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When Good People Cheat

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I truly hate writing about such things. The community of Satmar has many great things about it. Their Bikur Cholim Society is legendary. They visit their sick brethren and bend over backwards to see that all their needs are met. And they do not discriminate. Any Jew, Satmar or not; religious or otherwise gets the same benevolent treatment. They are also a very warm and welcoming community and are about as hospitable as can be to all guests.

Very few would ever doubt their commitment to Mitzvah observance. They go the extra mile to make sure that every ‘t’ is crossed and every ‘i’ dotted in every ritual they perform. And express great joy in doing so. They probably spend more time – and money – on Hidur Mitzvah than most any other segment of Orthodox Jewry.

And they go to great lengths to shelter themselves from all the negative influences of society. That is what being a Chasid is all about. Which is why the story in the New York Times is so sad… and why I hate writing about it.

But when a member of one segment of Orthodox Jewry messes up – it reflects poorly on all of Orthodox Jewry. So I must protest it when it happens. I do so again here.

The New York Times reports that Rabbi Leib Glanz, a prominent member of the Satmar community pleaded guilty to “stealing more than $220,000 over 15 years in housing subsidies from the Section 8 program, which is intended to assist low-income people.”

The question is the following: How is it possible that a man who is so intimately involved in Gemilas Chasodim – acts of kindness – capable of knowingly stealing from the government? People who are involved constantly in acts of kindness tend to be good people all the way around?!

The fact is that Rabbi Glanz is a Baal Chesed. He goes out of his way for the Jewish people. During his tenure as a chaplain for the New York City jails he had helped a religious inmate arrange a lavish jailhouse bar mitzvah for the inmate’s son.  I wrote about the incident at the time. I believe that the negative publicity of that excess is what led to his dismissal as a chaplain. But he saw nothing wrong with that. He saw it as helping a fellow Jew who was “Nebech” in prison.

I am not judging that particular event here. The point is that his goal was to help a fellow Jew that he saw in dire straits. And that was the goal with this fraud. He wanted to help his Yeshiva. From the New York Times:

Prosecutors had charged that the rabbi’s brother was approved for federal subsidies in the mid-1990s so that he, his wife and two children could reside in a duplex apartment at 85 Ross Street in Brooklyn. He listed his income at $6,630 and submitted annual paperwork certifying that he lived at the address, the government said.

But in fact, he lived elsewhere and Rabbi Glanz lived in the apartment, according to a criminal complaint filed last year by the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

The complaint said the housing subsidies were paid to the apartment’s owner, the United Talmudical Academy, where Rabbi Glanz worked and for a time was executive director.

In court, Rabbi Glanz told Judge P. Kevin Castel that in 1996 through 2000, he signed several contracts with the New York City Housing Authority, which administered the Section 8 program for the federal government, for benefits to be paid to the academy on the basis that his brother would live in the apartment.

Rabbi Glantz did this knowing full well it was illegal he admitted as much. He knew he was wrong and did it anyway.

I wish I could say that this is an anomaly. …that this is the exception that proves the rule that Chasidim from Satmar-like communities would never cheat the government so purposefully and so directly. This was not a simple tax evasion case. This was a fraud! But Rabbi Glanz is proabably not seen as a criminal in the eyes of his own community.

I’m pretty sure they will see him as a hero – who got caught. They will say that what he did was not so wrong since that money ordinarily gets spent on the ‘dregs’ of society anyway. Why shouldn’t ‘we’ get a chunk of it …by hook or by crook?! Why shouldn’t the Yeshivos of Satmar benefit from funds that would otherwise be wasted on unwed mothers, drug addicts, and other ‘low-lifes’?!

I wish it weren’t so. But I have heard this kind of statement coming out of their circles more times than I can count.

I’m sure there will be much denial. And I will once again be accused of bashing Satmar. But I am not. I get no joy in reading stories like this or writing about them. The facts speak for themselves.

He admiited that he knew it was wrong. But by wrong he means illegal. I am absolutely convinced that he also thought that this fraud was a perfectly fine thing to do as a Jew to help out his people. People who in many cases are desperately poor and cannot afford to pay for their children’s education. Why not use these government subsidies to help subsidize them?

This is not the Jewish way. I’ve said this before. Satmar and like minded Chasidim live in communities that are isolated from the rest of society and its values.  They reject those values. They are indoctrinated to see the government in much the same way that their grandparents saw their pre-Holocaust anti-Semitic European governments… as something to take advantage of in any way they can.

One can perhaps justify that under a Czar that kept these communities poor and persecuted them all the time with pogroms and blood libels. Perhaps they had no other way to survive accept to find ways ‘under the table’. Black markets thrived in those communities.

Somehow, even though it should be obvious to them that the U.S. is different, they have retained the mindset that it’s OK to cheat “the Goyim” – if they can get away with it. And that is what causes the kind of Chilul HaShem that is happening here. And when the criminal is someone who is otherwise a good person, the Chilul HaShem is even greater.

I believe that this is what happened here. It was also the motivation when Rabbi Glanz helped that Jewish inmate hold a lavish Bar Mitzvah for his son. Perhaps he could be forgiven for that since he did not do anything technically illegal. But the underlying kindness for ones brothers should never be translated into fraud. That is apparently a lesson yet to be learned by this community!

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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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