Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Orthodox Community's Perturbing Response to Rubashkin

In Judaism, business ethics are of paramount importance.  They are so important that the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) states the following: "In the hour when an individual is brought before the heavenly court for judgment, the person is asked: 'Did you conduct your business affairs honestly?'"  Note how the question isn't "Did you keep kosher or Shabbos all the time," but is related with to honest business dealings.  The Torah even predicates national survival in Israel based on this foundation of Judaism (Deuteronomy 25:15).  It should be safe to say that business ethics play a vital role in Judaism

Let's keep the notion of Jewish business ethics with the following story in mind.  Enter Sholom Rubashkin, a Chasidic Jew who was the former CEO of Agriprocessors, the largest distributor of kosher meat in America.  PETA had accused the company of mistreatment of cattle.  The company had the largest immigration raid in American history, and 297 the workers were found guilty of fraud, most notably identity theft.  Rubashkin was acquitted from the 67 charges of child labor violations.  What ultimately put Rubashkin in prison for 27 years, however, was the 86 charges of financial fraud (e.g., bank fraud, money laundering).  You can read U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose's statement regading Agriprocessors and the sentencing here.

Knowing the role of honest business dealings in Jewish ethics, you think the Orthodox community would have given Rubashkin an explicit admonishment as commanded by Leviticus 19:17, right?  Not so much.  It's more like complaining about the excessiveness about the sentence, even though Vos Iz Neias, an Orthodox news site, even conceded that 27 years is on the lower end of the sentencing status in the American jurisprudence system.  If anti-Semitism played a role in Rubashkin's trial, they would have given him the maximum of 33 years and 9 months.  But again, he was charged on the lower end. 

It's not only the lack of rebuke that bothers me about the reaction from the Orthodox community.  It's the fact that a music video singing about the "plight" of Rubashkin was created.  When I initially saw this, I thought it was satirical, but this was done with sincerity. 

A man blatantly commits multiple counts of fraud, and Orthodox Jews get together in a "We Are the World" fashion to stick up for Rubashkin.  My favorite verse of the song has to be "Treat your fellow friends like they were you, and then we all find some peace of mind and unity."  For those who participated in this project, here is my question to you: shouldn't treating your fellow friends like they were you apply in the cases of business-related fraud, or does "love thy neighbor" only apply to your fellow Jew?  I wish prominent figures within the Orthodox community wouldn't portray a fraudster as a tzaddik.  It makes it all the more difficult for the rest of the world to seriously view the Jewish people as the "light unto the nations."

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