I also mentioned about how I thought it was ludicrous that one of their keynote speakers at the event was going to be a man who has proven to be a ruthless and dishonest thug. Well, leave it to the Agudah to outdo themselves. Not only did they have that fellow speak to the crowd, but they also had the Spinka Rebbe himself! Yes, barely two weeks after pleading guilty to a decade-long tax fraud and money laundering scheme, Rabbi Naftali Tzi Weisz is being presented as the opening speaker at an event meant to tackle the problem of fraud and corruption!
Now, I’m sure there are many people who will argue that this is not as bad it seems, and that he’s actually an appropriate choice, because firstly, he's done teshuva, and secondly, someone who has been guilty of such a crime is the best person to speak to the community of the problem, kind of like how convicted gang members talk to inner city high school kids. Yeah, well, sorry, but I don’t think it’s the same thing. He was up there on the dais as a respected leader of the community, not as a convicted felon. The unspoken message to that crowd was that you can commit these crimes but we will still respect and honor you as if nothing happened. Which we all know is par for the course - as far as I know, there hasn't been a single op-ed or article in the chareidi press criticizing the man for his indiscretions. And more importantly, if you look at what he said, it shows that he actually hasn’t owned up to the problem. From the Forward article:
Weisz spoke in great detail about the compliance program that the Spinka board has entered with the government and he said, "Our community, baruch hashem, is not lacking in smart experienced lawyers and accountants that are willing to teach the tzibur [community], how to conduct their communal affairs in a manner that is in compliance with the law in all respects."And from the VIN article:
The Spinka Rebbe told the audience about a new organization founded with the help of prominent askonim. Members include experienced attorneys, accountants and other professionals. “A lot of effort has gone into this matter and the staff can help people set up tzedaka and chessed organizations. Little by little more and more mosdos are joining the program and we’re hoping that in the coming years there will no longer be any organizations that don’t keep proper accounting records.”Please! What a bunch of unadulterated bulls#*it! He’s making it sound as if, nebach!, we just didn’t really understand that what we were doing was wrong. But thankfully, now we have people who will teach us how to do things right! He isn’t in the least bit owning up to what he did! Just like how Zwiebel explained the asifah, not as a moment of true self-reflection and an opportunity to acknowledge their misdeeds, but rather as a chance for people to learn right from wrong! Suuuure... it’s just a matter of educating people! As if no one really intended to cheat, deceive, and steal from the government (and the taxpayer)! Even Braffman, one of the attorneys who spoke, made it sound like these things are innocent mistakes (from VIN):
Later in his talk Atty. Braffman touched on day-to-day affairs. "People don’t learn how to run their day-to-day lives after getting married, when they’ll have to report income. You have to know how to write checks, how to buy a home. When today’s generation grows up we’ll be in a much bigger mess because young people know nothing about how to run their day-to-day lives. You have no idea how careful you have to be to avoid chilul Hashem."What a bunch of horses#%t! This is not a mea culpa! This isn’t admitting wrongdoing! This is exactly the opposite! Focusing on people's (supposed) ignorance is not how you take responsibility!
This is why I think the Agudah and all the frum people who are talking about ‘addressing the issue’ are so full of crap. They aren’t really interested in looking at themselves in a mirror and admitting to any real wrongdoing. Instead, they’ll point to ‘flaws in the system’ that contributed to the problem. Already, we are seeing people pointing to the fact that secular education in the frum world is so poor as a cause for these kinds of problems. Yeah, it’s true, their secular education does suck, and that cultivates an environment where people are lacking skills to support themselves, which can often lead to such shady activities, but that’s not the real problem!!! Nor is the problem - as everyone seems to be focused on - because these sort of things cause a chillul hashem!
These are just side issues to deflect from the real issue that no one wants to face, that for the past few decades the chareidi world and its leaders have turned a blind eye to the widespread financial impropriety that is commonplace in their society. They don’t want to face the real issue that they have been complicit in cultivating this attitude, that its ok to take advantage of any loophole (legal or not) they can come up with, if the goal is to support their mosdos and their frum lifestyle. They don’t want to acknowledge the many shmuezzen and divrei torah from their rabbonim, roshei yeshiva, and gedolim, which have subtly (and sometimes explicitly) sent the message that the only rules in life that matter are the torah rules and what the goyim say and think doesn’t really matter at all. Anyone who had been in yeshiva has heard a shmuez or two where the rabbi stands up at the podium and thunderously exclaims to his flock, "It’s only wrong because the torah says it’s wrong!" Any proper yeshiva bochur knows that the whole notion of being an ethical person really doesn't matter at all to a torah yid. All that matters to such a person is being a halachic person. And while many will point out that according to halacha all these things are forbidden (well, according to some opinions), it doesn’t really matter. Because once you’ve disregarded the notion of ethics, and put all of life into the box of halacha, all it takes is one clever gemara-kup to come up with a legal loophole, or to find some obscure psak, or figure out some rationale as to why it’s not a problem according to halacha, and the frum people will do whatever the hell they want.
How many more incidents is it going to take before they acknowledge the real underlying issues? In fact, in the past 24 hours, two more incidents have come to light - one of a couple in Monsey that were arrested on welfare fraud, and another of two young guys stealing checks from people’s mailboxes. A few months ago a Monsey guy pled guilty to wire fraud. Before that it was Leib Pinter (an Artscroll author) getting busted for a $44 million fraud. Last year it was a Lakewood bochur scamming elderly people. These are all symptoms of a very deep and disturbing issue.
Like so many other problems in chareidi society (lack of education, poverty, sexual abuse, violence, and more), this is one more travesty that they themselves can proudly take credit for creating. I’m not saying that everyone in the chareidi world is a criminal. Absolutely not. Just like not every chareidi person is a sexual abuser. But just like with the problem of sexual abuse, the community as a whole has knowingly fostered an environment where this sort of thing is not just tolerated, but is allowed to flourish. They chose to look the other way when it went on in front of them, thereby allowing the problem to get ever worse. And as was so amply demonstrated last night, they have chosen to hastily forgive the misdeeds of those who have been guilty of these crimes.
If these people ever own up to the detrimental attitudes that are endemic to their value system, there may be hope for real improvement. But as long as they refuse to face the real issues, and instead distract themselves with every excuse they can come up with, I’m quite confident that nothing more than superficial changes will come of all this.