[Marxism] Oy Gevalt

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 23 14:17:55 MST 2008

(If my yiddisher momma had not died last May, this Madoff scandal would 
have killed her. I tried to tell her a million times that going to 
synagogue does not make you a good person. That bastard Madoff not only 
went to synagogue, he practically owned it--that is until it was found 
out that his money was worthless.)

NY Times, December 24, 2008
In Madoff Scandal, Jews Feel an Acute Betrayal

There is a teaching in the Talmud that says an individual who comes 
before God after death will be asked a series of questions, the first 
one of which is, “Were you honest in your business dealings?” But it is 
the Ten Commandments that have weighed most heavily on the mind of Rabbi 
David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles in light of the sins for 
which Bernard L. Madoff stands accused.

“You shouldn’t steal,” Rabbi Wolpe said. “And this is theft on a global 

The full scope of the misdeeds to which Mr. Madoff has confessed in 
swindling individuals and charitable groups has yet to be calculated, 
and he is far from being convicted. But Jews all over the country are 
already sending up something of a communal cry over a cost they say goes 
beyond the financial to the theological and the personal.

Here is a Jew accused of cheating Jewish organizations trying to help 
other Jews, they say, and of betraying the trust of Jews and violating 
the basic tenets of Jewish law. A Jew, they say, who seemed to exemplify 
the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes of the thieving Jewish banker.

So in synagogues and community centers, on blogs and in countless 
conversations, many Jews are beating their chests — not out of 
contrition, as they do on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, but because 
they say Mr. Madoff has brought shame on their people in addition to 
financial ruin and shaken the bonds of trust that bind Jewish communities.

“Jews have these familial ties,” Rabbi Wolpe said. “It’s not solely a 
shared belief; it’s a sense of close communal bonds, and in the same way 
that your family can embarrass you as no one else can, when a Jew does 
this, Jews feel ashamed by proxy. I’d like to believe someone raised in 
our community, imbued with Jewish values, would be better than this.”

Among the apparent victims of Mr. Madoff were many Jewish educational 
institutions and charitable causes that lost fortunes in his 
investments, including Yeshiva University, Hadassah, the Jewish 
Community Centers Association of North America and the Elie Wiesel 
Foundation for Humanity. On Dec. 14, the Chais Family Foundation, which 
worked on educational projects in Israel, was forced to shut down 
because of losses in Madoff investments. Many of Mr. Madoff’s individual 
investors were Jewish and supported Jewish causes, apparently drawn to 
him precisely because of his own communal involvement and because he 
radiated the comfortable sense of being one of them.

“The Jewish world is not going to be the same for a while,” said Rabbi 
Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Congregation Ansche Chesed in New York.

Jews are also grappling with the implications of Mr. Madoff’s deeds on 
their public image, what one rabbi referred to as the “shanda factor,” 
using the Yiddish term for an embarrassing shame or disgrace. As Bradley 
Burston, a columnist for haaretz.com, the English-language Web site of 
the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, wrote on Dec. 17: “The anti-Semite’s new 
Santa is Bernard Madoff. The answer to every Jew-hater’s wish list. The 
Aryan Nation at its most delusional couldn’t have come up with anything 
to rival this.”

The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement that Mr. Madoff’s arrest 
had prompted an outpouring of anti-Semitic comments on Web sites around 
the world, most repeating familiar tropes about Jews and money. Abraham 
H. Foxman, the group’s national director, said that canard goes back 
hundreds of years, but noted that anti-Semites do not need facts to be 

“We’re not immune from having thieves and people who engage in fraud,” 
Mr. Foxman said in an interview, disputing any notion that Mr. Madoff 
should be seen as emblematic. “Why, because he happens to be Jewish, he 
should have a conscience?”

He added that Mr. Madoff’s victims extended well beyond the Jewish 

In addition to theft, the Torah discusses another kind of stealing, 
geneivat da’at, the Hebrew term for deception or stealing someone’s 
mind. “In the rabbinic mind-set, he’s guilty of two sins: one is theft, 
and the other is deception,” said Burton L. Visotzky, a professor at the 
Jewish Theological Seminary.

“The fact that he stole from Jewish charities puts him in a special 
circle of hell,” Rabbi Visotzky added. “He really undermined the fabric 
of the Jewish community, because it’s built on trust. There is a 
wonderful rabbinic saying — often misapplied — that all Jews are 
sureties for one another, which means, for instance, that if a Jew takes 
a loan out, in some ways the whole Jewish community guarantees it.”

Several rabbis said they were reminded of Esau, a figure of mistrust in 
the Bible. According to a rabbinic interpretation, Esau, upon embracing 
his brother Jacob after 20 years apart, was actually frisking him to see 
what he could steal. “The saying goes that, when Esau kisses you,” Rabbi 
Visotzky said, “check to make sure your teeth are still there.”

Rabbi Kalmanofsky said he was struck by reports that Mr. Madoff had 
tried to give bonus payments to his employees just before he was 
arrested, that he was moved to do something right even as he was about 
to be charged with doing so much wrong. “The small-scale thought for 
people who work for him amidst this large-scale fraud — what is the 
dissonance between that sense of responsibility and the gross sense of 
irresponsibility?” he said.

In his sermon last week, Rabbi Kalmanofsky described Mr. Madoff as the 
antithesis of true piety.

“I said, what it means to be a religious person is to be terrified of 
the possibility that you’re going to harm someone else,” he said.

Rabbi Kalmanofsky said Judaism had highly developed mechanisms for not 
letting people control money without ample checks and balances. When 
tzedakah, or charity, is collected, it must be done so in pairs. “These 
things are supposed to be done in the public eye,” Rabbi Kalmanofsky 
said, “so there is a high degree of confidence that people are behaving 
in honorable ways.”

While the Madoff affair has resonated powerfully among Jews, some say it 
actually stands for a broader dysfunction in the business world. “The 
Bernie Madoff story has become a Jewish story,” said Rabbi Jennifer 
Krause, the author of “The Answer: Making Sense of Life, One Question at 
a Time,” “but I do see it in the much greater context of a human drama 
that is playing out in sensationally terrible ways in America right now.”

“The Talmud teaches that a person who only looks out for himself and his 
own interests will eventually be brought to poverty,” she added. 
“Unfortunately, this is the metadrama of what’s happening in our country 
right now. When you have too many people who are only looking out for 
themselves and they forget the other piece, which is to look out for 
others, we’re brought to poverty.”

According to Jewish tradition, the last question people are asked when 
they meet God after dying is, “Did you hope for redemption?”

Rabbi Wolpe said he did not believe Mr. Madoff could ever make amends. 
“It is not possible for him to atone for all the damage he did, and I 
don’t even think that there is a punishment that is commensurate with 
the crime, for the wreckage of lives that he’s left behind,” Rabbi Wolpe 
said. “The only thing he could do, for the rest of his life, is work for 
redemption that he would never achieve.”

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