When I first heard yesterday that Jewish rabbis were involved in a New Jersey corruption sting, my thoughts went out to the folks in their congregations because I remember the guilt-by-association feeling Catholics had when the clergy sex scandal broke. I found myself explaining – over and over again, amen – why I stayed Catholic and how just because .01 percent of priests were criminals did not mean all priests are awful. I watched as people wrapped a protective arm around children as they left Mass, passing by priests they’d known for years, and saw priests actually throw their hands up in a “I didn’t touch him” posture when little children ran up after services for a hug. The crisis caused a fissure in trust that has still not healed.
So, I wonder how Jews feel about five rabbis being arrested for money laundering in one of the biggest FBI stings ever. There is nothing like being betrayed by your religious leader, except, maybe, being betrayed by a parent. We hold religious leaders to a higher standard, as we darn-well should. They claim close relationship with the Almighty, they preach to those they lead about morality and ethics, they challenge those in their congregations to do good. In fact, Jews are admonished to practice the sacred duty of Tikkun Olam, which means “to heal the world.”
So how does laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars through Jewish charities in Israel translate into healing the world? And how does the Jewish community deal with the humiliation and shock? According to the Jerusalem Post, which did a great job of reporting the story, people were praying in Deal Synagogue in Long Branch, N.J., when the FBI stormed in to arrest their rabbi, Edmond Nahum. Spiritual leaders often tell worshipers to be open to surprises during prayer, but I’m pretty sure the arrest of your rabbi ain’t what they’re talking about.
The other thing that stands out in this is that these weren’t young rabbis – these were guys who should have known better. The youngest was 56, the oldest 87 (!!!!). (Then again, if we use age as a guide for acquired wisdom, Bernie Madoff should have known better, too. )
So, I ask – if you’re Jewish, how does this story make you feel? Do you think that religious leaders should be help to higher standards? Do you think the arrest of rabbis in a financial scandal will fuel racist thoughts about Jews and money? Discuss among yourselves – and in the comments below~