A Quick Response To Chillul Hashem

The statement by the Lakewood Vaad came quickly, and expressed succinctly and effectively what had to be said.

“We are saddened beyond words by the arrests of seven couples in our town. As firm believers in the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ we suspend judgment until the disposition of these charges, and are comforted knowing that our judicial system is an able arbiter of justice.

“Regardless of the outcomes of these cases, we have, in our view, a valuable teaching moment that cannot be wasted.

“There is no such a thing as “justified” theft. Federal and State social safety-net programs are meant for those in need, even those in need have rules and criteria that must be strictly followed. To deliberately bend a safety-net eligibility rule is stealing, no different than stealing from your friend or neighbor.

“We would all do well to redouble and triple our efforts in our communities, reminding each and every one of us that there is never any excuse for dishonesty in any form. Let us take this moment to speak openly of these matters, from the pulpit, in the classroom, and by parents at the dinner table, so that this tragic but necessary learning moment is not lost.

“In the days ahead we will help launch a set of intensive educational programs that can ensure that such does not happen again, and will invite the public to participate in these timely programs.”

Not much needs to be added to this. So many have requested/demanded that Cross-Currents weigh in on this, that we will permit ourselves a few thoughts.

We join in cautioning against jumping to conclusions about the extent of these alleged abuses, and the mind sets of those who allegedly took part in them.

We join the many who unequivocally condemn the alleged behavior. And yes, we will say it. Compromising the gift of emes l’Yaakov is as much an assault on our mesorah as the adventurism of OO and the Orthodox far-left. So is a slow descent into too much of a preoccupation with materialism, which snuffs out the ruchniyus from an otherwise Torah lifestyle.

We can speculate about financial abuse in general. We could quickly identify three different paths to failure.

  • There are always those who spot an opportunity to make a quick buck, and grab it. No single ethnic, religious, social and economic has a monopoly on these opportunists. You will find them everywhere. In a perfect world, we should not find them at all among Torah Jews. Realistically, they will persist until moshiach wins them over. They are not an indictment against the rest of us.
  • An altogether different group that succumbs to the temptation to defraud is composed of those who try, but cannot make ends meet. They find ways to rationalize their theft, because they feel boxed in and suffocated. Educational programs about yashrus will not ease their suffocation. Families with many children and less than adequate income (sometimes because of underemployment) can conceivably be more prone to this. There is plenty of room for optimism regarding this group in the Torah world. New programs (like Agudah’s PCS) provide training in a variety of vocations to young men transitioning out of kollel into the marketplace. These programs will have a real impact on easing desperation, by giving families a shot at an adequate parnassah. There has been a sea-change in attitude towards these programs in recent years. We hope that they will continue to fine-tune their activity by realistically assessing where the jobs will be ten yours from now.
  • Isolationism Some people have been taught, and continue to live with, fairy tales concerning anything outside their bubble. They see themselves as the last decent people on the face of the planet. While they would not steal from them individually, the amorphous and faceless behemoths we call governments elicit their contempt as the corporate face of the less worthy. They have no conceptual way of respecting man-made laws, because of their preoccupation for G-d’s laws. Evading the demands of man-made law then can become in the minds of some a privilege of those smarter and better, which they believe themselves to be. For centuries, it was a necessary survival tool for Jews surrounded by powerful anti-Semitic neighbors. In short, they have not changed much in attitude since the days of Czar Nicholas.

Most people – at least on this side of the Atlantic – discarded these beliefs a long time ago. (You will find evidence of this if you go to the comments on some of the frum sites that have carried the story of the arrests. You will find some comments so stupid, ill-informed, and of contorted logic, that they make contributors to the alt-right look like paragons of sagacity. But you will also find more straight-shooters, who find the behavior of some of their friends to be repugnant.)

We wish we could announce their disappearance from parts of our community. I believe that the single most important reason for the continuation of their attitudes is cultural isolation. Those who have spent considerable time with our non-Jewish neighbors can spot their weaknesses. But they can also speak of their considerable strengths. They know that many, many of their neighbors are of strong character, do much good, and are not at all anti-Semitic. In short, they have learned to respect others by getting to know them. Through this, they have learned to respect their laws, and the fabric that holds our society together. They no longer see themselves as entitled above and beyond everyone else. They have been mugged by reality, and no longer believe what they may have been taught in their culturally isolated youth. They do not believe that the entire world is some Jewish version of the Hunger Games, in which they will survive against the dangerous “other” only by outsmarting the people who run it.

Because there simply are no more communities hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world – even where smartphones are banned – time will cure what ails this group as well.

Where does that leave the rest of us? The small theft by Achan was held against the entire people. The baalei mussar explain that while it was true that no one else succumbed to the temptations to help themselves to the spoils of war, they were still to blame. Social pressure can become so overwhelming, that the individual cannot resist it. Had the people developed a near-palpable loathing for violating Hashem’s ban on taking spoils, Achan would not have acted contrary to it. Because their resolve was weak, Achan could do his own thing – but they were seen as complicit.

Our job is to be more articulate, more forceful, and more vocal in creating a community in which all forms of lack of yashrus lead to a social disapproval that leaves less room for mavericks to do their own thing.

