Jews, Particulary, Feel Betrayed by Madoff

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by ByLoSellHi, Dec 26, 2008.

  1. As a Jew, this article and its title bother me.

    It insinuates, to some degree, that getting scammed by someone who happens to be Jewish is less vexing if the victim is a gentile, as opposed to a Jew.

    In Madoff Scandal, Jews Feel an Acute Betrayal

    Published: December 23, 2008

    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 scale.”

    “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.” RABBI DAVID WOLPE, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles

    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; they include Yeshiva University, Hadassah, the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America and the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. The Chais Family Foundation, which worked on educational projects in Israel, was recently 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 for 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, 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 went back hundreds of years, but he noted that anti-Semites did not need facts to be anti-Semitic.

    “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 community.

    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 a recent sermon, 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,” Rabbi Krause 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,” the rabbi said, “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. The only thing he could do, for the rest of his life, is work for redemption that he would never achieve.”
  2. hughb


    I was in the navy back when the Milken/Boesky scandal broke in the 80's, and I didn't pay much attention to it.

    I wonder if newspapers ran the same stories then about the Jewish aspect of it? MIlken, Boesky, Levine the other guy who I can't remember right now, (was originally with Kidder Peabody), were Jewish. I remember that Milken made a statement in court at his sentencing that his kids were being bullied and beat up in school. This was taking place in the 80's during an expanding economy.

    And it makes me wonder what was going on in Germany in the 1930's and 40's that turned people against Jews. Of course I've heard all of the revisionist bullshit that's being posted on the internet today about what happened then, but I would really like to see how the media then and there was covering it, if it was in fact being covered at all.
  3. hughb,

    Your post piqued my curiosity. I never remember reading anything about how the media wrote/covered the Jewish issue in these instances.

    I looked around the net and as usual get side tracked, you might be interested in this site:

    Which brings me to another thought, perhaps Alan Derschowitz has explored the media issues somewhere in one of his books or writings.
  4. Lot of people believed that Jewish banking houses caused the great depression and stock market crashes in 1929 and thirties.
    Then Hitler was elected........
  5. ipatent


    Some Germans felt that German Jews had sold out the German Empire in WWI by withdrawing credit and organizing labor strikes after Britain promised Palestine to the Jews in the Balfour Declaration, and this was an idea that the Nazis pushed. Additionally, some Jews were very visible during the Weimar hyperinflation engaging in currency/gold trading at exchange rates that were viewed by many common Germans as predatory.

    Efforts by the Jewish community to protect itself from the Weimar economic situation may also have been misinterpreted as anti-German and predatory.
  6. bilo,

    I was watching cnbc and I noticed the same thing. They interviewed people whom were not ID as, but obviously were, Jewish, and they seemed not disappointed as much as they were pissed!

    As a minority, I understand Jews sticking together. They have to. And when someone like Madoff cast a stereotypical dispersion upon the group, everyone feels the scorn.

    That is the number one reason why I hate BET.
  7. sumosam


    personally, i don't think this is cause for anti-semitism. however, what may bias some is that Israel is going on an illegal killing spree at this time....

    many jews are opposed to this....the timing of these two events is particularly unfortunate for jewish public opinion

    good traders will know that you cannot blame others, no matter what.

    however, violation of the Geneva convention, and scorn for the rulings of the United Nations, will fan the fires that "jews are above the law, because they are the chosen people"

    again, many, many jews disagree with these actions, but this does not appear on the media