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In honor of the sentencing of Bernie Madoff, I am re-posting this award winning Tshuva.
On Financial Scandals and Klal Yisrael
Dear Rav Pinky,
I am deeply troubled that a Jew would not only steal from Goyim, but also from fellow Yeeden such as Steven Spielberg, Elie Weisel, Yeshiva University, and Mort Zuckerman (OK, maybe Zuckerman is a stretch). I don't want to name names, chas v'shalom, but how can we continue living in the spirit of "Chaveyrim Kol Yisroyel" when we are faced with such deception and a Jew "made off" with other Jews’ money?
I am also concerned about the finances of Yeshivas Chipas Emmess. Are the Yeshiva's endowment funds in good hands? Can you assure your donors that there is nothing to worry about?
-Bewildered in Bergenfield
Dear Reb Bewildered,
What kind of Self-Hating-Anti-Semite are you anyway? Are you possibly suggesting that a Jew is involved in a terrible Shanda? Have you been seduced by the liberal media to believe that a member of Klal Yisroel has ANYTHING to do with the greatest Ponzi scheme in history, or, for that matter, that even ONE JEW was involved in the broader financial crisis which has brought all the Goyim… err… global economies… to their knees? Minuval!
First, I want to stress how serious this situation is. It is no joking matter. As I write this I am sitting at a table in the Yeshiva surrounded by various Shailois Ve’Tshuvois from the Middle Ages that debate how Klal Yisroel should react to a broad economic downturn. I have been doing my research here for weeks, sleeves rolled up, in the Bernie Madoff Bais Medrish, taking an occasional walk to pick up a Sefer in the Ivan Boesky Library, and from time to time finding a bit of respite over a cup of coffee in the Milken Cafeteria. Sadly, we have not yet completed construction of the Spitzer Family Recreation Lounge, or I would certainly be spending quite a bit of time there as well.
Your Shaila brings up some painful questions: What is the status of a member of Klal Yisroel who brings shame and dishonor to his entire nation? Is he still a Jew? What’s Pshat?
There is a Gemara in Baba Kamma that discusses a curious story about Mar Zutra, who, when he was not learning in Pumbedisa, owned a hat store in downtown Basra. One day a disheveled beggar came in and said to Mar Zutra, “Rebbe, can you spare a Pruta for a poor man?”
Mar Zutra responded, “What do you think I look like, a bank?”
To which the man replied, “Well you do have a big Jewish nose and just did construction on your house, so I just assumed you were a banker.”
“Your are wise, my friend,” Mar Zutra answered. “I will tell you what I will do. If YOU give ME one Pruta today, I promise to return two Prutois to you next week.”
The poor man thought silently for a moment, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a big wad of Zuzim. “Rabbi”, he said, “what kind of schmuck do you take me for?”
RASHI, commenting on this story, notes that the poor man was actually Yishayahu HaNavi, and that by asking people for money, he was really gauging which souls were committed to the Reboinoisheloilum and which were obsessed with materialism.
TOISFOIS, however, disagrees, and suggests that the poor man was really Yirmiyahu HaNavi, and that he was carrying a big wad of singles because he was on his way to a strip club in the seedy part of Az Zubayr.
Elsewhere, in a Gemara in Masechess Gittin, there is a debate how a community should respond when a man refuses to give a Get (grant a divorce) to his wife. According to Rav, the man is considered evil since he is causing his wife to be an Agunah (trapped in unmarriageable limbo), and the community should pick up the man while he is walking down the street, toss him in the back of a pickup truck, beat the Gehennim out of him, and then leave him lying naked in front of the local Shul.
Rava holds farkhert: A man like this is considered to be a Tzaddik, since he is taking concrete steps to preserve Shalom Bayis. Rava suggests that we pick up the man while he is walking down the street, toss him in the back of a pickup truck, and take him to a local motel for some hot Pilegesh action.
However, the most interesting Shittah for our discussion is the position given by Rabbah. According to Rabbah, a man who refuses to grant a Get is considered to be “Hoitzee Ess Etzmoi Min HaKlal” – he removes himself from the collective of Am Yisroel, and for that reason we no longer consider him to be a Jew. Therefore, Rabbah suggests that we pick up the man while he is walking down the street, toss him in the back of a pickup truck, and take him to a local market where we force him to pay retail and eat oysters on the half shell.
This Shittah of Rabbah is reminiscent of the famous case in the mid-Twentieth Century regarding Brother Daniel, the Meshumid. Brother Daniel was born a Jew in Poland, had saved many Jewish lives during the Shoah in Mir and elsewhere, and later converted to Christianity. However, his application to become a citizen of the State of Israel under the Right of Return was denied because it was determined by the Israeli government and the Israeli Supreme Court that you cannot be both a Catholic priest and a Jew. They are mutually exclusive. In other words, there is a recognition of certain circumstances under which one may lose his status as a Jew.
So when you raise the issue of Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme, it is A LIE to suggest that Bernie Madoff is a Jew. Who told you that? Sure, Bernie Madoff was a member of the Board of Trustees of Yeshiva University and the Chairman of the Board of YU’s Sy Syms School of Business. But those of us who lead a Toirah-True lifestyle know that YU is no more a Yeshiva than Britney Spears is a virgin. Yes, many Jewish organizations invested with Bernie Madoff due to personal connections though Jewish financiers, and lost millions in the process, but clearly Hakkadoshboruchhu was punishing them for investing money with a Goy. And of course many Jewish investors gave their money to Bernie Madoff in the belief that they could trust a “fellow Jew”. But let’s face it: the guy had a 55 foot yacht! Plus he played golf! That should have been a tip-off that he is really a Shaygitz.
So the bottom line here is that Bernie Madoff is NOT a Jew! He may have been one once, Ich Vais, but now he is Hitler’s younger brother. And to suggest otherwise makes you a Minuval Am Ha’aretz, you Ignoramus.
And I make this Halachic pronouncement with great conviction because, as everyone knows, there is absolutely nothing in our grand tradition that would offer even the slightest hint of support for the kind of immoral behavior exhibited by Madoff towards his fellow Jews. Sure, Yankif Avinu steals the birthright from his older brother. But Eisuv Harusha was a Schmendrick, so he got what he deserved. Sure, Yoisaiph Hatzadick aspired to and ultimately ruled over his older brothers. But he was simply fulfilling the will of the Aimishteh. Sure, Klal Yisroel settled Eretz Yisroel by occupying the land, expelling or putting under Cheyrem the indigenous Canaanite peoples. But they were Goyim, so who cares? Sure, the Shulchan Aruch, supported by the Mishnah Berurah and many contemporary Poiskim, forbids a Jewish Doctor from being Mechallel Shabbos to offer medical attention to a non-Jew. BUT HE’S A SHAYGITZ – There are lots of them!
No, there is absolutely NOTHING in our tradition that would sanction or even suggest that one may have license to steal and cheat, at least not from fellow members of Klal Yisroel, So Bernie Madoff is clearly a Goy. Unless, of course, his family is willing to make a major gift. In which case I would be happy to officiate at the Bar Mitzvah of his grandson in his medium security penitentiary.
Now, with regard to the economic status and solvency of Yeshivas Chipas Emmess, lest you worry, my young Talmud. Our endowment is fully under control. I personally oversee the Yeshiva’s portfolio strategy, using a diversified investment approach that I learned while sitting in the Bais Ha Keesay (much the same way as the RAMBAM learned medicine): Twice a year my Bashert Feige Breinah and I travel with the Yeshiva’s endowment to invest in multiple financial instruments in Las Vegas. And if there is extra time, we also take in a few shows.
Ah Gutten Shabbos, you minuval