Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Danielle Berrin mentioned at Swindler’s List a discussion Jeffrey Goldberg had with L.A. Super Rabbi David Wolpe. The topic of their conversation was Bernard Madoff. And like Rabbi Elliot Dorff and others too, Wolpe takes on look at the Jewish response to Madoff. For one, Goldberg wants to know if he should be excommunicated for allegedly bilking Jewish charities of hundreds of millions of dollars:
David Wolpe: We do not practice formal excommunication. I would not prevent him from entering a synagogue to pray. We are in the atonement business. However, he should be barred from any honor or recognition. To the extent permitted by his sentence he should do something of service to the community to make small reparations for the incalculable harm he caused. Short of formal excommunication, however, informal ‘shunning’ has a nice, solid ring to it.
JG: “Shunning,” huh? Does that imply that you believe his crimes might be irredeemable? At what point do you give up on a sinner?
DW: Maimonides lists sins—following the laws of the Mishna—that cannot be fully forgiven. Common to most is an inability to make restitution (another example is one who coldly assumes “I’ll sin, be forgiven, sin, be forgiven” etc.). Madoff cannot conceivably make restitution to the unnumbered he has hurt—from lost personal savings to people dependent on the bone marrow registry whose holdings he squandered. Perhaps someone of purer soul might be persuaded to find redemption possible for him. I confess I cannot.
JG: Do Jews wring their hands too much? I didn’t notice a great deal of Christian angst over Ken Lay.
DW: I wonder if the people in Ken Lay’s church wrung their hands. Since Judaism is not a religion, but more like a religious family, bound by strong communal ties, Jews are more likely than Christians to feel pride or shame in the actions of other Jews. You don’t get strong bonds without a degree of identification. That is why the foolishness in other people’s families doesn’t embarrass us.
JG: Should we be embarrassed because we’re supposed to be so smart (especially with, you know, money) and yet we got fleeced by Bernie Barnum, or should we be embarrassed because there are evildoers among us? And what does this mean for tribal trust?
DW: We should be grateful that trust still exists. Cunning is an unlovely stereotype; I can’t read a balance sheet to save my soul (perhaps not the best metaphor in this instance) and I am hardly alone. It may hurt that trust, which is sad; for years the fact that the diamond business all over the world, among Jews and non-Jews, is conducted with a handshake because Jews set it up that way is a tribute to decency and probity. One man’s venality and cruelty can’t set the standard.
Vast amounts of money call not only for trust but for a solid sense of genuine value in this world. Rabbi Akiba says in the Talmud that the central commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). May I propose that these days, “Guard your soul carefully” (Deut. 4:9) deserves pride of place.
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December 18, 2008 | 6:11 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
It makes perfect political sense that Barack Obama asked the Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the prayer at his inauguration. Obama is trying to get in good early with conservative Christians, and he’s doing it with no risk of alienating his base. At least, that’s my analysis. Here is what the president-elect had to say for himself:
“I think that it is no secret that I am a fierce advocate for equality for gay and lesbian Americas. It is something that I have been consistent on and something that I intend to be consistent on during my presidency. What I have also said is that it is a time for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues. I would note that a couple of years ago I was invited to Rick Warren’s church to speak despite his awareness though he was aware that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights when it came to issues like abortion. Nevertheless I had an opportunity to speak. And that dialogue, I think, is what my campaign has been all about.
“We’re not going to agree on every single issue. But what w have to is create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being agreeable and then focus on those things we hold in common as Americans.”
December 18, 2008 | 1:49 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I’m not sure how, but the Jerusalem Post ran the numbers on what Bernard Madoff is going to cost Jewish charities. It’s a monster: at least $600 million. And that was before Hadassah reported yesterday that they lost $90 million.
From the JPost:
At least $600 million in Jewish charitable funds have been wiped out by the collapse of Bernard Madoff’s Wall Street investment firm, a partial review by The Jerusalem Post revealed Monday.
