I received this interesting response from a non-Orthodox rabbi to my column about scandals involving Orthodox Jews and double standards:
I just read your editorial about Orthodox wrongdoing, and while I largely agree with your point as it applies to modern Orthodox Jews, I think you missed a point as the issue applies to at least some Haredi Jews. Part of that world actively teaches that dina d’malkhuta dina, the principle that requires Jews to follow secular law unless it is evil in nature, need not be followed in the United States at least in regard to certain kinds of civil proprieties. Furthermore, part of that world teaches an active contempt for Jews who are not members of their sub-community. These two factors result in at least tacit encouragement of some kinds of fraud.
At its best, halakha should reinforce proper in[ter]-personal conduct (ben adam l’havero), but that requires reinforcement of the moral view underlying the halakha, which has unfortunately been twisted in some corners of the Jewish world. This deserves careful examination for the same reason that there is a world of difference between one rotten apple (e.g. a pedophile priest) and a problematical system (e.g. coverups by large parts of the church that lasted for decades). We expect better from those who profess to respond to a higher authority.
I recognize it’s an extremely touchy subject — whether a communal ethos in some portions of the Haredi world leads to disdain for “outside” law and individuals. That’s certainly part of the discussion of the Spinka rebbe case (L.A.-based Rabbi Naftali Tzi Weisz, one of the Grand Rabbis of the Spinka hasidic movement, faces a 37-count federal indictment for conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering). The case is based on tips from a Spinka insider, an act of mesira – the injunction against informing on Jewish misbehavior to gentile authorities — that has apparently scandalized the L.A. Orthodox community as much if not more than the allegations themselves (see here and here and here.) From the Forward:
The issue of mesira, or informing, has prompted a round of collective soul-searching in segments of Los Angeles’s Jewish community.
“People are very shell-shocked about the whole thing on many levels,” said Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, a West Coast representative of the Orthodox Union. “Number one, that our neighbors and friends are implicated, and number two, that an act of mesira on this level was perpetrated by one of our own.”
By contrast, some Orthodox Jews are warning against haredi insularity — and say that it’s time the fervently Orthodox recognize that 21st century America is not 19th-century Russia. At the blog Cross-Currents, written by Orthodox rabbis and activists, Yitzchok Adlerstein, Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says this:
Insularity has its merits, but it seems to come at a price as well. Part of that price is living in a time warp, where little has changed from hundreds of years ago, and all non-Jews are assumed to be cut of the same cloth. Those who promote insularity as a hedge against dilution of spiritual energy had better come up with a way of injecting a bit of an update in attitudes towards non-Jews and non-Jewish governments, or scandals such as the present one will continue to plague the community. If anything, we can expect to see an increase in them, as the secular authorities have trained their sights on what they see as pockets of corruption….
The bottom line is that if your children are absorbing inappropriate conceptions about the worthlessness of everything in the non-Jewish world, you had better modify their instruction. If not, you may be visiting them in prison some day.