Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 20 January 2008

The Next Step in the Devolution of a Culture

In the aftermath of World War II, the Chareidi community began an awesome effort to rebuild what had been destroyed by the Nazis. y"sh. Specially, their objective was to restore the Torah culture of learning that had burned away in the fire of the Holocaust. As a result, priorities were created which emphasized a lifestyle of full-time learning for all men regardless of abilities while leaving the women to raise the children and work for a living to support their husbands.

It didn't take long for reality to sink in that this would not be enough. More money than could be generated by the Chareidi women workforce would be needed to build yeshivos, maintain them and also supply their members with decent sustenance. Hence charitable appeals and the idea that the donor would somehow merit a "share" in the learning he was supporting (while remaining second class because, after all, he was still working and not learning full-time).

This wasn't enough either to prevent huge numbers of kollel families from sinking into poverty so another trend appears - the aidem, the rich father-in-law. Yes, our Sages said our daughters should strive to marry Torah scholars but now our sons were expected to marry rich girls as well. There were expectations, after all. Why should a couple not enjoy many of the benefits that working people had, like a nice apartment, a car large enough for all the children and good food on Shabbos, just because the husband refused to work ofr a living to support such a lifestyle?

Unfortunately, that trend was a time limited one. It was inevitable to anyone paying attention that you cannot keep such a thing going forever. After all, if the son-in-law spends all his aidem's money, what's left for his children in turn? Where will the money for the next generation come from?

The answer recently broke out into the news:

The leader of an Orthodox Jewish sect was arrested Wednesday after authorities unsealed a sweeping 37-count indictment alleging that he operated a decade-long tax fraud and money laundering scheme stretching from Israel through New York to downtown Los Angeles' jewelry district, authorities said.Grand Rabbi Naftali Tzi Weisz, head of the Spinka religious group, and his executive assistant, Gabbai Moseh E. Zigelman, are accused of soliciting "tens of millions of dollars" in contributions to Spinka charities while secretly promising to refund up to 95% of contributors' donations, federal prosecutors said. The contributors then illegally claimed tax deductions on their bogus donations.Weisz and Zigelman calculated in January that Zigelman alone had solicited nearly $9 million in 2006, with a $700,000 profit for Spinka after donors were repaid, according to the indictment.

How could such a thing happen? What about laws like dina d'malchusa dina? What about honesty? What about the chillul Hashem and the damage to all other Jewish charities that will occure because of this?

Some of the answers suggested are chilling:

“There is a great temptation among these rabbis, who come from a culture that often views the ‘government’ as in the hands of enemies, to believe that for ‘higher’ motives is acceptable,” Heilman said. “In fact, often their temptations are driven by more venal and selfish aims than they might acknowledge.”

I disagree with the second half of the statement but acknowledge the first. Charedi Judaism has many strengths but adopting to changes in society is not one of them. Conceived in a world where Jews were persecuted second-class citizens who had to survive by their wits and any other means possible, however shady, it has retained this philosophy to a great extent even until this day. The goy (and in Israel, the government) is "the other" whose dream is to extort and destroy Judaism. Therefore all methods of self-preservation is permitted.

Unfortunately North America is not the dark kingdom of the Czar. We don't live under the boot of the Cossack and the law of the land, such that it is, officially applies equally to all citizens of the state. Refusal to see this was certainly a factor that led to this scandal. How many more groups out there are even now doing what the Spinka Rebbe did with the thought in mind that since they're cheating "the other" then what they're doing is okay?

But the second half of the statement above misses the mark completely. I doubt that the Spinka Rebbe and his associates took a single cent of the fraudulent funds for themselves. I don't think they were being venal and selfish at all. Consider their position. They have yeshivos, schools, and countless families that live on charity for lack of real support. The bills come in month after month and all the donations and rich fathers-in-law can't cover them all. What is to be done? How can this lifestyle of dependency be sustained?

This would appear to be the next step in the devolution of the learning-only culture. From putting the women in to the workforce to the rich fathers-in-law, this is the next logical step to keep the money flowing so that economic realities can be ignored.

Let us hope and pray that this scandal will be isolated and that sensible thoughts will prevail and allow this culture to return to a sense of normalcy.

1 comment:

The Web Guy said...

Read the whole 'Spinka' story at The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles :


The Spinka money trail -- and the informant who brought them down
By Amy Klein, Religion Editor

The first snow flutters hesitantly in Brooklyn. Men wearing fur streimel hats and women wearing sheitls walk briskly past the corner of 15th Avenue and 58th Street in Boro Park as if nothing extraordinary has happened here.

And why not? The kosher shops of this self-contained ultra-Orthodox neighborhood -- practically a city onto itself -- are still a few blocks down, and here on this bleak corner, there are only three orange school buses parked in front of a four-story, dark-red brick building, which sits on a residential street, where tall, narrow houses nearly overlap.

The structure is rather nondescript and unimposing -- garbage bags are piled haphazardly by a front gate, bars protect the windows, young boys can be heard chanting from behind the locked door and a white sign with sky blue Hebrew lettering reads: "Yeshiva Imrei Yosef Spinka."

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