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69 Responses

  1. Shmuel W says:

    Yasher Koach Well said.

  2. mb says:

    Good luck with that!

    We’ve been through this too many times.

    I suspect very little of the stealing, fraud, thievery etc. is done by the poor, nor because of their circumstances. It’s the wealthier ones.

  3. dr. bill says:

    granted that what is occurring is a chillul hashem.  however, in my mind, everyone was aware of a variety of “questionable” practices that are widespread, yes i said widespread, in various jewish communities from lakewood to the 5 towns.  Rabbis of BOTH communities attended celebrations when felons were released from jail.  that this brings about the need to expound on the aleph beit of halakhic behavior is a much more significant issue.

    • Mycroft says:

      I’ll go even further than Dr Bill. Unfortunately things have changed in the past  60-70 years or so. For better or worse then it was assumed by law enforcement that a frum Jew was very unlikely to be an avaryon. Sadly about 40-60 years ago things changed perception which at least then sadly reflects reality is that frum communities are a bunch of people whose word can’t be trusted. Examples wo even getting in to crimes are that frum mosdos when applying for variances state things they have no intention of keeping, parking, pick up of children, what is beginning to happen that authorities are getting smart and saying follow the building code.

      of course, it is no secret that financial crimes are not unheard of in the frum community, many times  it is strictly for personal benefit, sometimes joint benefit both the mosdos and private individuals get huge money from outright theft, money laundering etc what has changed somewhat in the past few decades is that the uthorities used to be satisfied going after the accountants, bookkeepers and keep the fiction that top people aren’t involved, recently they have begun to charge the real beneficiaries who took money from the schemes.

      The problem won’t begin to be solved until being yo sheer is considered important activity rather than one for suckers. Pro forma statements after arrests are meaningless nobody believes them. Unfortunately, many of us can see that if someone gets caught there is no stigma attached in frum communities. If  one would eat a cheeseburger in McDonalds no one would give the person analiyses,

      Sadly there is equal opportunity avaryanim in both the frum and MO communities. It seems that no one is concerned. Remember in any situation the chances of getting caught and indicted are relatively small. The reason why white collar crime in US has draconian penalties, not so much to prevent individual from sinning more but since the odds of getting are high to make felons calculus more likely not to commit crime in the first place.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        It is important to note that Mycroft mentioned “… parking, pick up of children, [and] follow[ing] the building code”, all too often such laws have been used as a clearly false and pretextual means of erecting unconstitutional obstacles to free exercise of religion and  saying Not In My Back Yard when communities seek to build yeshivos, mikvaos and eruvin., with the NIMBY reaction often being led by the secular Jewish community. Such a reaction is often a not so nice way of saying we don’t want our community to turn into community X.

      • Mycroft says:

        Sometimes reason, but all too often that is not the reason, I live not far from an institution, and it is not rare that people park blocking people’s driveways, parking at corners, double parking, seen children routinely walk through neighbors yards as shortcuts. It may sometimes be the intent that you mention, I assume all eruv cases. I know the boundary of the eruv and I most times can’t see it, but there are very legitimate reasons why neighbors could be opposed. It is all part of same syndrome of I am Gods elect, you’re not thus I have a right to act that way. I am not saying that most people act that way, most do not, but enough do to have the impact of an institution affecting neighbors lives. It is usually not a pretext argument

      • Steve Brizel says:

        The arguments of those who oppose eruvin yeshivos etc were aptly depicted in Phillip Roths Eli the Fanatic.scrape away the niceties of legal documents and one can see that Roth summarized the self hating American Jew quite well.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        There is nothing that irks a secular Jew as much as the development of strong. Torah committed institutions and communities that he thought lived an exotic lifestyle more suited to a museum than in the leafy suburbs of the US.

      • Mycroft says:

        I live near a one of those institutions and am not a self hating Jew, know what it is like. For about 17 years my parents lived right next to a parking lot of a schul. Nothing was more likely to see how what are you saying is wrong when we’d hear at 100 am cars honking each other. It is not merely yo ur bogeyman of self hating Jews who would not want an institution moving there.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        If a person blocks a driveway and parks illegally, the driver deserves a ticket. I can’t believe that the average neighbor in your neighborhood would be upset at a kid taking a shortcut to go to shul. I don’t see how tyhat can remotely affect your life. If you live next door to a shul in your neighborhood, it is akin to living on a commercial street-you may very well have a lower resale value and less expectations of privacy. I stand by my comments as to those who invoke NIMBY as an argument against building eruvin yeshivos and shuls. Court opinions are quite apt at dissecting pretextual arguments.

