Bad Religion · Politics

Bad Rabbis

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~

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9 thoughts on “Bad Rabbis

  1. Maybe because I’m a cultural Jew and not a religious Jew, I don’t have the guilt that you speak of.

    People are people long before they are ordained rabbis or priests. More crimes are committed by human nature than anything else.

  2. I’ll tell you how I feel – disgusted, betrayed, pained, embarrassed – Does that give you some idea????????

    1. Yes – did you see Karyn’s comment – she made a good point about human nature. But just knowing that doesn’t make up for the feelings of betrayal. I guess there’s something to be said about money corrupting — even the best of people. And also, that maybe we shouldn’t expect religious leaders to be any less susceptible to temptation than the average Joe.

  3. Well, naturally, it will give the religious skeptics more ammunition for the case against religion being the shining light we profess it to be, but of course, we are all sinners, humans, and I don’t think anyone of any religion has ever claimed perfection.  The criminals, like all of us, as well as those who have been harmed, are greatly in need of prayer. It just means the rest of us have to work all the harder to be light to others, and we’re called to that anyway, so, we’ve still got our work cut out for us.

  4. Prayer is a charming notion. It didn’t help pedophile priests and I don’t think it will help this group of supposedly religious folks. There needs to be very strict and immediate retribution. And as one who generally favors gentler means of changing behavior, in some cases the response has to be swift and strong!

  5. I think this scandal only adds oil to fire, with what’s happening in Palestine and the daily atrocities committed by the zionists in there, our claim of innocence and persecution will not stand anymore, I think the wider public will finaly know what zionists really are, the cancer of this planet.
    May Elohim have mercy upon us TRUE JEWS. 

  6. I hope a religion reporter in NJ covers the fall-out.

    This reminds me of a story we did at U.S. Catholic on embezzlement by priests and lay church leaders. There seems to be a special relationship between religious leaders and their flocks that can be hard to break. I was surprised by the closing story: About 500 parishioners left one parish where a priest was stealing money–“half out of outrage at the church for tolerating larceny for so long and the other half out of outrage at the church for “persecuting” their beloved pastor, Skehan, who has recently been sentenced to 14 months in prison.”  (

    It’ll be interesting to see if some members of their congregations will come to defend the rabbis, even if the rabbis are found to be guilty.

    1. Hey Megan! Thanks for coming to the site and getting a U.S. Catholic voice involved. You are so right about the special (some might say dysfunctional?) relationship people have with their religious leaders. Your mag’s story on the people who left b/c the priest was embezzling and the other half staying is a perfect example. I wonder if religious people feel like we need to be more forgiving than others? Or maybe we’re so aware of our own sinfulness that we are reluctant to judge? But also, isn’t it interesting that the reactions tend to be black or white – get angry over the crime or angry over the punishment, but nothing in the middle like “The leader isn’t the ‘people of God’ – the congregation is.” I sure hope this gets covered by the NJ religion reporters (if any are left at papers there), as well, because the followup on what happens to congregations in light of these events is a really interesting story of faith. Thanks again for coming over and commenting.

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