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Religious Jews Don't Launder Money

Religious Jews Don't Launder Money

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We in the Orthodox community have been very badly hurt of late. Five rabbis were arrested in New York and New Jersey for allegedly laundering money and another for organ trafficking. The fact that rabbis, who must be held to a higher standard of morality and ethics, have been accused of such crimes is deeply troubling.

Let's start with the "religious" facts. The Talmud explicitly states that that the law of the land is binding upon the Jew (Baba Kama 113a). This means that a Jew has a religious duty to follow the domestic laws of a gentile country. While halachic authorities debate the scope of this precept, all are in agreement that the rule applies to taxes and tariffs (unless blatantly discriminatory).

According to most authorities this rule has biblical backing; one who transgresses it is thus transgressing a biblical command. People who are truly religious don't transgress Biblical commands.

Simply stated, according to Judaism if you don't like the law of the land you live in, you have one of two choices: move to another country or get used to it. Contravening civil law is not an option.

And I know that the overwhelming majority of Torah-observant Jews have great integrity. I've looked up to many of my teachers, prominent rabbis, as the most honest people I have ever met.

If you don't like the law of the land you live in, you have two choices: move to another country or get used to itAs for the rabbis arrested, are they guilty of the crimes they are accused of? I don't know. They certainly are innocent until proven guilty, and I do hope that they will be proven innocent of all charges. Nonetheless, it does seem that a small segment within the Orthodox community seem less than concerned about crime directed against the government.

Which raises the obvious question: Why? Why would a Jew who would never consider eating pork or turning on a light on Shabbat consider swindling the government? After all, the same Torah, the same G‑d, has determined both to be absolutely forbidden.

I believe that the reason for this is historical. Jews living in Eastern Europe prior to and during the 19th century were subjected to tough tax laws. The same is true of many of the native lands of Sephardic Jews.

In Poland, for example, as late as the 1920s, forty percent of all tax revenue was raised from Jews. This despite the fact that Jews only constituted ten percent of the population. At the same time, the Jews were the recipients of less governmental services than their gentile counterparts.

Because of the unfair tax burden imposed upon them by undemocratic governments, as well as the fairly rampant government-sanctioned anti-Semitism, Jews often felt that tax evasion was perfectly ethical and legitimate. To them it was the government that was immoral, not them. As such, yeshivah boys were taught not to eat pork, not to transgress the Shabbat, not to steal from their fellow citizens.... But they were never taught the evils of cheating a (fair) government.

Unfortunately this attitude towards government and taxes has lingered in the minds of some despite the fact that we now have a fair system of government and Jews are not unfairly taxed.

Old habits die hard.

Now clearly none of us is perfect and anyone who ever exceeded the speed limit or illegally double parked has broken the law. This is only human. However, when breaking laws becomes something that is tolerated, that's another story. It's not enough that most people in the Orthodox community have tremendous integrity and would never lie or act dishonestly. We need to expunge the sympathetic attitude that exists towards those who commit white collar crime.

There is no excuse for complacency here; a stand against this type of behavior needs to be takenThese arrests must serve as a wakeup call for us all. The rabbis and teachers are the ones who must lead. There is no excuse for complacency here; a stand against this type of behavior needs to be taken.

Jews who take their religion seriously and truly fear G‑d don't cheat; and when they hear about others who do they are outraged and do all they can to put a stop to it.

I conclude with the following story. While I was a young student studying in Canada, I needed to visit a doctor. A Canadian friend offered to give me his medical card so that the appointment would not cost me money. When I mentioned this to my revered teacher he invited me over to his house. In his living room he severely admonished me. To him using another person's medical card was one of the worst crimes a Jew could commit. He then paid for my doctor's visit from his own money.

The lesson my teacher taught me on that day must be the lesson that all yeshivah teachers impart to their students.

By Levi Brackman
Rabbi Levi I. Brackman is director of Judaism in the Foothills and the author of numerous articles on issues of the day.
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Nosson December 18, 2016

Hmmm Taxation without representation or protection of interest... Reply

Anonymous November 11, 2012

In Regards to Law Breaker Comment I am not a rabbi but my thoughts would also be to not defend people who break G-d's Laws.. As far as Common Law goes like I say I am not a rabbi and I probably do need to study more. This all being said I have been told by respected Rabbi's if it is a life or death situation all bets are off with regards to common law. As far as I am concerned with regards to our survival we all need to start planning ahead. Reply

Anonymous November 11, 2012

Higher Standard Jews have always been held to a higher standard. We have been the moral leaders in this world. I do not believe we should defend law breakers. Reply

Anonymous Charleston, SC August 9, 2012

Let us rethink this. The government shows favoritism. I feel as the USA becomes increasing more socialist we will see more antisemitism. The majorities can always gang up on the minorities when all they have to do is vote. So if us Jews have more money on average 2% could be 10%.. If I am not mistaken socialism was the problem in Germany before the Holocaust. That being said I do not think it is right for a Jew to cheat any person including Christians or Muslims. I do think we need to lead by example in hopes they will learn from us and at least adopt some of our values.. But as far as the government a system that will eventually fail Jews and all of its people in the end?? My thoughts are it is the survival of the fittest. If everyone else is using the government to their advantage then why can't Jews? As soon as we start accepting Societies ever changing standards of what is right and wrong this is when true assimilation or the death of the Jews will begin. Our government could be our worse enemy. Reply

Anonymous Baltimore, MD December 20, 2010

Being paid "under the table" is also dishonest Perhaps some of the Jewish merchants and businessmen in Brooklyn need to read this and take it to heart. They want to be paid in cash so that they can avoid paying taxes on their profits. This is the same issue. Reply

Julie Singer Rocky Hill, CT August 21, 2009

Response to "Swindling" I'm not sure of the wisdom of answering rhetorical questions, but here goes anyway. What if the government is swindling its citizens? That's the great thing about living in a representative democracy. We are the government (or, at least, we voted for that government). Every few years we have the opportunity to throw the bums out. And if we don't like the ones who replace them, we can throw those bums out, too. Feeling powerless and disenfranchised is not a good reason to repay crookedness with crookedness. We are better than that. Reply

Sarah Norfolk, VA August 20, 2009

Behaviour From 100 Years Ago Is No Excuse Today. I think these Rabbis would have done the same thing no matter even if they were living in Israel.