      • Mycroft says:

        I live by near a school, schul is essentially renting space from school.
        It may surprise you there are things called sidewalks. The school has expanded greatly since I moved in. It has made applications stating for example they would use property for parking bad bus pickup, similar to what local public schools do and per zoning. They never applied for variances. Apparently they wanted another expansion and apparently I am relying on a Rebbe there who told me that got turned down, first do what you promised to do..
        I would say that this institutin has become much less brazen since founding family is less involved. Steve commercial street Parkersburg must obey laws. Frankly, it is less a problem now for me since their HS moved away, elementary and JHS don’t have kids at midnight routinely meeting in their cars as a center.
        You try and repeat the talking points but don’t you believe that people going to a Jewish institution should obey laws.
        A true story a while back the institution apparently told children don’t bring your bikes and lock on school property, of course children locked them on neighbors property. If the school had said don’t drive your bikes to school fine, but no just don’t park at school. It went on for months and known to everyone until school put a bike parking on premises. Nobody minds when schools behave, but it is known and my institution is far from the only one that acts that way.Nobody cares.
        It may surprise you that non religious neighbors and non Jews bend over backwards before reporting things, but you keep on sprouting that it is anti semitism ,anti religion to have people in their houses be treated with respect

  4. Alexandra Fleksher says:

    Thank you from “the rest of us.” While your piece about cultural isolationism resonates with me when it comes to right wing communities,  we know this problem also, especially of late, rears its ugly head in MO circles with wealthy and wordly individuals. So we see it two ways. How would you address this second manifestation?

    My take is that materialism is a value, whether realized or not, in both the yeshivish and MO world. Us Jews want the best of the best…maybe davka because we are the am hanivchar.

    My observation is in culturally isolated communities, the pressure to keep up with the Cohen’s is great…you gotta dress your kids and yourself the way the local frum stores show you to or else you won’t fit in. And those stores charge an arm and a leg and will continue to bring in the most expensive styles from Europe because we will continue to buy them for our children because we feel a pressure to conform. Everyone does it. Why look and be different, especially when individuality is not a characteristic positively looked upon in such circles? So then a family has 7 kids and you do the math. Oh, and it is expected to update each season, especially when it comes to Yom tov. And then as the kids get older, we need to marry them off and support…how is this sustainable? The expectations are overwhelming.

    I am extremely concerned about the financial pressures of frum living in all orthodox communities, even for well-educated and well-employed individuals.

    Side by side to the chillul Hashem factor, there is another damaging aspect to this most recent news, and that is how it affects frum people. I want to yell from the rooftops that we were educated yeshivish community where the rabbeim would never tolerate this and have been outspoken for years about the danger of relying on government programs! People are so turned off from this incident and it paints people who associate with the black hat community in the most unfavorable light. I want to tell people not to judge, but it is so challenging when we know this is a prevalent attitude in this particular makom Torah. Whether these crimes were due to desperation to feed ones family or greed, everyone is turned off by hypocrisy.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Great column and very astute response.



    • dr. bill says:

      i agree with you that this afflicts the MO community.  However, there are a number of differences.  First, like abuse, in MO communities there is a cadre of rabbinic leaders who have very publicly addressed the issue.  Second, as you note in MO communities it tends to occur among more wealthy people.  I would also note that this is more likely among businessmen versus professionals.  of course, professionals, are much more prevalent in MO communities.  Frankly, lawyers, doctors, scientists, etc., particularly the very successful, are rarely among the perpetrators.  Third, and the most hypothetical and, if true, most troubling, are the percentages.  The word “widespread” is rarely used with respect to MO communities; there the typical issues that are mentioned are of a more bein adom la’Makom nature.

      The one thing I heard at a MO Rabbi’s drasha is a non-yiddish speaker breaking his teeth trying say the old litvishe adage – “de galach iz frum, a yid darf Zein ehrliche.”  halevi, those to whom yiddish is mama loshen, would take that to heart.

      • Mycroft says:

        Actions must be consistent with speech. Can think of one famous RY who came for a Shabbos weekend sponsored by the family someone who died in prison serving a multi year sentence for fraud. The family had money so could pay for Memorial Shabbos in memory of individual. Far worse story an individual who is among other things a Rabbi after this persons ptirah in a Davar Torah referred to the individual as Zechor zaddik livracha, I and many others would have had no problem with referring to the individual by AH, or ZL but ZTL. It shows an example in our MO community that fiscal integrity is not treated seriously. It is inconceivable if the  individual ate treif or did not learn that he would have been identified as ZTL.

        In fairness the Rav and his family were shocked a  a few decades ago  when the big nursing home scandal involving a major Mizrachi  figure.  it is not sufficient to make pro forma statements about honesty, it has to show in actions.

      • mycroft says:

        “of course, professionals, are much more prevalent in MO communities.  Frankly, lawyers, doctors, scientists, etc., particularly the very successful, are rarely among the perpetrators.”

        Not  that they are necessarily intrinsically more honest. I have gone to an internet who committed suicide because he apparently was under investigation for medicare fraud, went to a dentist who was convicted of groping women under examination.   Lawyers     face disbarment for things such as “borrowing”  from a trust account .I have a read a memoir of someone                   who started as a lawyer                    disbarred      for  trust account    became famous for    something else but complaint that people   reported activities to authorities.

  5. Reuven says:

    Yeyasher kochacha, R’ Adlerstein.  I think a separate post is deserved dealing with the second issue you brought: financial problems.

