Jewish Journal

A Time for Introspection

by  David A. Lehrer

July 30, 2009 | 2:41 pm

The story that blared across the nation’s newspapers and news networks about the arrest of Orthodox Jews on money laundering charges has struck a note of understandable concern in much of the Jewish world.

Some of the concern has been focused on how the media reporting of the arrests of bearded rabbis is perceived in the outside world. Another, more profound, aspect of the response is the concern with the internal dynamic in some quarters of the Orthodox (and its Haredi subset) world that tolerates the conduct that has been alleged in the criminal complaints.

A particularly thoughtful article appeared in The New York Jewish Week by Mark Charendorff:

Is it possible that there is something in the Orthodox community in general and the haredi community in particular that creates fertile ground for this type of fraud? I’ve too often witnessed, here and in Israel, a perverse notion that we few who feel bound by the laws of God are free to flout the laws of man. That the seriousness with which we hold halacha (Jewish law) forces us to view state law as trite, flawed — unimportant at best, a nuisance at worst.

We see the same sort of flouting of laws in Israel today by some members of the haredi community — whether it is rioting to protest the opening of parking lots on the Sabbath or stone throwing and garbage burning to support a woman suspected of starving her toddler son. Municipal services recently had to be suspended in these neighborhoods out of fear for the safety of city workers.

Yes, I know — a few bad apples. But where is the outrage? Where are the haredi leaders jumping up to protest? Where are the public vigils or the excommunications? This is a community that is pretty good at enforcing standards of behavior when it is motivated to do so. Have we actually convinced ourselves that we can be good Jews and bad people at the same time?

Many years ago, when I first heard Rabbi Norman Lamm speak, the then-president of Yeshiva University accused his fellow Orthodox Jews of losing sight of the forest of Torah because of the trees of halacha. Those words were never more true than today. Is it really possible that we, as Orthodox Jews, believe that we can create better societies and more caring communities by avoiding raspberries for fear they may have bugs in them while not holding ourselves to even the basic standards of law and decency? Is it really possible that we believe we are in greater danger from women appearing at the pulpit than from rabbis appearing in a perp walk? Perhaps it is time to stop waiting for the perfection of the world that will come along with the building of the Third Temple and engage in perfecting ourselves and the communities we live in.

The Jewish community ought to use this tragic opportunity for some introspection. We should ask ourselves, as Charendorff queries, “where is the outrage? Where are the haredi leaders jumping up to protest? Where are the public vigils or the excommunications?” Their absence is troubling.


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