Past generations having to take such types of actions due to an antisemetic govt, this has not been the case for almost 100 years, and this is no excuse for any Jew to do these things today. They knew better, they most assuredly knew better.

These Jews have put a black eye on the entire Jewish community by their greed, and have contributed to the "greedy Jew" stereotype.

There are, unfortunately, more Jews like this.For instancet I just had a brief once-removed business contact with a Jewish slum lord from NJ who has many properties all over the country - and tens of lawsuits to match. He and his wife couldn't care less about their thousands of tenants' living conditions, and some of their tenants have actually died as a result.

Do these Jews even have Jewish souls? They sure don't care about their fellow Jews' reputation in the eyes of Gentiles, at all. Reply

Mark Cameron Walsenburg, Colorado August 20, 2009

Swindling What if the government is swindling its citizens? An eye for an eye, right? Reply

chanie Florida August 13, 2009

kosher money laundering Religious Jews dont launder money? Well, sometimes we do.....mistakenly putting into our washing machines clothes with money left in the pockets. I call that money laundering! Reply

Anonymous Fall River, MA August 13, 2009

Anonymous wrote: "But to start sounding self righteous and making religious people look bad, is also not the Torah way! "

He is not sounding self righteous and making religious people look bad. Your statement "...is also not the Torah way" is making YOU sound self righteous and you are a poor reflection on religious people by your cavalier attitude! Reply

Elizabeth via chabadofbakersfield.com August 13, 2009

Response to Anonymous, at New York Anonymous,

The laws are such in this country that they are innocent until proven guilty. It is not the Rabbis that are involved, there are big shots politicians are also involved and they will hush it up...

You are right in bringing up the discrimination against the Hasidic community. I, for one, am fully supportive of their sacrifice and dedication to G-d. He is going to reward them tremendously one day. Have faith!

May be we should enforce affirmative action on behalf of the religious groups in the work place. Instead of outsourcing the jobs, they could have offered it to the Hasidic community. Most Jews are highly educated and are in need for job. We are called to be the light and we should carry it to the dark places. Reply

Anonymous JHB, RSA August 13, 2009

I say not Judgemental, contstructive & positive! This article is not judgemental. On the contrary. It causes us all (society) to take some responsibility for what causes wrongdoing! To some extent perhaps the alleged doers of wrong have been tempted to act because of prevailing wrong attitudes in their midst. The author is recommending that we help each other by refining attitudes that are wrong & in this way we can save many in the future froml trouble & shame. Reply

Anonymous New york August 12, 2009

judgmental I found your article to be very judgmental. True, nobody is advocating committing any "crime", but to make a whilte collar crime sound intolerable in the same category as varoius other crimes, is not proper.
And for your information, in the past Jews did pay bribes and paid kickbacks to people in order to survive antisemitism. This was a way of life in many countries, even though such actions were illegal. But in order to survive cruel and antisemitic countries, many Jews had no choice.
And the govt set those rabbis up....that is blatant anti semitism in America today.
Nobody is condoning whatever the rabbis may have done wrong, although they are certainly innocent until proven guilty.
But to start sounding self righteous and making religious people look bad, is also not the Torah way! Reply

Elizabeth via chabadofbakersfield.com August 12, 2009

On the other hand.... The secular world is constantly undermining the religious groups for being fearful of G-d and keeping His precepts. The religious group is a thorn in their eyes, because they convict them no matter what to follow the laws.

On the other hand, when the Hollywood Madame news broke out, the secular Jews that were involved in this business were fearful of their fate and as well were in denial. Their conscience knew nothing better. There was nothing to replace the old behavior. The same group felt relieved and condemned the actions of the Rabbis when the news broke out on the money laundering.

I have learned a great lesson that I need to admonish others in love rather than judging them harshly. The moment we perceive that we are perfect in the eyes of the people and G-d, we are likely to fall like:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses,
And all the king's men,
Couldn't put Humpty together again. Reply

Elizabeth via chabadofbakersfield.com August 12, 2009

Exellent post! The Torah law does allow a Jews to lend money and charge interest on the gentiles and forbids such actions against a Jewish brother. It is well known all over the world that Rabbis are to receive 1/10 of the income as a tithing from the Jews. However, if people from all over the world are sending in money as donation to the Rabbis, and then asking them favors in return to do their bidding is forcing the Rabbis to compromise and break the laws.

However, this is a great lesson to learn, because even in adverse conditions, G-d is testing our faithfulness to the laws. He is able to protect us no matter what. The author is right in saying, if you cannot handle the pressure to live in the U.S., then move to a country that imposes less tax or no tax at all.

Again, who are we to judge others? We all have the temptations and it is only G-d that sustains us. Reply

Nat Brooklyn, NY August 12, 2009

Another reason Even in America, when it comes to getting a job, chassidic jews are being discriminated. Most professional chassidm cannot get a job at a Bank (or similar establishment) or government agency despite superior credentials. If a chassidic jew becomes a principal in a public school, it's written up in the NY Times!!
This, I suspect, leads to some that incorrectly justify the type of behavior outlined in the article. Reply