    Money is relevant even to people who try to devote themselves entirely to ruchani lives.  It is an inescapable truth of the world all of us live in that necessities of life cost money.  Materialism certainly is a tremendous disease, and it plagues the Modern Orthodox communities I am familiar with.  However, as an outside observer I see parts of the more charedi world seem to disregard money as a limiting factor in planning elements of their lives.  To give one example, raising children, while unbelievably positive, is incredibly expensive. Raising children in frum environments where food is more expensive and school is not paid for by the government is even more difficult, even for people with a substantive income. And each potential member of klal Yisrael has an unbelievable amount to contribute, but also comes with a substantial price.


    Life is expensive. How one person chooses to live his life is that person’s decision. But it is wrong for that person to act in a way that will place other people around him in damaging positions, including monetarily. Whether he has no parnassah and expects others to support him (without asking first), or even with an income he chooses to take on burdens that he cannot expect to support on his own.


    I hope that the editors find the topic of treating money seriously a relevant one to discuss in future columns.

    • Mycroft says:

      Agreed with caveat the Orthodox leaders who earn above average incomes should not telling people who earn much less how to spend their money.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    By teaching and by personal example, all levels of the Jewish leadership and educational system need to communicate what is and what is not a proper way to support a Jewish family. Social pressure within our communities to live extravagantly should be made to vanish.   These things should be not just momentary public campaigns but part of our basic preparation for life.

    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      Unfortunately we teach ’em young about lifestyle choices and economics. We teach our  young daughters that dressing tsnius means dressing head to toe in the best, even during the week, as well as our little boys (Shabbos black pants and white shirts is so out of style for little boys under a certain age). As a member of this community once explained to me, an extracurricular activity of teens, both boys and girls, is shopping…since that’s a kosher activity. We teach young couples that when they get married they can typically expect to be provided with furnishings for their new apartment and financial support or help. We teach young married women that they can have diamond jewelry that their mothers still don’t have. We teach young mothers that they too, like so many of the rest of their friends in kollel, can get the expected $1300 Bugaboo stroller. Yes, we teach them alot about how finances work in the real world. Expectations and entitlement is one of the roots of the problem. *Of course there are many exceptions but what I have described is what is trending in this particular part of Orthodoxy.*

      • Bob Miller says:

        How can we have so much money for fluff and still have problems training and paying teachers appropriately?   One measure of a true leader today is the ability to move us toward modesty in every sense.

  7. ek says:

    You mention:

    Families with many children and less than adequate income (sometimes because of underemployment) can conceivably be more prone to this. 

    Unfortunately, the reality is that it takes an awful lot of money to support a large family, particularly a Jewish family (particularly with respect to food and education). Blaming “underemployment” simply ignores the fact that many well-meaning Jews have larger families than they can realistically support given their earning potential.

    The topic of whether pru u’rvu overrides fiscal responsibility cannot be well discussed in blog comments, so I’m avoiding that here. I simply want to call out that the parenthetical comment above—”because of unemployment”—is so simplistic, and paints Rav Alderstein as being so naive, that it probably would have been best left out.

    • Mycroft says:

      Many people could not afford an Orthodox lifestyle if they had two children and never took a vacation, drove old cars,etc

  8. CJ Srullowitz says:

    Respectfully, you continue to miss the forest for the trees. This is a systemic issue. The continued denial of limudei chol to the general population creates an entire community where the overwhelming majority enter the workforce unqualified to find jobs that provide incomes to match the spending needs and habits of that community. We have created a “mah yaaseh haben” situation.

    This is not about the fraud of individuals; this isn’t even about a “mi’ut hamotzui”; this is about an entire philosophy that is opposed to Torah im Derech Eretz. That philosophy is untenable, per the Gemara: “Harbei asu velo alsa beyadam.”

    This was one of the worst weeks of my life. I am embarrassed for our people.

    • Dr. E says:


      I think you nailed it as being a systemic issue.  While this past week was a bad week for you, the upcoming week will be worse.  That is because the damage control will be even more disturbing.  It will feature radio appearances and similar proclamations of this behavior being condemned and that this is marginalized to a few bad apples.  You will probably also hear of a new round of shiurim on Business Halacha and Dinei D’Malchusa.  That seems to happen every few years as a cosmetic fix.

      But here, it is merely a behavioral manifestation of a prevalent attitude of elitism and entitlement.  The new “thing” in the Yeshiva Velt is the promotion of Mesivtas which have no Secular Studies, under the pretense that this will “produce the Gedolim of the next generation…”.  Ironically, that too is contrary the law of the land.  But that is now the sacrosanct standards, for which I will not be holding my breath for any curriculum change there.  Such and similar high schools will of course contribute to to the lack of viable and on-the-books dual-income professional opportunities needed to sustain the local lifestyle, in a way that will not resort to playing shtick.

      What irony is it for a community in which women’s photos cannot appear in ads for Yeshiva Dinners, and yet now are prominently online for all to see as their mug shots.  I also heard that they were seen covering up their jailhouse administered pants with towels, lest anyone should see them in such immodest attire.  I guess that preventing such a violation of tzniyus is of paramount priority in this narrative.

      A sad week indeed.

  9. Truth says:

    ” Families with many children and less than adequate income (sometimes because of underemployment) can conceivably be more prone to this. There is plenty of room for optimism regarding this group in the Torah world. New programs (like Agudah’s PCS) provide training in a variety of vocations to young men transitioning out of kollel into the marketplace. These programs will have a real impact on easing desperation, by giving families a shot at an adequate parnassah.”


