The posting of 30 April 2008
highlighted the propensity of many residents of the more insular religious Jewish communities to trust those who dress like themselves. This phenomenon is, of course, hardly unique to the religious Jewish community; other close-knit ethnic communities have been stung by swindles by those ostensibly of their own kind.
Such also seems to have been the dynamics of the case involving the three yeshiva boys from Bnei Brak who were arrested when they entered Japan with lots and lots Ecstacy pills in their baggage. They claimed that they didn't know that the antiques they had been asked to deliver were in fact receptacles for the contraband.
I do not know the three young men, and therefore, don't really know how to call that one. It is, however, entirely possible that they were in fact duped by someone whom they blindly trusted. Indeed, recent arrests by the Israeli police
of two alleged accomplices tends to corroborate the young mens' story.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shafran, who recently testified as a character witness on behalf of the young men
, is now appealing for financial aid for their criminal defense. His appeal is being carried out through an organization called American Friends of Kupat Ha'Ir, in insert fliers in various Jewish newspapers. AFKH (and indeed, Kupat Ha'Ir itself in Israel) is in the more insular corner of the religious Jewish community; they do not seem to have an Internet presence, and many of the rabbis behind it have been known to take very insular stances on various issues. I myself am somewhat skeptical of AFKH, but this is a function of my general skepticism towards anything and everything; if truth be told, I do occasionally contribute money to AFKH (and, when in Israel, to KH itself). But I do respect Rabbi Shafran, and give much credence to his report of the situation for the young men in Japan.
When I walked the streets of Bnei Brak, as I have done on more than a few occasions, I was given "that look" because I wear a leather kippah and not the black fedora hat or fur shtreimel which is de rigueur for men of the insular religious Jewish groups. When I walked unaccompanied by my wife's uncle or cousins, who do wear the black fedoras, the suspecting stares were all the more frequent and intense. Many in Bnei Brak do not have computers in their homes (and few have t-e-l-e-v-i-s-i-o-n-s). Having seen Bnei Brak with my own two eyes, I can be persuaded to believe that the young men were in fact clueless and naive enough to trust the guy with the black hat, and thus go on their ill-fated trip to Japan.
[Please do not get me wrong. I have enjoyed my visits to my wife's relatives in Bnei Brak, and did in fact meet a fair number of friendly people on its streets. I fully expect to revisit the city at such time as I return to Israel.].
My analysis of the situation in Japan: On one hand, individual rights do not play the overarching role in Japanese culture as they do in the American legal system. On the other hand, the Japanese are bigger on deterrence than we in America are (and the low crime rate in Japan is one result of this). Even if the young yeshiva men are in fact innocent, the Japanese legal system is more prone to view them as exemplars for a lesson in deterrence than to be in any hurry to set them free. And Japanese prisons are not summer vacation resorts as the prisons of America are.
Accordingly, these young men are likely to be sitting in prison in Japan for a while. Their best hope will include a good dose of quiet diplomacy from Israel. This has a number of complications. For one thing, many (read "all") of the insular Jewish social groups are at odds with the secular aspects of the Israeli government. As an example, my wife's relatives will not refer to the big international airport in Lod as "Ben Gurion Airport" because they do not wish to glorify the late Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, an ardent secularist. So now, the rabbinical leaders are now in a position of having to appeal to the same governmental offices which receive large dollops of opprobrium from the ranks of the rabbis' followers (if not the rabbis themselves on occasion). This means that the three yeshiva boys may be a bargaining chip (though likely a very small one) in the current political negotiations to form a government in Israel.
The troublesome bargaining chips, however, are the aforementioned two older guys who were arrested as suspected accomplices of the three. Jewish law and tradition has some very, very strong taboos about turning in a Jew to the non-Jewish authorities. But many respected rabbis have approved of the punishment by secular authorities of Jews who are in fact guilty of serious crimes, especially where innocent Jews have been their victims. The well respected Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky reportedly green-lighted some Jewish U.S. customs agents who asked about the propriety of hunting down a ring of Jewish smugglers
, for example.
The prospect of trading three small and possibly innocent fishes for two bigger fishes (Suspect Bentzion Miller does, after all, resemble a whale
) might play well to the appropriate crowd in Tokyo. If indeed there is ironclad evidence to link the two to a smuggling ring, then Japan gets to avoid world criticism over the conditions to which it is now subjecting its three current defendants, they get to punish a wrongdoer, and they would still be able to send out a stern cautionary message of deterrence to the world.
The way I'm calling it, the great rabbinical authorities in Israel and elsewhere are now occupied with the pros and cons of whether Bentzion Miller and/or Yisroel Eisenbach ought be traded for the three guys in Japan.
As for me, I have already placed in the envelope a modest remittance to "Kupat Ha'Ir - Pidyon Shevuyim" and addressed it to 4415 14th Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11219.
If these three young men are in fact innocent and were in fact unaware of the nefarious motives their dispatchers, then I wish to see them released soon. And if, in fact, the two others arrested in Israel did send unsuspecting and innocent boys as mules to Japan, then they ought not be walking free.