an oldest child who sacrificed himself for Jews in Eretz Yisroel, losing his arm in Gaza." [Really, no children!?! When will the gatherings be for the thugs that are sitting in prision for beating a Jew? Stealing from a Jew?]

Let's realize the consequences of our actions before we dig a hole so deep it is impossible to emerge from it. The message I'm getting from this year of public displays is me, me, me. Public displays of achdus might feel good, but quiet behind the scenes campaigns where appropriate will keep emotions at bay and preserve a sense of wrong and right. I'm not a sociologist, but I sense a change in the direction of certain elements within the Orthodox community and I think some reflection as to what this changes means for the community at large is well in order because actions always have consequences.


****What I wrote at the time: Setting up a tax fraud scheme where hundreds of individuals "donated" millions of dollars and then itemized those donations when they knowingly received an 80-95% rebate is planned, deliberate, intentional, malicious, and illegal criminal activity. This isn't giving in to a small temptation such as deducting the price of your tickets to a Chinese Auction. This took massive manpower. Such a scheme perpetuated from the top and joined in by a hundreds of people speaks volumes about the lack of integrity, the worship of the dollar, and the precarious financial situation of the Orthodox Community as a whole, as the Chassidish community in particular.

^^^What I wrote at the time: "insularity combined with ignorance can bring out the yetzer hara for small crimes, but arrogance combined with desperation is the brainchild behind such complicated schemes as we have been continually witnessing for at least 20 years."


Miami Al said...

In Tzarist Russia, you were trapped. There was no where to go, Peasants were tied to the land, and if you tried to leave, they'd shoot you.

If you want to leave the United States, not only is their a Jewish state that will take you in, private and public organizations will cover the costs of your move, give you money to get established there, and let you integrate into whatever cockamamie community you want.

If you want to live in this county and be isolated, do it politely and respectfully like the Amish and nobody will bother you... they get extra points for pre-dating the Republic, but nobody would care, go build a learning commune, do what you want.

If you want to be a part of this society, learn it's rules, customs, and language and be a part of it. Nobody has ANY sympathy for generation after generation of impoverished immigrants that don't learn the language.

This is bizarre. If you think America has faults, participate and fight for change. If you think that America is totalitarian, join a militia. If you think that America is a bad place for Jews, then hop on a Nefesh B'nefesh charter and get out of here. There is no reason for you to stay here if you think it is the moral equivalent of the Russian Tzars.

Dave said...

As near as I can tell, Agudah has exactly two activities in the United States.

They lobby for laws they like and for money they want, and they lobby to protect Observant Criminals (or organizations who protected them).

Anonymous said...

To juxtapose Grossman and Rubashkin is obscene. If you study the case (apparently you haven't) the govt. used him as a show-case to prove they were tough on illegals. They won't go near Monsanto, Tyson, Monfort where you ostensibly need to be an illegal to work there.

Rubashkin got in over his head and was trying in very good faith to pay his debts. The prosecution wanted him to get 25 years. The "judge" gave him 27!! BTW, all the charges of hiring illegals were thrown out.

Yes, this is a case of antisemitism and all the smug Yidden who don't think this happens here need to wake up.

As for our family, we are happily donating to Rubaskin's defense fund. My kids are even giving their maaiser.

Kudos to all the charedi communities that normally display hostility towards Chabad and came together to help out their brother.

Dave said...

One, the charges of hiring illegal immigrants were not thrown out. A jury found that he did in fact conspire to hire illegal immigrants (that was the underlying evidence for some of his convictions) and the rest were dropped without prejuidice (meaning the US Government can re-open them) because convictions would not have increased the sentence.

Two, Sholom Rubashkin was behind a massive fraud scheme dating back to the 1990s, in which the banks were defrauded out of money for orders that never existed, were never shipped, and would never be paid for. Fraudulent order upon fraudulent order in a complex scheme. Even Sholom Rubashkin's defense team admits the total sum was in excess of 10 million dollars -- they try to claim it should be mitigated by the interest paid, something that US Law specifically forbids. There was no "good faith" here, the fraud was going on long before the raid.

Third, the Judge added two years to his sentence for perjuring himself on the witness stand.

This isn't anti-semitism. This is plain old fraud, with a beard and a frock coat.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Rubashkin was trying to deal with repayment. He admits he did illegal things. The sentence for anyone, Jew/Gentile for a first offense, white collar crime is unprecedented. That is why 5 or 6 former attorney generals, Dershowitz, and myriad others from both sides of the political isle are decrying this sentence. Get your head out of the sand.

This is indeed the epitome of Jew-hatred. I'm going to give extra to him in your name Dave.

Dave said...

You mean like the 150 years that Bernie Madoff got for a "first offense white collar crime"?