    Unfortunately, this is quite an oversimplification. The truth is that a large family on government programs, in which the father gets training as an accountant from Agudah PCS and gets a starting salary of 50k-60k, loses 25% to taxes and loses all their program benefits, often ends up in a worse financial situation than that in which they started.

    • anonymous says:

      The idea is that this is a starting salary and ultimately, with their earning potential, they’ll catch up.

      The problem is that there are many people who are not keeping up with the Cohenses, who will make takanos weddings, who will only send a child to seminary because with MASA and other grants, and seminary scholarships, it doesn’t cost much more than 12th grade, who will not get their daughters in law cubic zirconia but will avail themselves of a reasonable package their local jeweler makes, who will not support their kids after marriage, who laugh at the thought of matching their kids, who drive “yeshivishe” cars, who live in small houses (have I covered all the bases?) who are still struggling.

      These people do not qualify for anything (again, thank Gd MASA and the Federation work on different algorithms than Pell and the government programs) but are struggling. Legally, above board, but struggling.

      • Mycroft says:

        The sad prides is that people rely on anecdotal stories about progression of income,  by the very nature of the pyramid do not reach anywhere near incomes that school reputations are made of.. It is not just Jewish organizations that play the game. Over forty years ago while in grad school I was somewhat involved in design of a study to compare earnings of grads of the two schools in Cambridge Ma.The purported purpose of the study was to compare earnings of various of ethnic groups by sex. The study showed that over a five year period after graduation median female and black salaries were marginally higher than male and white salaries. However, the most interesting finding was that salaries were not nearly the level listed by the two schools placement offices. They cut off reporting early which of course gives you higher figures etc.

  10. joel rich says:

    Interesting question-do the statements from leadership indicate that they were unaware of something that is claimed to be widespread? If so how does that inform on the abioity to lead?

    or perhaps Captain Renault was modeling something with: I am shocked- shocked– to find that gambling is going on in here!


  11. Mycroft says:

    Even a small family of two children is not affordable for MO at median US income.  I’m looking forward to a pro forma schedule of income and expenses showing how it will work for a famil wth two children family income $50,000.

  12. Raymond says:

    I do not know the circumstances of the incident being referred to above, but what I can say here is that I am reminded of an expression somewhere in our tradition that says something along the lines of “A father who does not teach his son a trade, is teaching his son to be a thief.”  In some religious Jewish circles, so much emphasis is put on Talmudic study, that the religious students are not getting the proper secular education nor developing the work skills that would help lead them to getting steady, full-time employment.  While there are no guarantees in life, having such steady employment probably significantly decreases the temptation to steal anything from anybody.  It has the much-needed added bonus of increasing respect for us Jews in the eyes of the world.

    • nt says:

      end of Maseches Kiddushin. Iggeres Hamussar of R’ Yisroel Salanter also worth a look vis a vis this topic.

  13. SA says:

    I hope those reading the news reports didn’t miss this statement by the Ocean County Prosecutor:
    Prosecutor Coronato stated, “Financial assistance programs are designed to alleviate family hardships for those truly in need.  **My office gave clear guidance and notice to the Lakewood community in 2015 of what is considered financial abuse of these programs.***  Those who choose to ignore those warnings by seeking to illegally profit on the backs of taxpayers will pay the punitive price of their actions.”
    Not only did community leaders know, they were warned. And now they are going to “launch a set of intensive educational programs?”
    What part of “lo tignov” is so hard to understand?

  14. Eve says:

    The problem is not new but I think a strong message has to go out to the schools and Mosdot “Torah” that teach the kids that is ok to lie to the government.  I remember when our school made all the kids line up to get free hot lunch on the day that the inspectors came.   We were explained that the school gets money for providing free hot lunches, But  we students all knew that  the hot lunch program wasnt free .   The school wasnt even embarrassed.  Their explanation was that kosher meals were more expensive and they couldnt feed us on the programs stipends so they had to lie.   And what message did they send the students?

  15. Ezri Silver says:

    Bravo on an excellent article which was clearly articulate and encompassing of a clearly community fracturing problem.

    Nevertheless, I would take the conclusions and suggestions to creating further social pressures – essentially setting boundaries around the essence of the mitzvah sheh’lo’tah’aseh and also propose a chidush – that we educate our children more in line with the teachings common to Perkei Avot which help direct one on how to know another.  Judging with merit, having discipline, reinforcing a traditional family which is both passionate for learning and productive in society.

    We commonly forgot – either out of embarrassment or lack of sophistication – that we were a nation of farmers, agrarian scientists if you will.  The balance between our religious government was well proportioned by being the first generation and having the defined tribal system based upon whichever 12 sons of Yaakov one was descended from.  Essentially, these tribes were large extended families (initially they had been smaller families).   As we have lost our sense of pride in our families themselves and latched on solely to the Beit Medrish or Bet Kenesset as well as a Rav or Rebbe, we have forgotten to balance that which truly reflects on how much each of us is a true yirat shamayim – the quality of life and happiness of our families and the honest effort of knowing that there is as much honor (if not more) in not only learning and/or teaching Torah for a living but in living in the essence of our forefathers who worked the fields with beasts of burden – to earn parnassah like the American saying goes, “on an honest day’s work.”

