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{Originally published on Emes Ve-Emunah website}

First let me applaud the community of Lakewood for promoting integrity in the workplace. There was apparently a program on this subject last Sunday night that featured 4 prominent speakers.


This is an area that has been grossly underrepresented in the Torah world. The focus in most Yeshivos is on the study of the Talmud… studying it in depth with all the commentaries so as to understand the sources and derivations of Halacha. Halacha that very often deals with ritual practices like the requirements for a Kosher Esrog.

What often gets lost in all of this is appropriate behavior in general society. I wish that there were more Mechanchim like Rabbi Yaakov Levi. He was my 7th and 8th grade Rebbe in Detroit’s Yeshivath Beth Yehudah. This man was the paradigm for honesty and integrity in society. I recall his habit of checking the return coin slots on public telephones when he passed them by to see if there were any unclaimed dimes. (That’s what phone calls used to cost on public telephones. Remember those?)

Most of us would have kept coins found that way. Not Rabbi Levy. Instead of keeping them, he would redeposit them into the payment slots. He felt that those coins belonged to the phone company and he wanted to assure that they would not be taken by anyone else. He did not do it because it might be a Chilul HaShem to take money from the phone company. He did it because he thought it was the right thing to do. Those coins may have belonged to the callers whose calls did not go through. But if unclaimed, Rabbi Levi felt that they belonged to the phone company. And he wanted to make sure they got it.

Unfortunately this kind of integrity does not seem to exist today. Because of selective readings in the Gemarah; the misreading; or misunderstanding what Halacha requires of us in this area, jails have increasingly larger populations of observant Jews. It is not so rare anymore to find Kipa wearing Jews sitting in jail. The situation is so bad that organizations have arisen to deal with these people to help them navigate the penal system.

Part of this population of late consists of sex offenders. Sex offenders are basically psychopaths that cannot control their perverse sexual urges and become predators in order to satisfy them. Something that being Orthodox has nothing to do with. Sex offenders are found in all cultures and religions. It is not specifically an ‘Orthodox’ problem. It is a societal problem and beyond the scope of this post.

The rest of the ‘Frum’ prison population – with some exceptions (including one case of murder that I know about) are Jews that have committed white collar crimes. Like tax fraud or other illegal financial scams.

When it comes to financial dealings, now more than ever we need to do some real introspection. How is it that a religious Jew who is supposed to be of most refined character and honest to a fault ends up in prison for fraud? This is still a mystery to me. I could never understand why for example a Chasidic Rebbe thought it was OK to commit tax fraud through a money laundering scheme. Even with the most skewed reading of Halacha, there is no question about the desecration of God’s name that occurs when a prominent religious figure gets caught in a fraud.

I recall back in 2010 there was a mock ad promoting an ArtScroll book called The Laws of Incarceration. Well, that book is now a reality. It is called Issurei HaMelech and is written in Hebrew. (It is not published by ArtScroll).


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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 [email protected].