Yet much is still hidden about what may amount to the most spectacular financial disaster to hit Jewish life since the Great Depression, with unconfirmed losses totaling up to $1.5 billion.
Furthermore, the Post’s figures do not include billions of dollars lost to individual and family investors, many of whom were the primary donors to Jewish schools, synagogues and communal charities.
Gary Tobin, head of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, had told me the Madoff mess would cost Jewish institutions hundreds of millions of dollars. But it’s hard to actually comprehend what that might mean and look like. I think we’ll start to get an idea as the fallout spreads over the next few weeks. The next domino I expect to see fall will be individuals who lost millions with Madoff and can no longer give to their favorite charity, let alone their least favorite.
On a loosely related note, The Jewish Journal has been getting a lot of attention for our extensive coverage of this story and the shockwaves it has sent through the Jewish community. Variety highlighted our new blog, Swindler’s List, saying it was probably the best place to stay current on Madoff. And Mollie at GetReligion, a friend of The God Blog, wrote in a post about Madoff:
“But if you find the religious angle to be an integral part of the story — and it is — you simply have to read the Jewish Journal. The staff there are all over the biggest Jewish story of the year.”
Much appreciated. You can also stay up on Madoff news by following me on Twitter.
December 18, 2008 | 1:19 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
This one is pretty easy to figure out: Times are tough and so more people are looking to God for answers. Where do you find God? Well, if you haven’t paid him a visit in a few months or years, the easiest place to start looking would be in a church.
since September, pastors nationwide say they have seen such a burst of new interest that they find themselves contending with powerful conflicting emotions — deep empathy and quiet excitement — as they re-encounter an old piece of religious lore:
Bad times are good for evangelical churches.
“It’s a wonderful time, a great evangelistic opportunity for us,” said the Rev. A. R. Bernard, founder and senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York’s largest evangelical congregation, where regulars are arriving earlier to get a seat. “When people are shaken to the core, it can open doors.”
Nationwide, congregations large and small are presenting programs of practical advice for people in fiscal straits — from a homegrown series on “Financial Peace” at a Midtown Manhattan church called the Journey, to the “Good Sense” program developed at the 20,000-member Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., and now offered at churches all over the country.
Many ministers have for the moment jettisoned standard sermons on marriage and the Beatitudes to preach instead about the theological meaning of the downturn.
Part of the evangelicals’ new excitement is rooted in a communal belief that the big Christian revivals of the 19th century, known as the second and third Great Awakenings, were touched off by economic panics. Historians of religion do not buy it, but the notion “has always lived in the lore of evangelism,” said Tony Carnes, a sociologist who studies religion.
A study last year may lend some credence to the legend. In “Praying for Recession: The Business Cycle and Protestant Religiosity in the United States,” David Beckworth, an assistant professor of economics at Texas State University, looked at long-established trend lines showing the growth of evangelical congregations and the decline of mainline churches and found a more telling detail: During each recession cycle between 1968 and 2004, the rate of growth in evangelical churches jumped by 50 percent. By comparison, mainline Protestant churches continued their decline during recessions, though a bit more slowly.
The little-noticed study began receiving attention from some preachers in September, when the stock market began its free fall. With the swelling attendance they were seeing, and a sense that worldwide calamities come along only once in an evangelist’s lifetime, the study has encouraged some to think big.
This sounds like good news, and on it’s face it is. But the reality is most churches are much better at getting people in the doors than at keeping them coming back. Kudos if the church can speak to somebody during this time of crisis, but the blessing stops there if steps aren’t taken to integrate that person into the church body.
* Updated: I just stumbled across this post from October, “Churches buckling under economic pressure,” and it made me realize I should clarify that while hard times equal good times for church attendance, they’re still not good for the bottom line.
