Denouncing Wrongdoing

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19 Responses

  1. HILLEL says:

    While we should not justify what Abramoff did, we have an obligation to put his deeds in context–“He-ve dan es ha-adam lekaf ze’chus.”

    Abramoff is basically a decent person who stayed in Washington to long. He was corrupted by the easy-money, easy morals atmosphere of power and privilege that pervades the place.

    He convinced himself that it was O.K. to take the money of Indian gambling interests, since that money was not really legitimate earnings, anyway.

    We should also look at the issue of selective prosecution. Why was Abramoff singled-out for prosecution; who singled him out, and why?

    The answer, as you may realize, is that the left-wing press singled him out in order to use him as a tool to attack the Republican Party’s majority in the House of Representatives–scandal works in politics, as witness what just happened in Canada with the ousting of Liberal Party prime Minister paul Martin in the wake of financial scandal.

    Abramoff os being used as a tool to discredit Republicans in Congress who are simply doing what almost everone else does there–raise political funds by taking short cuts and catering to special-interest lobbyists.

    Abramoff assumed that he was not doing anything unusual, and, indeed, if not for the campaign against Bush and the Republicans by the left-wing media, he would have been allowed to continue.

    I personally think we are obligated to make these points, so that Abramoff will be seen in the correct context– a victim, not a predator.

  2. ori says:

    HILLEL is partially right. Since Abramoff has free will, I don’t think he can be viewed as a victim. However, the fact is that living in a corrupt community corrupts – that’s why when Abraham haggled with G-d for Sodom, he stopped at ten righteous men. If there aren’t nine other righteous families in a city, one shouldn’t live there.

    Staying too long in Washington politics is dangerous to one’s morals. We should probably recommend to people to avoid that.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Hillel, are your comments above based on specific facts you know about Abramoff’s thoughts and motivations or are they stated to be melamed zechut where you don’t know the specific facts? Also, do you believe that, in his position, you would have or could have acted as he did? (These actions include his decisions in choosing clients and lobbying methods)

  4. southern belle says:

    I am astounded. Hillel, Ori, are you for real?

  5. HILLEL says:

    I am not a close personal friend of Abramoff, but I know a number of people who are.

    Abramoff has championed many noble political causes for decades. He has given charity generously.

    As a volunteer worker for conservative Republicans, he made many important connections among up-and-coming conservative politicians who genuinely admired and respected him.

    It was just too easy to parlay these connections into lobbying for cash. This is what virtually everyone else does in Washington–former Senators and Congressmen become lobbyists, so do former generals and colonels.

    It is totally normal in Washington. There is no other way for politicians to raise the mega-millions needed to run a media-intensive poltical campaign in America today.

    Honest politicians, like Senator Tom Coburn, who is a practicing Gynecologist, are the exception, not the rule.

  6. David Klinghoffer says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein has responded eloquently and intelligently as always to an important question — but I must say, with respect, not yet the question I asked.

    I asked for a source giving us the obligation or permission to keep publicly reviling and humiliating a fellow Jew AFTER he has already confessed, repented, abased himself, apologized, and accepted a severe punishment. That is the case with Jack Abramoff. If I’m not mistaken, neither of the sources cited above addresses this set of circumstances. Cross-Currents, among other Jewish voices, was still categorizing JA as an “evildoer” almost 2 weeks after he publicly repented. Of course this was mild compared with the writings of another Orthodox rabbi, associated with the Edah, in the Jerusalem Post. Here is the relevant Washington Post article with the language of JA’s quite moving act of contrition:

    Well, I’ll keep waiting.

  7. EV says:

    Hillel says, “[Abramoff] convinced himself that it was O.K. to take the money of Indian gambling interests, since that money was not really legitimate earnings, anyway,” notes his charitable work, and further argues that Abramoff should be seen as “a victim and not a predator.”

    Please, these are shameful apologies for someone who took wrongful advantage (with glee if his emails are indicative) of people who only until recently have been able to keep their heads above water. This is not a case of a Robin Hood taking from the rich to give to the poor.

    I hail from West Texas, Tigua and Kickapoo Indian territory. Until gaming possibiities opened up, these were struggling communities, especially the Kickapoo who, until the last few years were about as poor as can be imagined. A community of hundreds lived landless, in cardboard huts and sharing a single spigot of water. Their rise from complete destitution to self-sufficiency has been compassionately related by the city manager of Eagle Pass here:

    What Hillel calls “not legitimate earnings” was the Kickapoo’s first real crack at making a living for themselves. I won’t exonerate the gambling industry, but if one goes by the city manager’s account, it could be argued that these Indians’ earnings were more legitimately gained than by what Abramoff stooped to.

  8. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Southern Belle,

    As far as I can tell, I’m real, and the views I express are my own. Of course, I could be a purely imaginary construct in somebody else’s mind / computer who thinks he is real. I can’t disprove that.


    You said: It is totally normal in Washington. There is no other way for politicians to raise the mega-millions needed to run a media-intensive poltical campaign in America today.

    That is precisely the reason why avoiding the profession of politics is a good idea for people who are corruptible. Very few people set out to be corrupt politicians, yet most of those who succeed end up there.

    We need some level of government, but probably less than what we have. If people trusted politicians less, expecting them to be corrupt, we’d be able to downsize it.

