January 17, 2008
Spinker? I just met her!
Sadly missing from Amy Klein's thorough investigation from "Boro Park to L.A. (Dirty Laundry)" was the question that seems to be embedded in every news article when reporting on a perpetrated evil. Why? ("Following the Spinka Money Trail," Jan. 11).
We are enjoined to search for the deeper meaning behind those who riot in the streets of Los Angeles or blow themselves up in Israeli pizzerias. Evil does not happen on its own, we are assured; there must be a "justification" or "rationalization" that explains it all.
So why would an otherwise holy and pious Jew -- a leader of Chassidic sect -- allegedly succumb to the temptation of being an accomplice to a crime just to help some greedy businessmen achieve an unearned tax write-off?
I can't be sure of the reason but I do submit a challenge to the Jewish community at large. Have we done our part in helping our brethren -- be they Chassidic schools in New York or any of our local Jewish day schools -- maintain their bastions of Torah scholarship and Jewish culture? There are no yachts in Brooklyn as Amy Klein points out, but there are thousands of Jewish kinderlach that need a quality education.
Michael Steinhardt, the famed Jewish philanthropist wrote in the pages of this newspaper on July 28, 2006: "We are donors to universities, museums, orchestras and hospitals, but when it comes to Jewish philanthropy, we fall short. Today, perhaps 20 percent or less of Jewish giving goes to Jewish causes.... Of the $5.3 billion in megagifts given by America's wealthiest Jews between 1995 and 2000, a mere 6 percent went to Jewish institutions....... Only 11 percent of Jews donate over $1,000 to Jewish causes."
No one I know is condoning the crime or the chilul Hashem that the article speaks of. But is it perhaps a wake-up call to all of us -- since a shande impacts all Jews, regardless of religious persuasion -- to prioritize our tzedakah by first and foremost helping our struggling schools and yeshivas? Wouldn't it be nice if a Chassidic rebbe could teach Torah and shepherd his flock without having to worry about covering an overwhelming daily budget?
Name Withheld Upon Request
In Amy Klein's piece about allegations of corruption against Rabbi Naftali Tzi Weisz and other members of a segment of the Spinka Chasidic community, she writes, "Weisz is just one of a number of Grand Rebbes of Spinka, a Chasidic sect."
I can't help but wonder what makes Chasidim members of sects.
Yes, I know that many dictionaries define sect as a subdivision of a larger religious group but the truth is, that is not really how the word is used today.
For example, in recent years a number of articles have appeared in The Jewish Journal and other publication about the "Satmar Chasidic Sect." There are approximately twice as many Satmar Chasidim in the world (100,000 to 150,000) as there are Reconstructionist Jews (50,000 to 75,000), yet when was the last time you read any left-wing Jewish journalist writing about "the Reconstructionist Sect."
The simple truth is we know that the "nod/wink" meaning of people who belong to a sect is that they are weird, unenlightened, lack individuality and don't think for themselves. The word sect robs people of their humanity. It is often used interchangeably with the word cult.
Let the case against Rabbi Weisz and other Spinka Chasidim play itself out, but treat individual Chasidim with the respect they deserve.
If sex discrimination is bad how can "sects" discrimination be good?
New York, N.Y.
The circumstances and substance of the accusations involving the Spinka Rabbi and the Spinka institutions are quite troubling to this tax lawyer whose son now learns in a yeshiva in Israel.
Without jumping to judgment, and maintaining the presumption of innocence accorded to all of the accused under American law, the following matters are noted:
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the leading halachic authority of his generation, issued a responsum allowing a Jew to be an IRS agent, even where the audit assignments might uncover criminal tax evasion by Jews and lead to prosecution and imprisonment of the Jewish tax evaders.
The Talmud (Baba Kama 113a) specifically requires that taxes imposed by a legitimate and just secular government be paid. Maimonides further expounded on this rule.
The very first paragraph of the first chapter of Pirkei Avot admonishes us to "erect a fence for the Torah," meaning that we must impose stringencies beyond the letter of the law so that we do not inadvertently transgress it.
Kenneth H. Ryesky, Esq.
East Northport, N.Y.
The author formerly served as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service, Manhattan District.
I read the Journal article, "Following the Spinka Money Trail" with embarrassment and shock.
My greatest shock is in observing that I hear little from those who revere the Spinka rabbi about the enormous illegal inflow of money to those laundering it without shame for donors who are scofflaws. Rather is the anger directed against the informant, and the misguided self-righteousness that defrauding the government is justified?
A strong principle in Jewish law, stated in Baba Batra and Gittin, is Dina d'Malchuta Dina: the law of the government is the law, (binding upon the Jewish people.) This is stressed by leading authorities from the Rambam to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. He wrote in Igrot Moshe: We are certainly forbidden by God, may He be blessed, who commanded us in his holy Torah from taking more funds or assets than is permitted by the laws and regulations of the government. This is true even if we can somehow get more from certain functionaries who would like to help our institutions not in accordance with established governmental guidelines ... so that they should not cause stealing and losses to the government, even inadvertently, in violation of the laws of the Torah and laws of the government."
My hope is that this current public exposure will lead to a complete sanitizing of the treatment of monies donated to all our Jewish institutions. Let the Jewish name be identified with honesty and integrity. Let us demonstrate that the Jewish community will keep its promise to Peter Stuyvesant that we will always assume responsibility for maintaining our Jewish life in this land, which has given us the opportunity to conduct it in peace.