It’s the hottest corruption scandal in America at the moment, featuring a stellar cast of crooks that includes three mayors, two members of the New Jersey state legislature and number of Jewish priests. That’s right. A flock of rabbis have been caught doing something not kosher.
Apparently, the FBI’s been investigating the matter for 10 years and law enforcement officials say the case ‘originally focused on a network [that allegedly] laundered tens of millions of dollars through charities controlled by rabbis in New Jersey and neighbouring New York.’ The criminal network later expanded into political circles, thanks to the construction boom in New Jersey, to the point that corruption became ‘ingrained in New Jersey’s political culture’. Just like South Africa’s Home Affairs Department.
While corruption in any form is as disgusting as it is destructive – that’s not the point of this article (although I am glad to see that this kind of thing happens in the First World as much as it does in darkest Africa). Instead, I want to talk about those rabbis. I mean, really! It’s enough to make you choke on your kreplach. Everyone is allowed to make a little money, but this is ridiculous. One rabbi is even accused of trafficking in human kidneys harvested for transplant patients. That’s really horrific – it’s not like we’re talking about chopped liver here.
Yes, this is the kind of story gets you right in the kishkes. What a shande! These frummer ganefs are giving all Jews a bad name – just like that Bernie Madoff shyster, or South Africa’s own Barry Tannenbaum. With all these high profile fraud and corruption cases involving Jewish individuals, it’s little wonder that some goyim persist in believing dated anti-semitic nonsense such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Feh!
You’ll forgive me if I wax Yiddish, but I’m bloody angry at these schmucks because the last thing the Jews need at the moment is more bad press. We’ve got enough tsoris already, what with the problems in the Middle East and that mesugganeh shiksa Madonna trying to convert everyone to Kabbalah.
So, in an attempt to clear the air, allow me to say that if the accused Rabbis mentioned above are found guilty then they should be treated with the contempt they deserve. Besides, it’s not like observant Jews are the only ones who get involved in dodgy dealings. Sadly, religion and ethics often have very little to do with one another.
Throughout history there have been numerous examples of supposedly pious people following the letter of the law, but not the spirit. Pederast priests, murderous Mormons, sinister spiritualists, tearful Tammy-Fayes, sinning Swaggarts and corrupt cult leaders are all guilty of putting themselves above the law while simultaneously claiming to follow the word of God.
After all, being a rabbi or a priest is little more than a qualification for which you study, and being the leader of a congregation can be seen as just another job. You get bad doctors and rotten lawyers, so should we really be surprised when some holy roller gets bust for being decidedly human?
Nevertheless, as a proud but defiantly secular Jew, I am dismayed that this latest scandal has come so soon after that Madoff putz went spectacularly bust. I have never been directly affected by anti-Semitism (thankfully, South Africa has one of the lowest levels of anti-Semitism in the world) but I am aware that there are several prevalent attitudes towards Jews which are embedded into the global consciousness. These range from the complimentary (those Jews are clever) to the downright hateful (watch out for those scheming, money grabbing, insular hook-nosed hebes – did I get that right, Ahmadinejad?).
Of course, every cultural or racial group is saddled with a number of similar stereotypes. The Italians are all violent Mafiosi (just look at the Sopranos). The Greeks are all corner-café Costas (who charge triple for a loaf of bread). The Chinese are inscrutable (and they’re going to take over the world). Vegetarians have smelly farts (that one might be true actually). The British all have bad teeth (that might also be true). The Canadians are dull (definitely true). And so on…
But I’m digressing.
Sometimes, this kind of pseudo-sociology can be fun. I’m all for a good laugh at someone else’s expense – although I will admit that cultural jokes are always more appropriately told by a member of the group being mocked. Other times, it’s just a matter of innocent ignorance. I remember back at varsity, I was asked if I practise ‘Jewcraft’. Realising that the person didn’t really know any better, I cheerfully corrected her and we proceeded to have a constructive conversation.
And then, of course, there are those terrible times when it all becomes deadly. And I’m not just talking about the classic Nazi-driven Holocaust. Rwanda, Sudan and Serbia have all suffered horrific genocides based on nothing more than a difference in language, religion or culture. Not to mention more mundane specifics, such as the desire for land, minerals or political power. Similarly, South Africa’s inglorious system of apartheid had more to do with the need for cheap labour than with racial ideology. In fact, you could say that most racial or cultural conflicts are really a cover-up for ignoble political and economic agendas, and not the other way around. Just look at the Crusades, or the British Empire.
I guess what I am saying is that we should always be careful not to extrapolate the actions of an individual (or even individuals) so that their shortcomings come to represent an entire group. Trite as it may sound, there are bad people in every walk of life just as there are good people in every walk of life. Thus, no culture, race or nation is immune from something like corruption, just as no culture, race or nation is totally immersed in corruption – not even the Nigerians.
The converse, however, also applies. As ‘good people’ we should always be on the lookout for bad behaviour, even when it is committed by someone who is part of our own little cultural cluster. As some bloke named Edmund Burke is supposed to have said, way back in the 1700s, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing”.
And this rejection of wrongdoing should not be seen as being disloyal. Rather, it is a matter of being credible. If you have been given substantial proof that one of your mates did something wrong, you have to condemn them for their actions. If you don’t, you are simply becoming complicit with their bad behaviour.
It can be tough, I know. There have been occasions where I have criticised the behaviour of the Israeli armed forces, much to the dismay of my more fervent friends. But that’s just how I roll. I call it as I see it. And that’s why I say that these rabbis (if found guilty) should be struck off by the Beth Din and be forced to eat pork. IMHO.
[Originally posted 23/07/2009]