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.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Spanking for Spinka





The Agudath Israel of America is an advocacy organization for the more religiously observant Jewish groups. It presents and asserts many issues and viewpoints I consider to be necessary. I am grateful that it exists, and am not above sending it a modest monetary donation from time to time.

It therefore pains me to say that the Agudath Israel is a troubled organization. It is not a bad organization, but it is troubled because some of its past statements and suboptimal judgment calls are now coming back to haunt it. [N.B. I have similar sentiments regarding the Republican Party, for analogous reasons.].

This Blog's posting on 21 December 2007 commented on a tax fraud indictment case in Los Angeles, a case that involves the Spinka institutions. My very reliable sources now inform me that the Naftali Tzvi Weisz, the Grand Rabbi of Spinka, has signed a plea agreement whereby he will plead guilty to a felony conspirary charge and face up to 5 years imprisonment. The plea agreement is "wired," that is, the agreement is contingent upon the entry into of plea agreements by Rabbi Weisz's codefendants, and disposition agreements by the various Spinka institutions. My sources tell me that understandings have, for the most part, been reached regarding the codefendants' pleas, but that the disposition agreements with the corporate parties are still not in the zone of agreement.

The Spinka Chassidic community is one of the Agudath Israel's constituencies. The Spinka tax fraud case implicates, and may well exacerbate, the Agudath Israel's troubles. Please bear with me on this analysis:

Some time last April, apparently after Pesach, the Agudath Israel issued a statement (jointly with Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools) regarding sexual abuse in religious Jewish institutions. The long and short of the statement is that the two organizations (A) " fully acknowledge the horror of child sexual abuse and the devastating long-term scars it all too often creates;" but (B) are concerned that legislation currently under consideration in Albany (if indeed anything at all is being done in Albany) might be so overly broad as to saddle educational institutions with "potentially crippling financial liability" for long past indiscretions by individuals who are dead, retired, or otherwise long gone from such educational institutions. Within the four corners of the policy statement document, I am 100% with Agudath Israel.

But the AI-TU joint statement was not written on a fresh klaf. At Agudath Israel's 2006 national convention, a speech was made by Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon wherein it was effectively admitted that many in the Agudath Israel leadership have swept under the rug the matter of sexual molestation in Yeshivas, in deference to the feelings of the families of the accused (and, in come cases, proven) molesters. Others have, and not without foundation, accused Agudath Israel of indecisiveness and stalling on the matter.

Before sexual abuse issue became THE big sore matter with Agudath Israel, there were some charges, again not without foundation, that the rabbis of Agudath Israel were wont to encourage abused wives to give in to their abusive husbands' monetary demands and not make a public issue of it. Indeed, in an article published in the Jewish Observer, the Agudath Israel's (almost) monthly magazine (as I recall, some time between 2000 and 2002 or thenabout), there was an effective denial that the problem was exacerbated by the various rabbis' entreaties to the abused wives to surrender to their husbands' monetary demands in exchange for the divorce.

And so, the Agudath Israel now has a public relations problem with its constituencies. Its failure to admit its shortcomings and lapses leaves many of its constituents (and former constituents) very skeptical.

Getting back to the Joint Statement, if one takes it at its face value (which I in fact do), a cardinal concern of the Agudath Israel is to maintain the viability of the religious Jewish day schools. This is also a concern of mine, and a cause to which much of my family's tzedaka (charity) allocations are directed. The way I read the Spinka situation, there is a serious question as to whether the Spinka educational institutions involved in the indictment can continue to financially survive if they agree to the settlements I would expect the government to demand, and/or the tax assessments the IRS is likely to have made and/or be in the process of making. Which puts the Agudath Israel right back on Square One!

The Agudath Israel needs to take corrective discipline with its misbehaving bratty children, instead of trying to convince the principal to not suspend the kids each time they misbehave. It should position itself as a proponent of compliance with tax laws instead of as a cover-upper of tax cheats, and as a proponent of zero tolerance for sexual abusers instead of a cover-upper of sexual abuse. This will take some practical leadership.
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I personally believe that Agudath Israel is capable of such leadership if they make the necessary changes in their policies and procedures (and, perhaps, personnel). For the sake of the future of American Jewry, I hope that I am correct on this score!

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