First offense isn't a "get off easy", it depends on the crime.

He defrauded the bank out of tens of millions of dollars, he started long before he was busted for hiring illegal immigrants, and there was no way he was ever going to be able to pay the money back.

When Agriprocessors was operating "normally", it required bank fraud to run. How was it going to generate enough profit to pay back millions in fraudulent loans?

And last I looked, there has been *no* comment from the former AGs since the sentencing. Why is that?

Sholom Rubashkin committed myriad felonies, and he ended up (such things are the luck of the draw, if you're religious, who is it that arranges such things) with a "hanging judge" with a habit of giving very stiff sentences.

Here is a hint -- if the Judge gives everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, stiff sentences, how is the sentence in this case anti-Semitism?

Miami Al said...

Sometimes the government makes examples out of people, the justice system isn't fair. Sometimes you have messed up groups where a bunch of young people do something stupid, the ring leader cooperates and gets probation, and the followers get 15-20 year sentences (or more).

The American justice system is NOT fair.

In terms of White Collar crimes, Dennis Kozlowski is serving 8.33 to 25 years for "stealing" unauthorized bonuses, after the public was mortified that he used Tyco like a personal piggy bank... but Tyco never went out of business, remains an ongoing entity, and an example was made of him for "ice luges" in the shape of the Statue of David and other grotesque excess.

But I assume since he has a Polish surname, you'll assume that he's Jewish.

If you go to trial, it's a crap shoot. The Orthodox world leans right, pushes for law and order judges, than is shocked that they affect Jewish criminals as well.

The government makes an example out of Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Latinos, Muslims, whoever they want when a prosecutor is trying to make a name for themselves. It seems the Orthodox world LOVES law and order types that throw black people in jail for decades, but a Jewish fraudster is supposed to get probation?!?!?

Anonymous said...

To Anon 12:23:

Yes, the sentence was harsh. But that is what happens in the US when you don't accept plea-bargins, and insist on proving your innocence (and certainly if others have turned "state's evidence" on you, you know they are out to get you). If you are wrong, they may throw the book at you. It is sad, but there are plenty of other Jews in Otisville Kollel who we are not working on to "redeem".

As a side (Orthonomics) note, this seems to be yet another reason why NOT to give to Lakewood and other Charaidi organizations. You never know what they will do with they money, and they seem to have plenty of it to spend when they want to do so. Don't ask others for tuition and Parnassah when you have money to donate to the Rubashkin fund.

Orthonomics said...

Anonymous #1 should re-read the post and see that what I am comparing is the change from quiet private campaigns to a call for widespread communal involvement and creating icons of Yiddishkeit in the name of "achdus". That is where the Grossman case and Rubashkin case are similar.

As for your other comments, I do not see the sentencing as a result of a case of Jew-hatred and I think the result would have been much different if the legal defense handled the case differently and there was some showing of contrition.

Felling Ill said...

What really gets my goat is the comparison of "Rubashkin as anti-semitism" to "other anti-semitism". The Tisha Bav Chofetz Chaim introductory video seemed to compare Rubashkins jail sentence as equally horrific as Missiles in Sderot and other jews getting killed in EY. Bizarre.
One "9 days program" speaker's topic seemed to equate Gilad Shalit's prison to Rubashkin's. Have we lost our minds?

Honestly Frum said...

SL, excelent post. It is mind boggling that choshen mishpat is simply strewn aside and criminals are made into heroes. I was told the following from a charedi friend of mine the other day "the Rubashkin saga for the frum community is the same as the OJ trial was for the African American community and that we are so out of touch with general society that we are publicly siding with someone who is very obviously guilty of criminal behavior."

To quote a frum historian "Rav Yisrael Salanter would have a lot to say about what is going on in so called frum society today"

Orthonomics said...

See my current post. Rav Schwab wrote the words in the 1970's, but the sting now as I'm sure they did then.

Anonymous said...

Miami Al..."the orthodox world Loves law and order types that throw black people in jail for decades". WOW! What a bigot you are to so casually smear the "orthodox world." That would come as a big surprise to my black step-father:)))

Miami Al said...

Anon 1:39,

The treatment of the African American members of our community, and the African American neighbors is abhorrent, with little attempt to conceal bigotry at all.

Somehow I do NOT think it would come as a surprise to your step-father.

Anonymous said...

I really don't see that in my community. Granted, there are only a handful of frum black gerim, but they are SO highly respected. A close friend of ours from Ghana, just converted and married a prominent white widow of the community. It was a fabulous simcha. Yes, there is bigotry in all communities, including black communities. There is a large swath of blacks that genuinely hate "crackers." It goes both ways.

Anonymous said...

Anon: Yes, no group is immune from bigotry, but religious people, and particularly jews should know better and we hold family to higher standards.

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