Borough Park, NY – A packed, eclectic audience from all parts of New York was on hand last night for a symposium for the charedi public to discuss the obligation to obey US laws, following the arrests that have unnerved all of US Jewry. In attendance were a number of the figures who had already been released from custody.
The event was held in Borough Park and the cost were paid for as a merit for the recovery of the avreich from Flatbush, R’ Chaim Dovid ben Leah, and before the speeches got under way, Tehillim were recited in his merit and the merit of all of the Jews currently under arrest.
The opening speaker at the event was Agudath Israel Executive Vice President R’ Chaim David Zwiebel, who organized the event. He said the verse, “V’asiso es hatov v’hayashar” (“You shall do what is good and just”) refers to obeying the law as well. “It has been a number of years since there has been a need to hold this type of gathering,” he said, “but it was not as pressing and urgent to explain as it is now, after dozens of Jews have been arrested on suspicion of money-laundering and more.”
R’ Zwiebel noted that before the symposium he paid a visit to the Novominsker Rebbe shlita, who said many figures have become involved in the matter, which has caused terrible chilul Hashem due to the press coverage it has generated. “But the Rebbe told me he always warns his talmidim not to engage in questionable conduct, not because someone is watching, but because HaKadosh Baruch Hu sees. Even those who didn’t get caught go against HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s will. We have gathered here to listen to information from attorneys about what to be wary of, what to do and what not to do.”
The Spinka Rebbe of Boro Park, who began in Yiddish, spoke intermittently in English as well.
At first he quoted from the Sefer Chassidim, which says that when a person does a misdeed he must acknowledge what he did, and by admitting it he earns merit, and if the admission caused him embarrassment, then it is considered an atonement sacrifice.
“There have been tzaddikim who wouldn’t accept in their towns dayanim who would be unable to admit publicly that they had erred,” he said. Addressing the audience in a mournful tone, he said: “Morai verabbosai, let’s talk about this in very clear terms: it is well known what has been happening at our mosdos and yeshivas over the past 16 months. We’ve learned a lot during this period and I feel obligated to tell the public what we’ve been going through. We’ve been leading mosdos in Boro Park for 40 years – a kollel, a yeshiva and a cheider. Out of necessity we allowed ourselves to indulge in illegal acts. As painful as it may be, we must admit we have failed. Things have happened at our mosdos that should not have happened. We must acknowledge this, and make it known publicly, because we’re hoping it does not repeat itself.
“I’d like to tell you that we’ve learned it’s possible to lead Torah and chessed organizations in accordance with the law. Yes, it is possible. People think it cannot be done, but we’ve learned this the hard way. There are now charedi lawyers and accountants who are experts in this area to ensure everything is run according to the law. When in doubt whether or not something is legal, we cannot make that determination on our own, chas v’sholom. We have to ask a lawyer how to conduct ourselves properly in that situation.”
The Rebbe, citing tzaddikim, told a parable of a person was lost in the forest and could not find his way out. Suddenly he was overjoyed to see another man appear. He went up to him and asked how to get out. “I don’t know,” the man replied, “but the path I’ve been following so far is not the right one.”
The Spinka Rebbe told the audience about a new organization founded with the help of prominent askonim. Members include experienced attorneys, accountants and other professionals. “A lot of effort has gone into this matter and the staff can help people set up tzedaka and chessed organizations. Little by little more and more mosdos are joining the program and we’re hoping that in the coming years there will no longer be any organizations that don’t keep proper accounting records.”
The Rebbe also said the US is a kingdom of chessed, a nation that helps everybody. Our forefathers arrived here after the terrible churbon and they gave us permission to go and take in the refugees. “The Chossom Sofer wrote about the Kaiser Franz Yosef and his government, saying they were Hashem’s agents. The same can be said of the US government. They make sure we have an opportunity to live here with freedom and keep all of the mitzvahs, and we have to follow the law. There is no good deed, mitzvah or even bikkur cholim or hachnasas kalloh that permits violating the law,” he concluded.
Videos Below from Spinka Rabbi Speech. Video Credit Shiezoli of YouTube
The next speaker was HaRav Avrohom Shorr, who discussed what the media is saying about the charedi sector. “On the day of Churbon Beis Hamikdosh there was a chilul Hashem and HaKadosh Baruch Hu sent us to live among the nations in order to sanctify the Name of Heaven. Every time there is an instance of chilul Hashem, it’s a continuation of Churbon Beis Hamikdosh,” he said.
HaRav Shorr went on to discuss the importance of teaching children about chilul Hashem and refuted the common perception that these types of things happen because Jews feel as if they’re living in a ghetto and the police is monitoring them. “It’s just the opposite. It stems from the fact we’re too strong here in America and we’ve gotten comfortable here.”
HaRav David Ozeri, the rov of the Syrian-Jewish community, spoke movingly, quoting various halachic sources on the need to obey the law, describing how the great tzaddikim of the generations made stupendous efforts to adhere to the law. He spoke very little about the affair, which caused great suffering in his kehiloh, but he did say everyone is feeling pain and shock over what transpired.
Atty. Benjamin Braffman, a top lawyer who represents prominent figures, emphasized a number of ethical points. “Over the past two hours since the symposium began I’ve been scanning the audience for some FBI agent in charedi attire. I’m sure there’s at least one here who wants to listen to and analyze exactly what the rabbonim and lawyers are saying. Luckily my grandfather and grandmother spoke Yiddish so I’ve been able to understand every word that’s been said, and I’ll speak in Yiddish, too. If somebody didn’t understand something I say, feel free to come up to me afterwards and I’ll be glad to explain.
“I come from a charedi family. I have a charedi brother and a charedi son in Jerusalem. I’m the only one who has to spend my day among all sorts of people who earn a whole lot of money, and in the evening I sit among thousands of Chassidim.
“I’d like to say how impressed I was by the remarks made by the Spinka Rebbe. I’m sure his remarks had an impact and will continue to have an impact on the public and the mosdos, regarding the need to avoid illegal activities. I hope his remarks bring merit to the Rebbe, so that he is able to make it through the legal matter.”
Later in his talk Atty. Braffman touched on day-to-day affairs. “People don’t learn how to run their day-to-day lives after getting married, when they’ll have to report income. You have to know how to write checks, how to buy a home. When today’s generation grows up we’ll be in a much bigger mess because young people know nothing about how to run their day-to-day lives. You have no idea how careful you have to be to avoid chilul Hashem.
“I’m an observant Jew, but when the media speaks with me I’m always careful not to present myself as a Jew, but rather as a professional, and I watch every single word that comes out of my mouth, because everybody knows I’m a Jew. Therefore charedi Jews have to be even more careful in their conduct, to avoid causing chilul Hashem. I don’t want to have to make money serving charedi clients.”
Videos Below from Atty. Braffman. Video Credit Shiezoli of YouTube