by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
Richard Desmond is a wealthy English Jew. He is the publisher of the Daily Express, the Daily Star and OK Magazine (another one of those publications that succeed on the basis of the common man’s insatiable appetite for pictures and information about nonentities). He made his initial fortune through pornography, and he still runs TV Channels such as “Television X”, “Red Hot Climax” and “Red Hot Only 18”. And I think I can safely assume these are not channels propagating Socialist ideology.
He was recently appointed the head of Norwood, the Anglo-Jewish charity that started off as an orphanage and now deals with children’s needs in general. His job is to raise money, and he promised to widen the donor base, which means he will use his contacts in areas not usually associated with Jewish causes to get more valuable support for them. So here we have a man offering some of his time and energy to benefit good causes when he could just as well have thrown it all away on another night in Vegas (with trimmings).
Mr. Desmond himself has been very charitable both to Jewish and non-Jewish causes. He has given away £19 million this past year alone. I want to point out that I have never met the man and know absolutely nothing about him personally. So what I have to say is regardless of whether he is an unpleasant piece of work or the sort of man you’d be happy to introduce to your sister.
There has been an outcry from almost every section of the Jewish community about this “unsuitable” appointment. The Jewish Chronicle has delighted in blazing the controversy across its pages and using the tactics of the gutter press, making sure that the full disgusting evil of Mr. Desmond’s publications are revealed for all to see–of course, disingenuously claiming it was all in the public interest. I’m surprised they didn’t give out free DVD’s of his work!
There is little that is edifying about Anglo-Jewry, in general, and even less when it has one of its occasional fits of moral superiority. But this is one of the worst examples of righteous hypocrisy I can remember. Anglo-Jewish charities have a record of getting up to some strange activities in pursuit of a buck or two. I have no complaint against anyone who says, “I personally have such a deep distaste for pornography and anyone associated with it that I will not be involved in a charity (or any other organization) that benefits in any way from pornography, so therefore I will resign.” On the contrary, I regard such a position as noble and ethically praiseworthy, provided the person is consistent and applies similar standards elsewhere (of course, this does not mean he must treat every misdemeanor as the same).
Will the person who detests pornography also say that he or she has such a distaste of gambling that he or she will not be associated with anyone whose business is gambling and would not agree to a charity deriving benefit from gambling profits? If so, all those religious charities that have benefited from the National Lottery, or indeed have run their own, should be off his safe list too.
Actually, I once had a meeting with a man whom I believe to be very honest and straight who refused to be associated with the board of my school because at the time the chairman headed a major gambling company. I respected that. But I must say that the said chairman, whatever his limitations, did and has done a great deal of good for Jewish causes around the world.
I cannot tell you how many charities I know of, religious and non-religious, who have benefited, if indirectly of course, from white-collar crime, money laundering, income from brothels, arms trading, corrupt business practices and other illegality. I could run off a list of synagogue functionaries I know who have been of the most unsavory character, not to mention totally hypocritical in their religious practice. I know some religious adulterers who have themselves done inordinate harm, and have scattered their sins like a tornado, but this has brought them no obvious criticism, condemnation or ostracism. Sure, I know that everyone makes mistakes of all kinds (Lord knows, I am no saint). But I am talking about consistent offenders who also flaunt their religiosity. If our community is going to lay down standards (which, indeed, I may totally approve of), then they should be applied across-the-board, not only selectively.
I remember a visit to Ford Open Prison, many years ago, where I discovered a Beth Midrash fully fitted out with Talmudic texts and commentaries, by a couple of Chasidim doing time for a massive fraud. When I asked them whether they were worried about “Chilul HaShem”, bringing Judaism into disrepute, they replied that as far as they were concerned they were spending a few years studying Torah and on release they would give millions to religious charities and live and be treated like kings!
There has always been a very strong tradition in Chasidism of rebbe money-launderers. Let me explain. One of several lines of thinking in Chasidism goes that the rebbe is the saint who redeems the Jewish (and non-Jewish) universe. An ordinary person cannot hope to rise to his level of proximity to God. So simply by association and, where possible, rendering financial support, a person is elevated by the rebbe’s relationship with God and participates in the rebbe’s sanctity. This explains those rebbes who positively encourage sinners to come to them, to donate where possible vast sums (and I can assure you no questions were asked) and, as a result, both parties feel a lot better.
Nowadays, in addition to Chasidic rebbes there is a whole industry in Oriental mystics and wonder rabbis to whom streams of corrupt businessmen flow, carrying large donations, as regularly as flights to Las Vegas. Not all rebbes, rabbis, or followers are like this, of course, but there’s a heck of a lot of it going on quite openly, even brazenly, and all hallowed by religious fiat (oops–mustn’t mention Fiat, or Juventus, or dishonest Italians).
Of course, I am not for one moment comparing pornography to gambling or making any equivalence. I detest pornography. But I am talking about double standards. If we do not shrink from turning a blind eye to dubious sources of funding throughout the religious and the Jewish world, then we must not pillory one man just because he is an obvious and easy target.