Jewish Journal


December 16, 2008

What would the sages say about Madoff?



Rabbi Elliot Dorff

I’m looking forward to reading what editors and columnists for Jewish newspapers have to say this week about Bernard Madoff. I think I can posit a safe guess: something about a special place in hell ...

But yesterday, though, with a real Jewish authority. Rabbi Elliot Dorff is rector of American Jewish University and a modern-day sage. One of the authors of an opinion from the Conservative movement that blessed same-sex unions and also co-chaired Rabbis for Obama, Dorff also serves on the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which lost $6.4 million in an investment with Madoff.

Dorff, who co-chairs the Federation’s committee on the vulnerable, said that though the needy don’t have enough money to invest with Madoff—I read the baseline was $10 million—they will suffer the most from his alleged house of cards.

What he found most troubling, though, was that for decades Madoff had lived and breathed Orthodox Judaism, and yet he apparently didn’t have a problem ripping other Jews off.

“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.”

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