Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Does the Rabbi Keep a Kosher Kitchen?


"When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king!"

The news from Los Angeles is a big tax evasion and money laundering bust which has ensnared Naftali Tzvi Weisz, the Grand Rabbi of Spinka in Boro Park. The details of the bust, including whether or not Rabbi Weisz is or is not innocent or guilty, are not particularly relevant for the purposes of this blog posting. All of the suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and such presumption will pertain to this posting as well.

Imprimis, there are a number of rabbis who are known as the Grand Rabbi of the Spinka hassidim. Thus, Rebbetzin Sarah Bluma Horowitz, the Spinka Rebbetzin who died in a tragic traffic accident in the summer of 2006, was married to a different Spinka Grand Rabbi (and she might still be alive today had she been wearing a seatbelt, but that's a whole different ball of wax).

Assuming, again, that the Rabbi is in fact innocent and will ultimately be exonerated from these charges, the very fact of the indictment and arrest are problematic. I have taught my son to respect rabbis (though, like his father, he does question them from time to time), and I want people to know that the Torah is a good thing and that my religious Jewish lifestyle is a good thing.

Even if the Rabbi is exonerated, the very fact of his arrest and indictment has complicated my life, even though I am not connected with the Rabbi's religious institutions, do not live in the Rabbi's neighborhood, and indeed, do not recall ever meeting him. From my days with the various government agencies, the rule was (and still is) that avoiding impropriety is not enough; the very appearance of impropriety must also be avoided.

And, of course, the enemies of the Jewish people will also try to get some traction out of this one.

I have read the 40-page Indictment instrument (which does not seem to be posted anywhere, but which was graciously e-mailed to me by the Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Attorney's office). Seems that there is an unindicted co-conspirator, one "R.K.," who seems to be cooperating with the prosecution. Most social groups view snitches with at least some degree of negativity; in the religious Jewish community this degree of negativity rises to the level of disdain and revulsion. Is "R.K." singing in return for lenity? Very likely! But, from a prosecutorial standpoint, the question must also be asked as to just how credible a witness he might make. My take on it: Excellent chance that if the matter goes to trial, "R.K." will be put on the witness stand and will sing his song of sixpence before the jury. But "R.K.'s" testimony will likely not be the prosecution's sole (or even chief) evidence. From the transactions described in the Indictment, there likely will be a confirmatory paper trail.

In the Spring of 2004, the IRS sent out numerous signals that it would soon be paying enhanced attention to tax-exempt organizations. Then IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson, in his testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, gave hints that churches and similar religious organizations would thenceforth no longer be sacrosanctly immune from the IRS's scrutiny.

The first sentence of the US Attorney's press release announcing the indictment reads as follows:

"The Grand Rabbi of Spinka, a religious group within Orthodox Judaism, was arrested this morning along with several associates charged in an indictment that alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy to defraud U.S. government agencies, to operate a underground money transfer system and to launder money through an Israeli bank."

And of what relevance, many are now asking, is the fact the people involved may be Orthodox Jews? Isn't that first sentence grounded in some sort of bigotry?

My take on it: No! The fact that the defendants are Orthodox Jews is only incidental. But the fact that it involves religious organizations is paramount!! The press release is sending the metamessage that religious groups can no longer find refuge in their religious observance from the requirements to obey the tax laws!

Of no less significance than the first sentence in the US Attorney's press release is the last sentence in the document: "The case is part of an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS-Criminal Investigation."

"Ongoing investigation?" I very strongly anticipate some additional blackbirds to come out of the pie.

I certainly hope that the Rabbi is exonerated in the proceedings to follow, but am not willing to make book that such a state of affairs is in fact the case. Let the legal process move forward, and let the chips fall wherever they may.

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