Putting Our Best Foot Forward

Putting Our Best Foot Forward

By Warren S. Hecht

 I just read in a Misaskim ad about the death of Rebbetzin Miriam Libby Weiss, the wife of Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss. Although I did not know her well, my interactions with her and seeing how she acted indicated that this was an aishes chayil. When my kids were younger we spent the summers in South Fallsburg in Elm Shade bungalow colony. On Shabbos I would cross Route 42 to go to a shiur given by Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss at Sun Circle where the Weisses would spend the summer. Rebbetzin Weiss would make sure that the people attending the shiur would be given fruit or a drink. Sometimes she would do it herself or ask her children. In addition, when Rabbi Weiss would come to Queens to give shiurim, until a few years ago, she would come with him. She would help out with setting up the tapes or with the books. It was a long drive from Staten Island.

I saw her interact with her children and Rabbi Weiss and saw that she was a role model in how to deal with her spouse and children. One of Rabbi Weiss’s favorite topics was speaking about successful marriages and properly raising children. His shiurim on this topic were so on point because he lived with someone who had the qualities needed for these relationships.

A few weeks ago, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman passed away. The Queens Jewish Link had published a few articles about his righteousness.

Until a few years ago, the Jewish community and other communities were provided with stories about individuals such as these. The frum community would always put its best foot forward, giving an image that we act with a higher standard. Problems and those who acted improperly were hidden as much as possible. It was done because we realized that such conduct was an embarrassment.

Articles mentioning Rubashkin’s wrongdoing only do it in passing
and mostly talk about the release and what a great thing it was.
There is no sense of shame and embarrassment

There were some issues with this approach. However, what we have now is the worst of both worlds. The actions are coming out. Instead of condemning the improper or inappropriate behavior, many are minimizing them and glorifying those who act in such a manner. There is a lack of shame by those involved.

Sholom Rubashkin is a perfect example. He could have quietly been released and then could have issued a statement thanking the president and others who helped secure his release and ask that he be given time to spend with his family.

Instead it became a victory tour where he was treated like a star. His supporters justify their excitement and most claim they are not condoning his actions but rather are celebrating his early release. However, their conduct indicates otherwise. Articles that do mention that he did something wrong only mention it in passing and spend the rest of the time talking about the release and what a great thing it was. There is no sense of shame and embarrassment.

According to a fellow columnist, “Rubashkin’s continued observance while incarcerated also inspires Orthodox Jews, a lesson of faith under adversity.” This reminded me of the quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln about the man who murdered his parents, and then pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.

Other communities are not going to make the same distinction that many of his supporters do. I am afraid of the damage that this can cause the frum community. Will people who were interested in becoming frum through Lubavitch have second thoughts? Will others in the frum community who disapprove of the response go off the derech?

The only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner. Rubashkin’s supporters should be happy and go on their merry way. But the early release is not good enough for them. I read an editorial in one paper attacking Senator Charles Schumer for not supporting the early release.

The irony is that the same paper is silent about the new tax law that was opposed by Senator Schumer and supported and signed by President Trump, which will cause great angst in the frum community. The law eliminated the personal exemption for filer, spouse, and every dependent, which hurts the frum community, which has larger families. It limited a deduction for state and city income taxes and property taxes to $10,000 in total. This hurts areas such as New York and New Jersey that have large frum communities and pay high city and state income and property taxes. The new tax law will also hurt non-profits and other charities since the standard deduction has been increased. With a higher standard deduction there is no financial reason for a person to give charity if they don’t itemize.

I also read in papers, including this paper, that support for or against Rubashkin was based on one’s political and religious views. In explaining why there was dancing in the streets on the eighth day of Chanukah because of Rubashkin’s release, one writer writes: “In their view, Rubashkin was one of them, subject to the same invective from liberal activists for their persistent observance, support for Israel and President Donald Trump.”

In the same article the writer mentions that Alan Dershowitz, who is not a card-carrying member of the chareidi community, was a significant supporter. He would also consider himself to be a liberal. Moreover, many of those who supported Rubashkin’s release and danced in the streets are not supporters of the State of Israel and do not believe that it should exist at this time.

Assuming arguendo that the author is correct, then the situation is worse than I believe. I would like to believe that people supported Rubashkin’s release on the merits and not because of some tribal unity or because those who they disagree with were against it.

This country is having significant problems because of the attitude of many individuals, including elected officials, whose support or decisions are solely based on tribe (political party) without considering the merits of the particular issue or person. I hope that the frum community has not fallen into that trap. If so, things are only going to get worse and there will be more Rubashkins.

Warren S. Hecht is a local attorney. He can be reached at whecht@aol.com