On the 23rd of June, the FBI and associated law enforcement agents arrested 44 individuals on, mostly in New Jersey. The arrested individuals were mostly charged with money laundering, but some also on organ trade. As it happens, many of those arrested were Jews, four or five of them even Orthodox rabbis. You can read more on the arrests here and here. Thankfully, there are still upright people among us (stories: I, II) It should be noted that, both in Judaism and in Western democracies, the principle of innocent until proven guilty applies. Particularly, there are sensible claims that some, but surely not all, of those charged, were entrapped. Nonetheless, some of the accusations are very grave, very serious.
The Rabbinical Council of America has issued a press release. A salient paragraph is:
We are appalled at the allegations which, if true, violate the letter and the spirit of Jewish law, decency, good citizenship, and the norms of our great society.
Members of the Syrian Orthodox Community have been particularly affected by these allegations, and the stereotypes that have arisen as a result in recent days. The RCA wishes to extend its support to the Syrian Jewish community and its rabbis. They are an honorable, pious, and charitable community, led by many distinguished rabbis. The alleged misdeeds of the few should not be used against the innocent many.
Erica Brown provides some perspective in interview, regarding the question whether there is a “Morality Crisis in Orthodox Judaism.”
Finally, the following responsum, though 750 years old, is very timely. (Credits reportedly to R. Yom Tov Schwartz, Eyes to See; translation rumoured by RYGB)
Smag Aseh 74:
And I have already expounded to Galus Yerushalayim in Spain (Sefarad) and the other Galuyos under Christianity (Edom), that now that the Galus has lasted too long a Jew must separate himself from the frivolities (Hevlei) of the world and grasp the seal of Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu, which is Truth, and not lie, neither to Jews nor to non-Jews, nor to deceive them in any matter, and to sanctify ourselves even in that which is permissible to us, as it says (Tzefani’a 3:13): “The remnant of Israel will not commit foul deeds nor speak falsehoods, nor will there be found in their mouths treacherous tongues.” And then, when Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu comes to redeem us the non-Jews will say that He is just in doing so, for we are men of truth and Toras Emes is in our mouths.
But if we conduct ourselves towards the non-Jews with deceit (Rama’us), then they will say: “See what Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu has done, that He has chosen as His portion thieves and cheats.”
Furthermore, it is written (Hoshe’a 2:25): “And I will plant them in the earth.” Why does a person plant a measure of grain in the earth? In order to cultivate several measures. So too Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu planted Yisroel in the various lands so that converts would join us. As long as we conduct ourselves amongst them with deceit who will cling to us? And, we find that Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu was upset even by theft from evildoers, as it says (Bereishis 6:11): ” And the land was filled with theft (Chamas).”
Further, I bring proof from the Yerushalmi Chapter Eilu Metzi’os (Halocho 5), where it says: “The elder rabbis (Rabbanan Savi’ai) bought a measure of grain from non-Jews and found within it a bundle of money. They returned it to them, and the non-Jews said: ‘Blessed is the G-d of the Jews.'” Many similar stories of lost items that were returned to non-Jews because of Kiddush Hashem are related there.
The above responsum was written as a spiritual reaction against the burngin of the Talmud in Paris, under Louis IX. More than 750 years passed since, and while there again is an independent Jewish state, exile has not ceased and we are still waiting for the Final Redemption. It surely seems that the words of teh holy Smag are relevant as ever.