  9. Yitzchak Adlerstein says:

    David –

    And I thought you were going to give me a much harder time. Apparently you’ve conceded the argument, save for the fact that you think that JA has repented. I think you will have a difficult time sustaining your position. We’re talking about chilul Hashem here. The repentance of the wrongdoer does nothing to mitigate the chilul Hashem! How could it? (Perhaps this is part of the reason why the Gemara Yoma says that teshuva is ineffective for chilul Hashem.) Again, the point of any public criticism is not to punish. Punishment is not our business. Our job is to distance ourselves from the behavior. I completely agree with you that there is no need or justification to dwell upon the details concerning the wrongdoing. Our task is simply to say to whomever is looking at us critically “lo zu haderech” – this is not the way of Torah Judaism.

    Besides, even if repentance were an issue, it is something only G-d can factor in. Human beings can’t and don’t make it part of their equation. (See Maharal, Nesiv HaTeshuvah, chapter 2.) Those who do make this argument generally do so from within the thinking of a religion that spun off from Judaism quite a while ago.

  10. David Klinghoffer says:


    Actually I haven’t conceded anything.

    Before JA admitted guilt, I said let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Now that he’s admitted guilt and berated himself in public, I wondered what moral good there is in our continuing to berate him before the world. If this were a case of a convicted but unrepentant Jew, I would agree with Rabbi Adlerstein. But certainly in Torah, circumstances and precedents count for something, don’t they? I asked for something quite clear and simple, which was a Torah precedent for continuing to kick a fellow Jews after he’s already abased himself in public. Alas, you still haven’t given me a source or a precdent. If the case for kicking is so clear, why can’t you give me a source? I think I’ll leave it at this. Anyone who wants further information can see my articles in the Forward and the L.A. Jewish Journal, here:

  11. David Klinghoffer says:

    I would also ask, at what point does the total absence of empathy in the Jewish response to a repentant sinner itself become a chilul Hashem?

  12. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    The Talmud in Mo’eid Koton 16a discusses the laws of ‘nidui’ and ‘cherem,’ which are categories of excommunication. These laws are set out in Shulchon Oruch Y’D 334. The Rambam in 24 Sanhedrin 7 states that an essential purpose of this public objurgation is to educate the community as to the severity of the behavior. The Bayis Chodosh in Ch’M 2 states that there are two types of ‘cherem;’ one is imposed as a punishment, and the other primarily as an deterrent example. It is, therefore clear that the Talmud not only allows but also requires public condemnation both as punishment and as a lesson to the community. A deterrent is of little value (pace Peter Sellers) if it is not made public. I think that most would agree that a lesson that teaches both the evils and the dangers of chilul hashem is of vital importance.

  13. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    The concern about our heatlessness reminds me of a story I heard about Rav Aryeh Levin, known as the Tzadik of Yerushalayim, the Saint of Jerusalem. During the British Mandate, he often visited Jewish prisoners. An acquaintance once found that he was visiting a particularly vile inmate, and he asked R’ Aryeh, how can you show him any pity? The Rambam says about such people that it is “prohibited to have mercy on them!” R’ Aryeh answered, “what a pity on such a man, who is so lost that it is prohibited to have mercy on him. I must visit him more often.”

    I wouldn’t worry about “a total absence of empathy.” If anything, excessive empathy is one of our weaknesses.

  14. HILLEL says:

    David Klinghoffer is right.

    Abramoff has publicly repented. So why are we still beating him up?

    Because the left-wing media need him as a battering ram to destroy the Bush Preisdency and the Republican Congress. They will keep this issue alive till the next election.

    Why are we Orthodox Jews playing the role of “useful idiots” in this left-wing attack on the President and his party?

  15. Steve Brizel says:

    Hillel-Since when is Chillul HaShem excusable or even jsutifiable? Your comments would excuse many known past , present and future instances wherein our community should condemn, rather than rationalize such conduct, if taken to their logical conclusion. I think that we should have long ago dispensed
    with the view of blaming the messenger, rather than admitting the conduct in question was wrong.

  16. HILLEL says:


    I believe you misunderstood my comment.

    I did not excuse the behavior. I said that Abramoff had acknowledged his misbehavior and apologized, so why are we still beating up on him?

    I suggested that we are walking, mindlessly, in lock-step with the radical left-wing media, who seek to keep the issue alive as a club with which to beat-up the President and the Republican Congress.

    Is this prudent behavior on our part? What does this have to do with Chilum Hashem?

  17. 4jkb4ia says:

    Good post.

    Hillel, one corrupt lobbyist will not bring down the Republican Congress this year. It depends how many Congressmen can be tied to him. On (cough) Kos (cough) the issue has slightly moved on to the corruption of Blunt and Boehner, the two candidates for Majority Leader.

  18. HILLEL says:

    Dear 4J:

    One corrupt lobbyist will not bring down the Republican Congress, but 1,000 articles about the lobbyit will!

  19. greenBubble says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein
    I tihnk the concept that Chilul Hashem isn’t forgiven without death is a matter of Bain Adam LaMakom. However, it does return a person to a Cheskas Kashrus vis-a-vis his peers.

    The Gemara says that if you see a Tzadik sin at night, assume in the morning that he did Teshuvah and is again a Tzadik. The Gemara does not distinguish between Bain Adam LaMakom and Bein Adam Lachaveiro. If a person gives Kidushin on condition that he is a Tzadik, it is valid; we presume he did Teshuvah. If he stole, Hirhur Teshuva would not help. Ergo, you must distinguish btween forgiveness and being a Tzadik.

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