Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Va’Etchanan—Ekev: Moral Priorities

This past spring, Rabbi Avi Shafran, Agudas Yisroel’s Director of Public Affairs,, wrote an unintentionally incendiary piece entitled “Bernie, Sully, and Me”, which concluded: “[P]ersonally, I’m still unmoved by the pilot, and, at least somewhat, inspired by the penitent. “

Apparently, despite the ensuing brouhaha and [inevitable?] “retraction”, it seems that someone was paying attention…for the wrong reasons. And, again, Jews were in the news, for the crime they are most often stereotyped with: financial shenanigans. [It’s possible that we might have to add two new brochos to birchos hashachar, after “Shelo Asani Goy”: “Shelo Asani Suicide Bomber” and “Shelo Asani Child Molester”. If you can’t figure out what stereotypes I’m referring to, I’m not going to put it on the record beferush. Suffice it to say thank G-d for the stereotypes that attach to our rival monotheistic faiths; otherwise we’d be in real trouble.]

In any case, maybe those arrested had read the article and figures that even if they were caught, they might qualify as “heroes”, if Madoff could, kal vachomer; after all, what’s $25 million, vs. $65 billion?

More likely, their thinking followed one of two lines:

First, that it’s practically a “mitzvah”: to pool the wool over the eyes of the secular authorities. I once heard a very prominent frum attorney who has defended many fervently [read: “Chareidi”/”ultra-“] Orthodox individuals in criminal cases who stated that, unfortunately, this attitude is still very pervasive in those circles.

Second, that because of halachic and other stigmas attached to “moser”, they probably assumed that, if any of them were caught, there would be a significant disincentive to anyone talking. This is why much of the chareidi press and blogosphere has taken to referring to informant Solomon Dwek as the “malshin” and there were rumors [since debunked] that his father had renounced him and was sitting shiva.

So what does this have to do with either of these parshiyot?
As we all know, the first parsha of Krias Shema is in Va-Etchanan, the second in Ekev. The Mishna in Brachos [2:2, 13a] notes that the order is relevant because one must be mekabel ‘ol malchus ahmayim before ‘ol mitzvos. Leaving aside the question of morality being ipso facto only what G-d says is moral [the statement in Eicha Rabba “Had they but abandoned Me and kept faith with My Torah!" indicated that this is more of an open question, at least as a hava amina than one might think], the sequence of parshiyos in Krias Shema at the very least indicates that there exists a certain order to moral priorities.

Rabbi Shafran’s praising Madoff while at the same time [borderline?] denigrating Sullenberger was illustrative of what might happens when said [or, sometimes, unsaid] priorities are reversed. The scandals brewing in New Jersey were certainly more graphically illustrative of this phenomenon. [Not to mention the Spinka conviction and sentence, which thankfully was buried in the nether regions somewhere in the New York Post.]

A further note: when the aforementioned attorney was discussing the phenomenon of religious criminality and the attitudes that fostered them, he was unequivocally defensive of the leaders of the various communities affected. His theory was that the ingrained cultural attitudes were too much for them to fight, but somebody had their priorities straight. Unfortunately, in this most recent case, the community leader himself got swept up in the dragnet. Leaving aside questions of [and prayers for] presumptions of innocence, one can only say that this time, he got too close.

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