I have spent the last week in Camp Moshava in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Being here has been a real treat. Camp Moshava is a living breathing “kiddush Hashem”. One of the many outstanding aspects of my experience thus far has been the wide variety of orthodox Jews that work here.
I mention Kiddush Hashem because, except for my experience here this week, my thoughts have been on the tremendous chillul Hashem created by the Rabbis arrested last week for offenses ranging form money laundering to human organ trafficking.
I have no doubt that the actions that these rabbis have been accused of have done enormous damage to the perception of Torah. I am deeply concerned that these actions will create doubt and cynicism in the hearts and minds of young people towards religious leadership. One way to combat these outcomes is for the Modern Orthodox community to clearly state that these actions were wrong and that the greed that led to them is not in keeping with a spiritually sensitive Judaism.
Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein coined the term “glatt kosher hedonism” to refer to the belief (desire) that observant Jews can have it all. Our communities, the Modern Orthodox, pride ourselves on appreciating what is good, wholesome and spiritually fortifying in general culture. In doing so, we run the risk of letting our guard down in the pursuit of having it all. So as not to allow this tragedy to go without any positive outcome, our communities need reiterate the importance of Zniut – modesty in the way we live.
I will conclude with two brief notes that were emailed to me recently in reaction to the scandal.
Rabbi Riskin mentioned a number of times that when he still lived in New York and was starting his own yeshiva high school (“Mesivta Ohr Torah” in Riverdale), he interviewed 17 candidates for the job of Rosh Yeshiva. After ascertaining all knew how to learn, he asked them, “Suppose you ordered by mail an electric shaver from Alexander’s Department Store. And instead of one shaver being delivered, 3 shavers were delivered. What would you do with the other two?” Rabbi Riskin reported that sixteen of the seventeen insisted that they keep the other two shavers because stealing for a gentile is permitted.
The last applicant (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Sosefsky who is now the Rosh Hayeshivah of Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim) insisted on returning the shaver quoting Bava Metzia Perek 2 Yerushalmi: Rabbi Shimon Ben-Shetach bought a donkey from an arab. When RSBS was removed from the seller, he noticed there was something in the saddle: a valuable diamond whose sale would have put RSBS on easy street for the rest of his life. But RSBS insisted on returning the diamond to the arab as it would be better for the gentile to bless the G-d of Shimon Ben-Shetach than for Shimon Ben-Shetach to obtain any financial benefit such as this.
The following, written by Rabbi Moses ben Jacob of Coucy, authoer of the Sefer MItzvot Gadol on positive Mitzvah # 74 is very timely.
And I have already expounded to Galus Yerushalayim in Spain (Sefarad) and the other Galuyos under Christianity (Edom), that now that the Galus has lasted too long a Jew must separate himself from the frivolities (Hevlei) of the world and grasp the seal of Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu, which is Truth, and not lie, neither to Jews nor to non-Jews, nor to deceive them in any matter, and to sanctify ourselves even in that which is permissible to us, as it says
(Tzefani’a 3:13): “The remnant of Israel will not commit foul deeds nor speak falsehoods, nor will there be found in their mouths treacherous tongues.” And then, when Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu comes to redeem us the non-Jews will say that He is just in doing so, for we are men of truth and Toras Emes is in our mouths.
But if we conduct ourselves towards the non-Jews with deceit (Rama’us), then they will say: “See what Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu has done, that He has chosen as His portion thieves and cheats.”
Furthermore, it is written (Hoshe’a 2:25): “And I will plant them in the earth.” Why does a person plant a measure of grain in the earth? In order to cultivate several measures. So too Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu planted Yisroel in the various lands so that converts would join us. As long as we conduct ourselves amongst them with deceit who will cling to us? And, we find that
Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu was upset even by theft from evildoers, as it says(Bereishis 6:11): ” And the land was filled with theft (Chamas).”
Further, I bring proof from the Yerushalmi Chapter Eilu Metzi’os (Halocho 5), where it says: “The elder rabbis (Rabbanan Savi’ai) bought a measure of grain from non-Jews and found within it a bundle of money. They returned it to them, and the non-Jews said: ‘Blessed is the G-d of the Jews.'” Many similar stories of lost items that were returned to non-Jews because of Kiddush Hashem are related there.