Dec 25 2008

The shame of Bernie Madoff

Published by under Judaism,Opinion,Thoughts

As a Jew (and a Modern Orthodox Jew at that) I am deeply saddened and shamed by Bernie Madoff. Of course I realize that what he did was not my fault. But what I am particularly disgusted and ashamed of was who he stole money from. Of course stealing money in his Ponzi scheme was bad enough (and $50 billion dollars at that!) but what makes it that much more egregious is that he stole it from charities and other organizations that rely on their endowments and investments to help fund their work to help other people. He’s sort of a perverted Robin Hood — he stole from everyone to spend on…?

I recently read a good letter from Rabbi Marc Gellman in the latest issue of Newsweek. Rabbi Gellman does an excellent job in summing up the betrayal that Bernie Madoff has wreaked everyone. However, what I really feel he quantified best was the damage that Mr. Madoff has done to Jews everywhere. As Rabbi Gellman notes

You are responsible for reviving the “Jew game.” I heard of the Jew game from a boy who became a man last Saturday. I asked him once if he had ever experienced anti-Semitism in school. That is when he looked at the floor and told me about the Jew game. The game, played by anti-Semitic kids in school, was one in which they would hide around a corner, throw a quarter down the hall, and then when somebody picked up the quarter, they’d run at the person, shouting, “You’re the Jew!”

You did not cause the anti-Semitic insults about Jews and money, but you caused them to be revived.

(Gellman, Marc, “A Letter To Madoff,” Newsweek, December 23, 2008 )

Yes, Mr. Madoff…you have revived not just anti-semitic insults but you, personally, have revived the ancient bigotry and accusations that Jews are untrustworthy and greedy (Gellman, Marc, “A Letter To Madoff,” Newsweek, December 23, 2008 )…you have given new life to the slur “dirty Jew” that flows from the mouths of the bigots and hate-mongers who despise us. You, Sir, have done this single-handedly. The Aryan Nation couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present than you and you will assuredly be cursed for what you have done.

I am reminded of a story a friend of mine told me one time about a Professor at Yeshiva University who taught accounting. It seems that some time after he taught a particular class a few of his students were arrested for embezzlement. When asked why they did it (especially since they studied at Yeshiva University) they said that they were never told not to steal. So, in response, this professor would make sure that every semester he would tell his students “oh, by the way, don’t steal!” Now, as to how accurate this story is, I cannot say but it seems to sum Bernie Madoff pretty well. “Do not steal” is one of the Ten Commandments given to us at Mt. Sinai…it’s not like this was some obscure commandment…this was one of the Ten that were on the tablets Moses brought down! How could you not know this one Bernie?

I find it interesting that Yeshiva University professors are now trying to find a lesson in what Bernie Madoff has done. In a New York Times article is a story of how the students of Yeshiva University struggle to find lessons in this and to understand the short and long term implications for the Jewish community. We are all sullied by the actions of this man and many within our own communities and our own institutions were impacted by the thievery of Mr. Madoff…some will never recover.

I am ashamed of Mr. Madoff…but he doesn’t represent Jews worldwide. What he has done, though, has awakened and reinforced the old stereotypes that we had hoped would die away with the Nazis and the communists. For that, Bernie, there has to be a special place in Hell for you. May your name be blotted out from memory.

No responses yet

May 29 2008

A Perspective on the Conversion Controversy

Published by under Israel,Judaism

I have to give it to the Sephardim…they are much more realistic and much more pragmatic about some issues.

To give a little background, there is currently a big, brewing controversy in Israel and in Judaism as a whole with regards to conversion. It seems that a rabbinic court in Ashdod issued a ruling that essentially nullified the conversion of a woman who had converted to Judaism 15 years previously. She converted under the supervision of Rabbi Chaim Druckman who is currently (at least until June) the head of the Israeli Conversion Authority that was set up by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Anyway, a panel of judges from the High Rabbinical Court (of which the current Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Amar is president) has now issued a ruling that all conversions conducted by Rabbi Druckman were to be questioned and possibly nullified. This throws thousands of people who were converted under Rabbi Druckman through the Conversion Authority into a limbo — and not just them but also their children.

Now, Rabbi Amar has promised that he would nullify this ruling — which, as far as I know, he hasn’t done yet. The High Rabbinical Court is apparently packed with Chareidi rabbis who seem to believe that if a person converts to Judaism and then years down the road “goes off the path” then their conversion is invalid from the beginning and therefore can be retroactively nullified. I, personally, cannot understand how they can make such a decision but the impact can be devastating.

I was, however, sent a link to the this post that gives a Sephardi perspective on this whole issue and on how the mainstream Sephardi see converts. It’s very interesting that the rabbis on the High Rabbinical Court can feel that if someone converts and then years later relaxes in their observance or loses their faith that therefore the convert was insincere from the beginning and that their conversion was not valid. I wonder how they can make such a broad decision that future actions (even actions many years down the road) can determine whether a convert is sincere in their conversion at the time of the conversion. I especially liked the opinion by a former Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Benzion Uziel, who said

The Beit Din does not need to know whether he will observe them. Otherwise you would close the door on all conversion, since we can never know what he will do. From this it is clear that conversion is not dependent on any future observance.
“The Sephardi Perspective: It is time to decide”

I think that says it all. You cannot predicate a person’s behavior today on what they may do tomorrow. Unfortunately the panel of rabbinical judges from the High Rabbinical Court do not seem to see this possibility.

Another issue that concerns me greatly is that the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has invited the Israeli rabbinate to start “overseeing” the conversions that are conducted by the RCA. They have decided to create regional rabbinic conversion courts that would be staffed by rabbis approved by the Israeli rabbinate and they would be the only ones whose conversions would be recognized by the Israeli rabbinate. I think that the RCA has made a major mistake in this regard and have signed away alot of their leverage with the Israeli rabbinate who can now choose the most strict Chareidi rabbis to be on these courts. This will cause significant problems down the road that have yet to be foreseen.

No responses yet