Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud


Guest Blogger David Klinghoffer: I’m Not Ashamed of Abramoff

posted by mkress

Eliyahu Stern, an Orthodox rabbi, should take a few deep breaths, relax, and contemplate before rushing out with another condemnation of someone else’s sincerity or good faith as an Orthodox Jew. I’m confident that if he does this, he’ll realize that he has himself forgotten to apply an important Torah principle–which I’ll freely admit I often forget about, so I know how hard it is to keep in mind.

In Leviticus, we are commanded: “With righteousness shall you judge your fellow” (19:15). The classical medieval exegete Rashi explains that the verse has a crucial meaning beyond the obvious. Namely, we must be “dan l’kaf zechut“–that is, judge on the side of merit, give the benefit of the doubt. This is the case when we can afford to do so, but not when we can’t. In other words, if judging charitably would potentially hurt me–for example, if I’m considering going into business with a person rumored to be a crook–then I’m not required to be dan l’kaf zechut. God doesn’t ask me to be a sucker. But where it costs me nothing, I am certainly obligated to judge every individual favorably.

Rabbi Stern casts down righteous indignation upon me, as well as on my friend and teacher Rabbi Daniel Lapin, because we gave Jack Abramoff the benefit of the doubt, at least until Abramoff admitted to crimes that will likely send him to prison for years. Since judging Abramoff favorably till his legal case was resolved cost me nothing, I don’t see how, ethically, I could have done anything else. I could leave my reply at that, because that really is all that needs to be said. However let me try to clear up some misunderstandings in Rabbi Stern’s post.

Stern calls Jack Abramoff an “embarrassment to Orthodox Jews.” Why should we be embarrassed? Are we supposed to be so naive and childish as to think that no one wearing a kippah will ever act in an unethical manner and end up in the news columns for it? Am I supposed to be embarrassed that Orthodox Jews are human too?

Rabbi Stern with a straight face castigates Rabbi Lapin for “assuring” Abramoff in an email that giving him a degree as a “Scholar of Talmudic Studies” would be “no problem.” If you actually read their email exchange, it’s obvious Lapin was replying with tongue in cheek–which is proved by the fact that Toward Tradition never awarded Abramoff any supposed Talmudic degree, rabbinic ordination, or anything similar. But this sidesteps the more basic question: Who cares about Abramoff’s ambition to join a fancy-pants Washington social club, the Cosmos? If he had been admitted with a trumped-up rabbinic degree or whatever, is this something that should evoke our anguish, amounting to a “sick symbiotic relationship,” as Rabbi Stern writes? Give me a break.

In any case, no one sought to “kasher” Abramoff’s actions, or “bless” them. In my Forward column, I simply admitted I had an interest in the matter (Abramoff supported some good causes, including Republican ones) and I asked why his supposedly disinterested critics couldn’t admit that they themselves also have an interest (in seeing Republicans humiliated). Jack Abramoff has admitted his guilt, but I felt then and still feel that he is being made a scapegoat, sacrificed to assuage the guilt of many in government who have been compromised by dependence on gambling money.

Abramoff was never my “crony”–though I met him twice and liked him. He was a gracious host when I spent the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in his home about 10 years ago. The next time we met, I was presenting a plan for a potential new Jewish magazine to some possible funders. Abramoff was there and argued for funding something else.

In calling me a “crony,” Stern tries to blacken me by implication. How ethical is that?

Finally, please note that I don’t offer my opinions as “Orthodox,” merely as my own interpretation of events and of Jewish texts. I’m a journalist, not a rabbi like Eliyahu Stern.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(4)
post a comment
Clyde

posted January 6, 2006 at 3:29 am


Abramoff’s actions will cause our “allies”, the evangelicals, to questions just how much they can trust their Jewish “friends.” Be afraid. Be very afraid.



report abuse
 

a friend of Abramoff's "monkey

posted January 7, 2006 at 12:20 pm


“But where it costs me nothing, I am certainly obligated to judge every individual favorably.” But could it cost you something, if you were to judge that particular individual unfavorably? If so then your consideration would seem to be less then entirely charitable.



report abuse
 

Leonard Rutkin

posted January 7, 2006 at 6:22 pm


Give me a break. Jack Abramoff is an embarrassed ALL Jews, and gives those that believe all Jews are like him more amunition to fuel their belief. What next, do we now forgive all those “phony public servants” that have been and continue to be on the dole for their disgusting behavior. Let’s have a benefit for ex-congressman Cambell who will receive a non-taxable pension for years of “service” in the House of Representatives.



report abuse
 

SiCanto

posted January 8, 2006 at 12:27 am


” Judge on the side of merit.” Yes. Very wise words. I’m sure there are other verses and bits of Talmudic wisdom that, had Mr. Abramoff ever meditated on them, he perhaps would not be in the fix he is in now. I find myself comparing a crime of passion vs. a crime that is planned. The way I understand it, he is charged with and has admitted to having planned crimes that took place over a long period of time. To me, if he did that, it is very scary. And part of me cringes when I think that there are antiSemites watching the same news reports that I’m watching.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

The Task Is Never Finished
It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman's post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in postings over a time frame of days (rather than moments

posted 12:31:46pm Apr. 03, 2008 | read full post »

Some Parting Reflections
Well, loyal readers, all good things must come to an end and we’ve been informed that this particular experiment in blogging as a forum for creating wide-ranging discussion on topics of interest to contemporary Jews has run its course. Maybe it’s that blogging doesn’t lend itself so well to t

posted 1:00:29pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

Obama's Lesson and The Jewish Community
There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s advisors. She was right. I never should have cited those web

posted 12:09:08pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

The Future of Race Relations
As a post-baby boomer, it is interesting to me to see how much of today’s conversation about racial relations is still rooted in the 1960s experience and rhetoric of the civil rights struggle, and the disenchantment that followed. Many in the black and Jewish communities look to this period either

posted 4:04:41pm Mar. 25, 2008 | read full post »

Wright and Wrong of Race and Jews
Years ago, as a rabbinical student, I was one of a group of rabbinical students who visited an African American seminary in Atlanta. My fellow rabbinical students and I expected an uplifting weekend of interfaith sharing like we had experienced in visits to other (largely white) seminaries. We were

posted 12:50:11pm Mar. 24, 2008 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.