  16. KM says:

    I am glad to be able to say that I live in a community here in America that these types of alleged occurrences are rare, maybe even non-existent.  And there are other communities like mine around the country.  Communities where you don’t feel embarrassed wearing an old hat, having very basic home furniture, and serving sheet-cake-plus for a Kiddush.  Communities where most people work to live, and not live to work (unless they “live to work” on their Middos, or attaining more Ruchanius, and the like).

    • abraham bukspan says:

      Beautiful! BTW what city?

      • KM says:

        I’d rather not specify it so as to not open the door for Avak Loshon Hora (speaking good about something and causing others to say “But in reality…”).  And I think I may have overstated the fact that “most people work to live”, I should have said that “a large portion of the community work to live and not live to work”.  But I still stick to the fact that here I am not embarrassed of “wearing an old hat, having very basic home furniture, and serving sheet-cake-plus for a Kiddush”.

  17. David Ohsie says:

    This is a great post which leads to the following question:

    What do we say about the fact that the “typical” Kollel path includes avoiding civil marriage in order to optimize eligibility for social service programs — programs that were ostensibly designed for families that are trying their best to support themselves, but can’t?

    Arguably, this is just taking advantage of what support is available, but it seems to me that this leads problems in two ways:

    1) It teaches that it is OK to try to game the system.

    2) It shields the couple from the fact that they are already starting to fall behind financially and might want to do a course correction.

    • Truth says:

      “What do we say about the fact that the “typical” Kollel path includes avoiding civil marriage in order to optimize eligibility for social service programs”

      I’m not sure but I think this might be an urban legend. I’m not aware of any social service program that distinguishes based on whether there is a civil marriage or not. Care to provide details and a specific source to the laws or regulations that makes such a distinction?

      • David Ohsie says:

        I don’t think that it is an urban legend.   Any means-tested program is going to be affected by marriage since the combined income of the husband and wife will be considered.  I know that this is not an unbiased resource, but this report tries to study the degree to which marriage is discouraged by medicaid and other means-tested programs.  One of their proposals is to raise the income threshold for married couples. https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/IFS-HomeEconReport-2016-Final-072616.pdf

        However, I asked my daughter who went through this and she said that Kollel couples are typically poor enough to fit into the various income thresholds even while married.  So I agree that I probably overstated that aspect of the issue.

        The question remains is whether encouraging people to get married and have kids and not work knowing they will be relying on various programs designed for people who can’t make enough to support themselves.  That is not as egregious of a gaming as avoiding civil marriage, but it is an issue.  The shielding issue may be more important.

  18. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that what we saw this week was the result of a congruence of factors that I would characterize as participating in illegal acts to maintain the lifestyle described by other posters. Machiavelli described it as the end justifying the means . The bottom line remains that until the learner earner is values as someone who has the externals of a learner but who has not assimilated at all what it means to lice an ethically proper life we will continue to see and require special a.c. omodatiins in minimum security prisons for those members of our community who game the system no matter their community of origin.

  19. Steve Brizel says:

    A head of a prominent girls school was convicted of using special ed funds improperly. AFAIK this individual will be incarcerated. I was once invited to a Shabbos meal at the home of the person that Mycroft referred to on the UWS. I declined that invitation with no regrets . the Chilul HaShem as RHS has stressed on numerous times is the conduct that leads to the perp walk and the photos that look like deer frozen by a cars headlights but not the perp walk and not the photos that anyone on an Iphone can see and talk about. We live in an age where such individuals in our communities simply have confused the consequences of their actions with the actions that were committed in the first place. We all have to underscore the fact that Dina Dmalchusa Dina is a halachs with her important halachic ramifications as opposed to bring merely another wonderful sugya to which we are learning or trying to developer a chidfush.





  20. Shades of Gray says:

    “An altogether different group that succumbs to the temptation to defraud is composed of those who try, but cannot make ends meet. ”

    Duvi Honig, of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, was quoted in this regard that “The pressure of the community overhead — especially the (cost of) private schooling — is unsustainable,” he said. “People are forced to find ways to bend the system.”

    (Honig himself is involved in networking initiatives helping people find jobs.)

  21. Steve Brizel says:

    If you read the Yates on a weekly basis you will see that there many programs geared for the avrech who has realized that it is time to go to work and many kollel broker and week progesms designed for the learner earner. It is a tragedy of no small proportions that on Tisha Bav that they is a need for shiurim  and showings of the CC Heritage Foundation videos in Otisville NY solely for the members of the Torah observant community who are incarcerated in that Federal minimim security prison for white collar crimes. It is an ironic comment but in one yeshivishe community  when someone’s tatte is in Otisville for the above reasons reference is made to the opening verse of Tehilim 91.




