From time to time, members of The Jewish Press community take the time and trouble to write or e-mail me sharing their feelings regarding something I wrote. Most of the comments are supportive and encouraging – and some are not. Either way, I appreciate all reader input, negative or positive, as it lets me know that my thoughts and observations are having an impact.
Recently, I received a somewhat irate letter from an indignant reader who took issue with some of my opinions regarding problems in the community. In the article titled, “Putting a Stumbling block in Front of the Blind,” (Magazine, 09-04-2011), I stated that when there is a rabbinic call for teshuva, the focus is usually on shmirat halashon (guarding what we say) and tzniut (modesty). While improvement certainly is needed in these two areas, I felt that they were just two components of a much bigger problem in our community, that being a seemingly epidemic apathy to the biblical injunction to not put a stumbling block in front of the blind. The commentator Rashi concluded this was a heavenly admonishment to refrain from taking advantage of those who were naïve, weak, trusting, unaware, gullible – the “blind” so to speak -for financial or social gain. I stated that unfortunately, the pursuit of money often caused otherwiseehrlich Jews to stray from their Torahdik values.
With her permission, I am printing the letter below with my response to her tiynas, (beefs).
You made a statement in last week’s (Sept 4) paper about a frum female real estate agent-purposefully lying to a buyer about a non-existent higher offer. I am a frum female real estate agent and I and others I know have actually asked rabbis questions about how to proceed. As do all frum people in many, many different lines of business.
So my question is-since you made a statement/a fact –I’m concluding you were told this by an “out of towner” as something that happened to them. I’m sure you wouldn’t just make up this scenario or voice an unspoken fear that you/people may have. Correct? I mean, even if it happened (G-d forbid) how would the buyer ever find out such a thing? Was the house actually sold for an equal or lower amount of their offer? Any agent would know that this fact would come out in the end and therefore I presume-would never do that–even without being concerned about halacha. Jewish, observant (modern Orthodox through chassidim) are truly being maligned by this article. We work very, very hard and don’t make that much money (most of the time commissions are split 3 ways).
And it fosters mistrust that is not warranted. I’m not sure what makes you think that you are an authority on advising the entire Jewish Press community on their behavior concerning greed, arrogance, jealousy, apathy, indifference and placing stumbling blocks. I advise you to consult a rav before scolding us all and making factual statements about our behavior. Perhaps just encouraging good behavior would be better than assuming the absolute worst of the community. In the end you are very guilty of loshon hora on a grand scale. I would appreciate a retraction or the publication of this letter.
To be honest, my initial response was that this person “doth protest too much,” but I now believe that she must be a very honest businesswoman, hence her rather emphatic indignation over my statement regarding a real estate agent who misled the buyer regarding a higher non-existing higher offer. I never said that this is the rule, rather than the exception in this profession, just that it does happen.
How do I know? I have heard several stories of people being misled by realtors as to bogus offers or the integrity of the property. To their deep chagrin, buyers ended up paying more for their property, and/or found that there were structural problems that they (deliberately?) were not told about in order to make the house more sellable. How did the buyers find out? They asked the seller or found out after moving in!
Out-of-towners who did not have the time or money to scope out real estate in the city they were moving to were especially vulnerable.
I can tell that the writer assumed that when I wrote out-of-towners I meant non-New Yorkers moving to the Big Apple and that I had maligned New York realtors. That is not the case at all. By out-of-towner I refer to people who live in one geographical area and are moving to another. If you live in Cleveland and are re-locating to Atlanta, for example, than you are an out-of -towner. Everything is relative, and there are heimishe communities beyond New York that people actually move to.
I was also rather perturbed by her claim that I am, “very guilty of loshon horaon a grand scale.” Nowhere did I name a specific person or place – and I am confident her rav would agree that a general observation does not translate into loshon hara. If that were the case, rabbanim sending out a kol koreh before Pesach forbidding unreasonable price gouging by food retailers are conceivably guilty of loshon hara, as their proclamation implies that an unethical practice is taking place; ditto for community activists and heads of social services who claim there are frum pedophiles, abusive husbands, people with unsavory addictions, etc. – as well as most of the op-ed writers and columnists in The Jewish Press.
I was also confused by her conclusion that I had set myself up “as an authority on advising The Jewish Press community on their behavior.” Huh? I simply made some observations based on the reality of human nature, and incidents experienced first-hand and or shared and related to me. Am I acting as an “authority” if I see a child wheezing and coughing and “advise” the mother that he is sick and should be evaluated by a doctor?
Sometimes the facts are in front of you and not pointing them out or sweeping them under the carpet ends up tragically backfiring and harmfully counter-productive.
Please accept my bracha that this new year bring with it a heightened awareness of ahavas Yisrael, of putting the other’s best interest before your own, thus hastening the coming of our final redemption. To that end, may you all have a successful davening!