December 17, 2008 | 9:43 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Besides having an amazing name, Bacchus also has a compelling, though somewhat seasoned, story:
She has traded her abaya, which she wore throughout middle and high school, for an ankle-length black trench coat and sunglasses with metallic frames. She has one piercing in her left ear, four in her right, a metal rod bridging the cartilage in the ear’s upper rim, a ring in her bellybutton, another in her nose.
Aliyah is Muslim. It’s a part of her identity she can’t shed, like her sexuality, like her last name—Bacchus, as in the Roman god of wine and merriment—and like her ink-stained flesh: the angel tattooed between her shoulder blades, the dark dragons on her lower back, the polar bear on her stomach, the dying rose on her right wrist.
She knows that in some Muslim sects, homosexuality is considered a crime punishable by death. But Aliyah lives in America, raised in low-income housing projects 20 miles from Manhattan’s West Village, where police raided the Stonewall Inn in 1969, setting off riots that sparked the beginning of a national gay rights movement.
In America, Aliyah knows, it is acceptable to be gay. But how, she wonders, can she be true to who she is while also adhering to her family’s faith? How does she reconcile both sides of her existence?
Not easily. Her family has written her off. Renouncing homosexuality is her only ticket back.
“I want to be a part of my family,” Aliyah says. “But what is the price that I have to pay? Honestly, I would rather die than go back to that person I was.”
Erika Hayasaki, the Times reporter on the story, had good access and captures some interesting dialogue between Aliyah and her aunt. It’s after the jump:
December 17, 2008 | 6:20 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Talk about bad PR. Since Bernard Madoff was charged with running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, Jews have been taking a lot of blame for this bad apple. Anti-Semities are usually looking for any opportunity to malign Jews, and Madoff made it easy.
Madoff’s co-religionists have distanced Jewish values from the avarice that sunk Bernard Madoff Investment Securities. Rob Eshman’s column this week, online later tonight, is wistful for a Jewish concept of hell: “Because then I could take comfort that Bernard Madoff will go there. And Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple wrote for On Faith that Jewish ethics can’t just be present in the home but must also underlie business practices:
The Rabbis of the Talmud declare: “If one is honest in business, and earns the esteem of others, it is as if one has fulfilled the whole Torah (Mechilta, Vayassa).” Religion may begin at home, but it should never end there. If it does not move us to decency and goodness, it matters not at all what pieties we profess.
Rabbi Elliot Dorff told me something similar yesterday:
“As a religious Jew, how do you see it being OK to daven three times and day and then defraud the Jewish communities of many cities of their funds?“ Dorff asked. “If anything, this shows you can’t be a religious Jew simply by observing the laws. Being a religious Jew must entail being moral as well. Beside the fact that it both illegal and immoral to do this to individual investors—to do it to Jewish federations representing the Jewish community is just unconscionable. What happened to Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh BaZe—all Jews are responsible for each other?“
“Piety,“ he added, “is not an excuse, let alone a justification, for immorality.“
It was Dorff’s comments that led Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein to pick up the phone.
Adlerstein, the Irmas Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics at Loyola Law School and one of the Cross-Currents collaborators, wanted to know where I got information that Madoff was Orthodox. I told him I hadn’t actually looked into it, but had heard that he was a member of an Orthodox shul and was treasurer of the Yeshiva University board of trustees and had been involved with a number of other Orthodox causes. When Dorff told me Madoff was Orthodox, I had no reason to doubt him. Maybe I should have.
“If he isn’t Orthodox, please clear that up,” Adlerstein said. “We don’t need the attention.”
Adlerstein called back two hours later, saying he had spoken with a “highly placed Manhattan source,” which I understood to mean a friend.
“He ain’t Orthodox. He isn’t a Sabbath observer. He is a Sabbath desecrator. By no means can he be considered Orthodox.”
I called Dorff back and he said he made the same presumptions I think most people have. I’m still not certain what the answer is. I can find no information online about whether Madoff kept kosher or Shabbat.