  22. Steve Brizel says:

    When all is said and done and the headlines have receded IMO to use a phrase that should not be viewed as a cliche we all should think about draining some small portion of the swamp in our communities. I think that elevation of the learner earner who works hard in his career and uses as much of his spare time no matter when and where to be kovea itim laTorah should be viewed as a lchtachilah which would even satisfy the famous comment of R Baruch Ber ZL in his teshuvah to R Scwalb ZL in which R Baruch Ber ZL defined the mitzvah of Talmud Torah as incumbent on all men at all times to the best of their abilities. Viewing the learner earner as at best s bdieved option is part of the problem.as well.

    • Mycroft says:

      it might surprise people but I believe on both counts I agree with Steve. Emphasis should be on everyone’s free time- do they spend time learning. I remember an MO Rabbi on the UWS  stating that he was shocked he has hundreds of people for minyanim and less than ten for shiur before Mincha. He had even a smaller class during nighttime during week. He wasn’t judging any individual but he raised questions wha is Orthodoxy if free time,not getting work vs learning vs family obligations but free time if learning is not a major part of it what does it mean,  After that lived in a community which is not associated as modern,many people in my schul wear black hats especially younger, but interesting their minyan and shiur attendance is less than some f those like me who don’t own a black hat,


      • Steve Brizel says:

        The  learner/earner is by no means confined to someone who attends a shiur in shul. Both you and Dr Bill and many other posters here would easily fit the definition of a learner/earner-someone who maximizes as much of his spare time as possible in Limud HaTorah. I think that I saw in the name of R Chaim Shmuelevitz ZL that such a person has a far greater Kiyum in Talmud Torah than someone  whon is supposed to be learning at a high level but who sits around a coffee room in a Beis Medrash engaging in Bitul Zman, wondering about the stock market and the like.

      • Mycroft says:

        Thanks. I have thought often that a lot of disputes revolve around miziut questions. What works? My perspective and understanding of the facts is different than yours, but I would bet that we both hope for essentially the same thing. Sadly disputes over methods often escalate with charges that force response. As I have written over the years that I know you believe everything you write. In fact if people had the pleasure that I  will now discuss once you disclosed we know each other had of probably for many years eating lunch with you very often and davening the same mincha even more frequently would know that your writings reflect not only your advocacy but what you practice.

        My goal is to maximize learning time. Except for constant shanyimmyshnayim mikra ve Chad Targum, it changes depending on random factors. It can even be an issue raised in a blog / news which will lead me to a new topic.Nobody in the world knows everything, many know infinitely more than I do- Dr Bill just an expression I recognize the problem.

        Your quotation about Beis Medrash from Rav Chaim Shmulevitz is similar in idea to something the Rav once said about learning.

  23. lacosta says:


    for the take of an insider in the system and his view on the matter , see


    a recent Headlines program featured a prominent israeli rabbi contending that one should not talk much about how the haredi [and especially hareili ] community manages to ‘make it’ , because it’s miraculous , which only works if there is no scrutiny…  unfortunately , episodes such as Lakewood make scrutiny inevitable .

    I wonder if any business school or economics dept has tried to create an economic system based on current haredi life-mode that is even remotely feasible….


    • Steve Brizel says:

      An economic system that runs on Gmachim and grandparents of the year simply cannot be analyzed by a business school or economics department because the modus operandi of any such community cannot be compared to the normal modus operandi of any corporate structure.

  24. lacosta says:

    dear RYA-

    must disagree with your line of reasoning about closed hassidic communities. societies which are nearly hermetic, and rule by fiat punishing even to the point of death , as is the case in hassidic village communities , don’t see any hope for a change in perception of the Other, since they can’t even tolerate their eigene Other…


  25. micha berger says:

    I think our framing this problem in terms of the consequent chilul hasheim is part of the malady. Numerous tannaim framed the mission of the Torah as turning us into the kind of people who are more capable of behaving morally and ethically. Whether it’s Hillel telling the convert, “That which you loathe, do not do to others. That is the whole of the Torah. Now go and study!” Or Rabbi Aqiva saying “Love your peer as yourself” is the primary principle of the Torah, or Ben Azzai saying it’s the more universalist, “These are the generations of Adam”.

    In the introduction to Nefesh haChaim, Rav Yitzchaq Volozhiner reports that his father, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, founder of the Lithuanian Yeshiva and Mussar movements,  “would routinely rebuke me because he was that I do not share in the pain of others. This is what he would constantly tell me: that the entire person was not created for himself, but to be of assistance to others, whatever he finds to be in his ability to do.”

    A person was created to be of assistance to others. This is what it means to come close to and emulate the Divine — “just as He is [called] Compassionate, so too should you be compassionate; just as He is [called] Gracious, so too should you be gracious.”

    If we worry about chilul hasheim, it means that we dismiss all of the above as platitudes, and do not sufficiently value how we treat others.

    We need to reverse the mistake of focusing on “frumkeit” (see Rav Wolbe zt”l’s description of its dangers, at <a href=http://www.aishdas.org/as/frumkeit.pdf>Alei Shur vol II, pp 152-155</a>), and return to the days when being a good Jew was being “an ehrlicher yid”.

    As this incident indicates: For too many of us, we have the tools of Torah and Mitzvos that Hashem revealed to Moshe, but we forgot the beautiful blueprint of what it is we’re supposed to be building with them!

