Yet another case has been revealed of Orthodox corruption. A rabbi, very strict on conversions but lax on morality, was taped offering “Orthodox” conversion for sex. This comes after a yearlong litany including the trial of Charedi youngsters sent by other Charedi bosses out to Japan as drug “mules”, another Charedi “rabbi” accused of dealing in sex and drugs, the conviction and sentencing of a Spinka Chasidic Rebbe, the arrest of Sephardi rabbis on charity fraud, the conviction of a Lubavitch magnate on bank and other financial illegalities, the Chasidic Square Town in breach of numerous laws and an Orthodox Lakewood businessman accused of massive fraud.
I am sorry to have to tell you that this is only the tip of the tip of a huge iceberg of corruption that is endemic in the Charedi world. Don’t even try to justify it by saying the whole world is corrupt so why pick on a few bearded Jews? The Torah commands us to pursue “that which is upright and good” and even if everyone around you is corrupt, in the words of Hillel, where there are no men, at least you should try to be a man.
This disease within Orthodoxy is corrosive, widespread, and endemic. It has reached the highest levels of our religion, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Lithuanian and Hassidic. It knows no borders, no limitations, America and Israel and all points between. And what makes it even more disturbing is that the few honest good and spiritual men at the top who are untainted are too scared, weak or feeble to make a stand. I won’t even begin to mention those who have political agendas. It is all as corrupt as the sex crimes of the Catholic Church and the hypocrisy of many Evangelical preachers. It is the result of exaggerated worship of holy men who seem to think this allows them to get away with anything.
Of course the usual response is to condemn the messenger as an ignorant, backsliding, heretical criminal, himself, who is contravening the Biblical and rabbinical laws of gossip and giving people a bad name. The wagons circle and the criminal is said to be the object of the envious, the uncomprehending and anti-Semites. Adverts appear in the Orthodox press calling for meetings of prayer and support for the poor victims–not the victims of the crimes, but the perpetrators. In Israel any case of prosecuting or convicting an Orthodox person of any misdemeanor is of course put down exclusively to secular bias and antagonism.
Anyone familiar with the murky world of kashrut supervision knows how much monkey business is involved. Backhand payments to kashrut supervisors, deals made between and against rival supervising bodies. “Kosher” sometimes has relatively little to do with the actual laws and more to do with who is paying whom for what. The result has been endemic fraud. Honesty is rare.
It is not easy to find a Bet Din that is not corrupt in one way or another. Money often decides the outcome, rather than the law. Or who knows whom, or who owes something to someone–all matters specifically proscribed in Torah, which is somehow forgotten or ignored. Interested parties can often bribe or bring pressure to bear on Dayanim. One sees it at its worse when it comes to Jewish divorce and the way men often refuse to give a Get unless they are paid blackmail money and many rabbinical authorities at best turn a blind eye and at worst actually encourage it.
As for conversions, the system (where there is one) is riddled with abuse–rabbis prepared to convert for money, expecting kickbacks, applying different standards and criteria, refusing to convert in one country, arranging an easy way out with a friend or relative in another, and indeed expecting sexual favors from the vulnerable. This is not hearsay, I assure you, but something I have come across.
Rabbis seeking sexual favors is typical of male-dominated hierarchies the world over. The underlying animation seems not Torah, but rather personal concupiscence. And this probably explains why there is so much financial corruption and dishonesty in religious circles. It might start off stealing from the State but it invariably ends up stealing from family and friends too. It is like terrorism. Theorists start off by explaining it all away as the result of poverty, deprivation, discrimination, ignorance, and alienation—but then one comes across perfectly well educated, comfortable, apparently stable people who do the same.
So why has this not turned me completely of Orthodoxy? For one thing, of course, I also have firsthand experience of the beauty and inspiration of living a religious life, and I am also fortunate to know enough really honest, sincere, and good Orthodox people to know there is another side.
All religions, like the Parson’s Egg, are good in parts. But that of course means other parts are foul. All organizations, parties, indeed any agglomeration of human beings, has its rotten eggs.
Hans Eysenck got into trouble many years ago for suggesting that criminals had an extra chromosome. I am coming round to the view that being good is genetic. Some people just have the good chromosomes and genes and others don’t. Just as some are willing to teach and serve and others are interested in accumulating wealth and are motivated by greed. Some will argue it is environmental, and that makes a difference too, but I have seen the same ghetto produce saints and sinners.
Now I know we believe in free will and repentance and change. And indeed I have seen it happen, both ways. But the percentage of those who do actually change is very small. Being religious is like supporting Manchester United. You do it not out of any moral, spiritual animation, but it is a result of accident of birth and loyalty to tradition. No one expects Manchester United supporters to be ethical, good human beings, but we do expect this of people who outwardly adhere to a religion. That is why Maimonides starts of his book of law by dealing with the halachic subject of Chillul HaShem (desecrating God’s name). But then what is written is of course irrelevant to those so blind they cannot see.