The Press Beats Up on Religion Yet Again

From two New York Times articles on the Bernard Madoff fraud:

As it does each day, the Yeshiva [University] community has turned to religion for strength, and to help shepherd it through a crisis

Rabbi Shalom Carmy, chairman of the Bible and Jewish Philosophy Department, flipped through Genesis the other day looking for a passage, a sliver of spiritual truth, to guide students in a time of introspection. He stopped on the story of Jacob and his willingness to risk his life to ensure the integrity of his earnings.

“The righteous guard their money more than their body,” he said in explaining the lesson he extracted. “If you make money honestly and if you’re holding it in a trust for people, you have to be very careful.”

Rabbi Blech, for his part, turned to the Ten Commandments, noting that some focus on a person’s relationship with God, others on relationships with fellow human beings. He said that “both tablets are equally important.”


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.”

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