    And we have to adapt our shuls and schools to get us refocused on our goals.

    • lacosta says:

      i think r micha minimizes the consequences of the post-war philosophy that the haredi world must remain in tora full time with  no regard to financial realities. the price for this is perpetual war between hiloni-hareili [‘parazitim’] in israel , and financial finagling to use public resources in USA , to an extent that we would be quick to condemn if it were any other ethnic group…

      • micha berger says:

        It’s a hard issue to emphasize in this case, since the accused are wealthy. There are secondary effects — cutting corners in fiscal ethics when needed will wear down our sense that it really is assur, and therefore impact such ethics even when not needed.

        There are also other issues involved, To prevent assimilation, ie to encourage thinking as per the Torah, we are teaching the strategy of having strong communal walls, reinforced by having our own dialect, our own clothing fashions, only having friends within the community, etc… While this message ought to be very different than “they are bad”, “they are the enemy”, that’s a more subtle distinction than can be supported via the coarse emotional education one gets through absorption through communal culture. Add to that a history of living under governments that actually were adversarial, so that acknowledging today’s reality requires cultural change in addition to a (comparative) subtlety, and it’s just not going to happen.

        But if a leading cause is that Orthodox communal culture is drifting off the derekh, these other matters take a backseat.

      • Mycroft says:

        Is it not possible hat some people may go OTD precisely because they feel that religion has become an excuse for us vs the whole world.

        BTW our relations with people of other religions is a very complex matter during the past 2000 years. It has not been by a long shot a constant persecutin by others, on the other hand there has been much persecution.

        I have been very much influence in this matter by Salo Baron and his  viewpoint of the lachrymose viewpoint of Jewish history

      • Steve Brizel says:

        One could argue that we have survived somewhat miracously as a people despite horrific episodes of persecution which has numerous ideologic bases ranging from religiously based supercessionism to left wing based self hating Jewish rooted in Marxism with the Nazis representing secular anti Semitism rooted in the French Enlightenment

  26. Steve Brizel says:

    I always browse and buy in the local Judaica/chochka/seforim stores. There is a real and almost alarming need for a sefer or English language halacha work on Dina Dmalchusa with a special emphasis on use of aid from the government paying taxes and adhering to the law of the land.

    • Dr. E says:


      Yes, part of the issue is Halacha pertaining to Dinei d’Malchusa.  But perhaps a bigger contributor to the phenomenon is the Hashkafa of because the Torah lifestyle is so paramount, it is preferable to take from others (parents, in-laws, the community, and the government) than take concrete steps to be able to live live an independently sustainable life.  The Gemara in Bava Matzia 38a says, a person would rather have one unit of his own effort than 9 handouts from his friend.  However, a literal reading of that statement attributed to Rav Kahana has somehow been lost and you won’t find it in your seforim store, even as a bumper sticker.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        RHS once related that a Baal HaBayis that he knew was an “equal opportunity” Gazlan-Yidden and Non Jews alike-RHS once asked the person who was yeshiva educated-didn’t your rebbes teach you about Lo Sigzol? The person in question answered in the negative. Obviously if you learned the same Blatt Gemara in Masecta Nezikin ( BK, BM and BB) without ever understanding the Halacha LMaaseh implications of the same, you can claim quite easily that you never learned  the basic and practical meaning of the Issur Gezelah.

      • DF says:

        For many reasons, some of which this website is (apparently) too sensitive to recognize, we are far better off not bringing up Gemara and Halacha. והמבין יבין ודי למשכיל. All one needs to understand is  honesty and integrity, as understood by nobody more than the common man in the street.

  27. Mycroft says:

    Agreed. Even more I believe that is RYBS was once asked if we’d have to close down the Yeashiva and there would be great loss of Torah unless laws were broken, gave the answer so close down the Yeshiva. The attitude must be expressed and acted upon that violating Dina dnalchusa dina is wrong even if loss of learning will take place.

    • dr. bill says:

      i know of a sheailah about paying an NCSY advisor off the books, IIRC, and the Rav ztl said an emphatic – NO.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        IIRC R M Genack related the above query and response by RYBS that if necessary, the organization mentioned above should close down rather than paying someone off the books.

  28. micha berger says:

    In Yeshiva Gedolah of Passaic, R’ Meir Stern does not allow anyone to remain in kollel by taking government aid. Aid is not for able-bodied people who choose not to take a job that pays a living wage. And kollel is not for people who need government handouts to manage it.

    If that’s his attitude toward taking assistance legally, I feel confident talmidim get the message not to even consider breaking the law.

  29. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    It is obvious that the MO community must make aliya for this and other reasons. The yeshivish and chassidish communities should as well, but the viability of their lifestyles is less under immediate threat. Unfortunately the ability and ideological willingness to cut corners in order to stay afloat in the contracting US economy is going to come back and bite them from behind. Of course making aliya is no guarantee that people who see the govt. as the “other” won’t continue to do so in EY. I pray that the frum world will return to Torah values soon.

  30. Jewish Observer says:

    “the single most important reason for the continuation of their attitudes is cultural isolation”

    – why should we need to see goyim to understand not to cheat them. Does our lore promote a different view?

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