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Center For Halacha and American Law
Isaac M. Jaroslawicz, Esq

Aleph Institute's Center for Halacha and American Law
- Questions And Answers Series

Isaac M. Jaroslawicz, Esq

Crimes for the "Sake of the Community"

In its new Questions And Answers Series, Aleph’s Director of Legal Affairs, Isaac M. Jaroslawicz, Esq., and other guest writers, will answer questions about the criminal justice system and involvement by the Jewish community. Topics will include an understanding of how Halacha imposes an absolute obligation on Jews to follow the civil and criminal law of the land.

Mr. Jaroslawicz may be reached at 9540 Collins Avenue, Surfside, Florida 33154; (305) 864-5553.

To learn more about The Aleph Institute and its important work on behalf of families, you can visit Aleph’s Internet site at http://www.aleph-institute.org.


Q. Your recent columns discussed individuals who appear to have broken the law because of greed; e.g., credit card fraud, false financial documents, etc. Yet, lately I’ve seen a growing number of headlines about people who have been arrested for activities taken on behalf of the community, engaging in alleged financial improprieties to support a school, social service agency or the like. Shouldn’t we distinguish between those who engage in falsehood for personal gain and those who are forced to "wiggle" when it involves the survival of important community institutions?

A. In the years I’ve been with Aleph, I’ve seen many defendants’ attorneys argue to the judge: "But he didn’t really personally benefit from his actions!" Many judges are swayed by the argument, perhaps because, in our "dog-eat-dog" secular world, we are accustomed to measure a person’s culpability by the standard of his personal greed.

But it does not appear that we are governed by that same standard under the Torah. Indeed, those who claim their financial improprieties were on behalf of our "community" probably deserve greater shame and approbation, rather than sympathy for having been exposed and subjected to adverse publicity because of their supposed "self-sacrifice."

Where do I have the nerve to make such a sweeping condemnation? Let me ask you this: Where do you have the basis to think otherwise?

I respectfully submit that the first and foremost issue that affects all of us is the chillul HaShem – the desecration of G-d’s Name – that these individuals cause. The fact that they are involved with community institutions makes it worse, not better. Rabbi Shimon Schwab ____, the late Rav of Khal Adath Jeshurun of New York and one of the Torah giants of our age, delivered a number of passionate addresses at various conventions, including the 1988 national convention of Agudath Israel of America. Here is one small excerpt of what he had to say about chillul HaShem:

[We must always] endeavor to make a Kiddush Hashem—to bring glory to G-d’s Name through our actions. . . The Prophets instruct us to emulate Avrohom Avinu, and invoke the respect of the nations as he did, earning the greeting: "You are a prince of G-d in our midst" (Bereishis 23,6). . . .

Those who make the headlines through deceit and swindle and smuggling and forging and defrauding the government and the public—no matter how devout they are in their outward appearance—have the blood of Klal Yisroel on their hands. Stealing from a non-Jew is more severe than stealing from a Jew, for whoever is guilty of the former has no atonement, should he die without doing teshuva (repenting), because of the Chillul HaShem involved. Chazal have gone on record including those who lie or steal from the Gentiles among those who are mechalel HaShem, for they provoke non-Jews to say, "There is no Torah within Israel." Liars, swindlers, thieves who appear to be frum Jews are actually considered as if they proclaim "There is no Torah unto Israel," for the Torah instructs the Jewish people not to commit dishonest acts, and they ___ put the lie to this command.

But there is something else – something internal, too.

In an audiotape on the subject of "Honesty and Integrity," Rabbi Paysach Krohn, author of the famous "Maggid" series and one of the most dynamic and sought-after speakers in the Jewish world, discusses the question that tugs at the heartstrings of many parents: "My children were so sweet and fine when they were young. Why are my children now going off the derech (the proper way) as they get older?" In the name of Rav Yehuda Zev Segol of Manchester, he provides one frightening possibility: Because the parents are feeding them "traif gelt." That is, if the food we feed our children is paid for with funds obtained through dishonest conduct, that food is m’tamtaim es ha’lev (contaminating their spiritual hearts). We simply cannot isolate our spiritual selves from the impurities that accompany ill-gotten gains.

I am not aware of any exception for yeshivot or social service agencies and respectfully suggest that, if a particular school or institution depends on financial improprieties, the learning that is pumped into those children is tainted to its very core and capable of no good down the road. I would go so far as to argue that, if the improprieties go beyond the activities of just one or a few individuals, and if it appears that the institution itself depends on improper activities and would have to close if it could not continue those activities – so be it! Let it close! The truth is that, if one dedicated themselves properly and made a holy, honest and proper vessel, HaShem would fill it with blessing – and the institution would flourish instead of floundering.

If we close our eyes to sheker (falsehood), a chillul HaShem will inevitably result. The wheels of government may turn slowly, but they turn inexorably. And as prosecutors uncover fraudulent conduct at one institution, they look around at others in the same community. There is no escape. No political pressure, no campaign to the media, will turn away the gaze of the prosecutor when that eye turns to you.

I would be happy to send any reader of this column a free copy of Rabbi Krohn’s tape – hopefully in exchange for some donation to our tzedakah, but not as an obligation. We distributed about 500 copies as one of the sponsors of the Agudath Israel of America conference on "The Interface of Ethics and Halacha in the Business and Professional World," held in New York City just recently. The feedback has been wonderful. The tape will open your eyes to the illness that is eating away at us; invisibly perhaps, but tainting and hurting us nonetheless.

The problem is not new. Neither is the solution. But we must be prepared to make right choices – and take concrete steps – to purge the evil out from our midst.

Our Torah demands no less from us. We owe no less to our children.


Answers provided in this column are general responses to issues and should not be construed as Rabbinic or legal advice, which can only be provided by your rabbi or lawyer after careful analysis of the specific facts and law involved in your case. For a free copy of the Rabbi Krohn audiotape or to have your own questions answered in future columns, write to Isaac M. Jaroslawicz, Esq., Director of Legal Affairs, The Aleph Institute, 9540 Collins Avenue, Surfside, Florida 33154; email: imj@aleph-institute.org. Visit Aleph’s website at www.aleph-institute.org.


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