Monday, July 20, 2015

So in case you were wondering, yes, embezzling IS against Jewish Law

This may sound like an absurd statement. So, let me share where it comes from. Many years ago, a dear friend of mine who was a Prison Chaplain at the time, told me the following story. He was tasked with insuring that the Jewish prisoners had their needs met. This friend is a Conservative ordained Rabbi and interestingly enough he was dealing with a good number of individuals who were Orthodox in his “prison congregation,” an entire problem in and of itself for too many reasons, which I hope are obvious. Some of them insisted on giving him a really hard time, because he was “only Conservative” and how could he meet the needs of these “good law-abiding” Orthodox Jews? So he asked one of these gentlemen what he was in prison for and the response was “Embezzling, but that’s not against the Torah!”

Really!!!!!! So, I have completed learning Masechet Shekalim (Talmud Yerushalmi) this past Friday and continue to be amazed at how holistic and expansive the system of Jewish law – properly followed – is! So, my first recommendation to this “congregant” of my friend from so long ago would be to learn this Tractate or any number of others. Masechet Shekalim is about the group participation of the entirety of the Jewish nation in giving shekalim for the upkeep of the Temple, the community needs and so much else.

As always, there are ongoing “side” conversations that are actually quite foundational and central to the discussion at hand. In this case, such great measures are taken to insure that all funds that are given are designated and used for the indicated purpose. There is to be NO co-mingling or misappropriation of funds and no taking from one designated fund for the use of another. One cannot designate funds for one purpose and then change his or her mind and use them for another purpose. There are many stopgaps put in place to insure that this is done properly and with no indication or even the slightest possibility of impropriety.

When the designated treasurer goes to withdraw funds, there is even a prescribed manner in which they must dress, e.g. no long hair, no flowing clothes, no shoes, etc. Why? So that they cannot hide monies from the designated funds and also so that they should not even appear to be able to do so or to have benefitted in any way personally from this task that is on behalf of the community. In short, these tasks are KADOSH, that is sanctified and when one is acting on behalf of others, this is a sanctified responsibility that is not to be misused or abused in any manner for personal gain or otherwise. There is a lovely statement on 14b of this Tractate that goes “ All is to minimize the honor of the person and to maximize the honor of G-d.” This is to say that when one acts on behalf of the community, this is a task where one is to subdue one’s ego, not inflate it. That alone would be a worthy mantra for too many of our leaders in so many ways.

When there is a question or doubt regarding the status of money found, such as when coins are found on the ground between the containers of the various funds, there is also a formula for where they are put. When people are late in giving their shekalim, or they come from far away and cannot meet the indicated deadline, there are specific instructions for that as well. In short, NOTHING is left to question or personal decision. Everything is ever so carefully dictated to insure that funds given are used for their indicated purpose, those entrusted with their distribution do not use any for personal gain, and the community trust is not compromised.

In this situation and only in this set of circumstances, does G-d bless the work of the community and its members and leaders! This is something for all of us to consider. How do we act in a KOSHER and acceptable manner in our business lives and when others trust us with their resources? Perhaps our schools and Yeshivot should focus more on this most important aspect of Jewish Law! Maybe then our population of Orthodox Jewish prisoners would not be as problematic!

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