The great ideal is that we Jewish people take responsibility for our own; not only in helping the needy among us, but some sort of responsibility for the actions of our fellow Jews. Though not fully achieved 100% of the time, this standard has sustained us through adversities of the past and present, and will ultimately redeem us in the future. Though everything, of course, depends upon G-d Almighty, we Jews are all connected to one another, and when one of us hurts, all of us feel the pain.
[Just for the record, being Jewish is not me and my wife's sole, nor even necessarily our primary, criterion for selecting providers of goods or services. Our insurance agent, lawn mowing service, plumber, electrician -- none of these are Jewish. They have served us well, so we are loyal customers and clients. My wife and I have seen too many people get into too much trouble by automatically taking their business to a lantsman. We are equal opportunity employers. But I digress.].
This concept of "Am Echad," that the Jewish people are one nation, has its obvious benefits. My wife and I each travel out of town from time to time for professional and business reasons, and we are often aided by Jewish people in the out-of-town locations. And, over the centuries, the assistance by fellow Jews has often made the difference between life and death.
The downside is that we also have to account for the transgressions of our coreligionists. Much of the liturgy of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, when we seek G‑d's forgiveness and repent from our sins, is couched in the first person plural. "Avinu Malkeinu Chatanu L'fanecha" (Our Father, Our King, We have sinned before you). "Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Gazlanu …" (We have become guilty, we have betrayed, we have robbed ….).
When we go through the confessional prayers, we do NOT say "Mallayev murdered, Madoff swindled, Spitzer shtupped a hooker, Garson took bribes and Yagman cheated on his taxes." It is "WE murdered, WE swindled, WE shtupped hookers, WE took bribes and WE cheated on our taxes." It is, of course, physically impossible for a single individual to commit every one of the enumerated sins. And a goodly number of the transgressors are prosecuted, civilly and criminally, by other members of the Jewish community. But G-d -- and the nations of the world -- judge us not only as individuals, but as a group. We, as a community, are called upon to take an interest in the personal rectitude of all of our members.
And so, I shall now comment on two of our transgressors, and some of the broader implications.
First, there is Yochanan Levitansky
, the New Haven man who swindled 1,077 Ebay customers to the tune of $237,257 by taking their money and not delivering the goods. He will be doing 6 - 12 months, and paying some restitution. Levitansky's attorney, public defender Sarah Merriam, argued in the sentencing memorandum
that "As a young man who had been raised with the idea that he would one day become a rabbi, Yochi Levitansky was ill-prepared for the challenges of running a business on his own." Merriam further argued that Levitansky's fraud was mitigated by the fact that Ebay's insurance covered it. Hold it right there, buster!! Don't insurance companies have the Constitutional right to equal protection under the law?
[I don't know whether these really were Levitansky's own rationalizations, or whether Ms. Merriam came up with them in order to discharge her duty to zealously assert her client's interests. If it was the latter, then I can hardly blame Ms. Merriam. Sometimes, defense attorneys, civil and criminal, get stuck with piss poor clients who have little in the way of positive attributes. I myself have had such clients in years past, and was duty- bound to assert whatever arguments might lessen the negative consequences, even at the risk of ridicule by the plaintiff's attorney, judge and/or jury. I now can be more selective of whom I take on as a client. And Levitansky did get significantly less than the legal maximum, so Ms. Merriam certainly cannot be accused of being an ineffective counsel.].
Then, there is Yitty Shteierman
, a Monsey, NY woman who stands accused of using a fake deed to a house she doesn't even own as collateral for two separate loans totaling $270,000, in two separate transactions. My rabbi has, of late, been talking about giving people the benefit of the doubt. Ms. Shteierman has yet to be convicted of a crime. She is legally presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. So I will give Yitty Shteierman the benefit of the doubt, however, I shall, pending further developments in the case, refrain from entering into any business transactions with her (unless, of course, my own rabbi sees fit to do so).
I shall not now dwell upon the shortsightedness involved in the commission of crimes such as the the foregoing accused/admitted ones, where the acts necessary to commit such crimes produces a reliable paper and/or electronic trail of damning evidence.
The intrusive social pressures in the insular communities in which Mr. Levitansky and Ms. Steierman dwell are notorious. Schools will reject or expel students because their fathers wear blue shirts instead of white, or their mothers wear the wrong style wigs to cover their hair, or if their homes have Internet access or a t‑e‑l‑e‑v‑i‑s‑i‑o‑n. In arranging marriages for their children, parents will reject a match based upon the color tablecloth the prospective spouse's mother uses for the Shabbat table. And, notwithstanding the nonhereditary nature of conditions such as Down's Syndrome, some parents of such children will go to all lengths to hide the fact that there is a Down's Syndrome child in the family, lest it ruin their other children's chances for a shidduch (marriage arrangement). [N.B. This latter assertion has actually been confirmed by a reliable source -- a parent in an insular "black hat" community in Israel who has disregarded all advice to keep her own Down's Syndrome daughter in the closet (and many who would hide their Down's Syndrome child from the world do literally keep such children out on the enclosed terrace to their apartment, which effectively is in fact a closet.).
So what needs to happen? WE need to start taking a dimmer view of fraud. WE need to shun and ostracize those who commit "white collar" fraud-type crimes as much as WE shun and ostracize the children of the man who wears a blue shirt, or the person who watches television or surfs the Internet, or the siblings of Down's Syndrome children. Because if such crimes are less socially acceptable in OUR insular society, then they will, no doubt, occur with significantly less frequency.
Yes, the Rabbis have their work cut out for them in sending out the message, but, in the final accounting, WE cannot leave it all to the Rabbis. It is all up to US!
Labels: Jewish values, Jews, rabbis, Rosh HaShanah, Yitty Shteierman, Yochanan Levitansky, Yom Kippur