But does that even matter? I have plenty of friends who don’t neatly fall into the categories of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist who practice mitzvot and keep the Sabbath holy. If Madoff was involved in Orthodox life, how can anyone but the rabbis say, outside the most legalistic judgment, that he isn’t Orthodox?
The interesting thing to me is the way Madoff’s sins are being passed around. Everybody wants to distance their community from a guy who moved seamlessly through the upper echelons of the Jewish and financial worlds for years and allegedly stole straight from the tzedakah box.
Many Jewish leaders have been quick to express what a shande Madoff’s alleged transgressions were. (And they were.) Non-Orthodox Jews, specifically, have demonstrated a bit of schadenfreude when observing Madoff’s fall.
The reality, though, is we’re all responsible for Madoff. Muslims, Christians and Jews, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, secular and sectarian. It doesn’t matter what strain Madoff came from or belongs too.
Religious values don’t inspire and prop up Ponzi schemes. Getting financial returns that are too good to be true do.
December 17, 2008 | 5:33 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
At this point, the Rev. Rick Warren should really just assume the title The New Billy Graham. During the past few years, he has clearly transitioned from being just a megachurch pastor to an international evangelist, crusading for Christ and social justice in America and Africa. His “Purpose-Driven Life” is, I think, second in total sales to one book: the Bible.
Today we learn that Warren spring-boarded from this summer’s faith forum, hosted at Saddleback Church, to delivering the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration Jan. 20. Obama will be the first president since Harry Truman to
not have a close relationship with Graham.
I’m not sure this will even register with conservatives and evangelicals; I’ve never before put any weight in the prayer given at the president’s inauguration. If I did, I’d really have to wonder what Graham said wrong at both of Bush’s. But if musings at The Reality-Based Community are any indication, liberals aren’t happy:
Can’t we have Jeremiah Wright instead?
In the above video, which I was already planning to post today before the inauguration news, Warren talks with Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman about gay marriage, torture and his dark nights with God.
Christianity Today has something of a synopsis of the interview. It’s after the jump:
December 17, 2008 | 12:15 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Adolf was once a common name, and even for a few notable Jews. But that all changed when Adolf was followed by Hitler and came to be associated with the wickedest man of the 20th century. So it’s quite unusual to hear that someone has actually named their child Adolf these days. But I suppose when the boy is also given the middle name “Hitler,” the parents aren’t running from the Nazi reference.
The AP reports:
EASTON, Pa.——The father of 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell, denied a birthday cake with the child’s full name on it by one New Jersey supermarket, is asking for a little tolerance.
Heath Campbell and his wife, Deborah, are upset not only with the decision made by the Greenwich ShopRite, but with an outpouring of angry Internet postings in response to a local newspaper article over the weekend on their flare-up over frosting.
“I think people need to take their heads out of the cloud they’ve been in and start focusing on the future and not on the past,” Heath Campbell said Tuesday in an interview conducted in Easton, on the other side of the Delaware River from where the family lives in Hunterdon County, N.J.
“There’s a new president and he says it’s time for a change; well, then it’s time for a change,” the 35-year-old continued. “They need to accept a name. A name’s a name. The kid isn’t going to grow up and do what (Hitler) did.”
True. A name is only a name. But names usually say something about both the child and the parents. Maybe the names of the Campbell children will offer hints about little Adolf Hitler’s parents.
Adolf has two sisters, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie. The latter, just eight months old, was named for Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler. ...
The kids are growing up in a home festooned with a swastika in every room. The father wears boots that once belonged to a Nazi soldier, and claims a relative was a member of Hitler’s feared Schutzstaffel.
The parents insist they are not racist, although they don’t believe in mingling the races.
And Heath Campbell claims he doesn’t understand why people are shocked when they hear his son’s full name.
I’m shocked too. I just can’t believe Campbell doesn’t get why his kids’ names would be offensive. And I don’t.
Thanks for the link, Ben Plonie.