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Virtual Talmud

Let’s cut to the crux of the issue: Jack Abramoff is an embarrassment to Orthodox Jews. His rabbis and the religious figures supporting him and living off his dirty money are embarrassments to Judaism.

Lest you have forgotten the way Abramoff–the lobbyist who yesterday pleaded guilty to three felony counts in a deal with federal prosecutors digging into a burgeoning public corruption scandal–has used his self-professed Jewish piety to burnish his image, I’ll refresh your memory with the following story.

In 2000, Abramoff was nominated for membership in the Cosmos Club, an exclusive Washington insiders organization. Its members include Nobel Prize winners and retired congressman and senators.

Abramoff was flattered by the nomination, but knowing all too well just how newly cool he was in Washington circles, he feared the club would realize the emperor had no clothes. He needed some serious moral and intellectual credibility quickly.

So he called his “rebbe” and long-time supporter Rabbi Daniel Lapin, head of the right-wing fringe Jewish organization Toward Tradition and asked him if he could patch together some award in his honor–“something like Scholar of Talmudic Studies,” Abramoff said in an e-mail to Lapin. While Lapin was at it, Abramoff asked Lapin if he could make it appear “that I received these in years past.” Lapin assured him it was no problem.

The story only touches the surface of the sick symbiotic relationship between Abramoff and his “rabbis.”

In 2002 Abramoff founded the Eshkol Academy, an Orthodox Jewish school in Maryland. David Lapin, Daniel’s brother, served as the dean. According to emails revealed during U.S. Senate hearings into the Abramoff-Ralph Reed Indian gambling scandal, Lapin was paid $20,000 a month through Abramoff’s Capital Athletic Foundation. The Eshkol Academy closed in 2004 after questions were raised in the press about Abramoff’s financial dealings with Indian tribes. In 2004, 13 former Eshkol employees sued the academy, demanding nearly $150,000 in back salary. The teachers’ complaint claims that the Capital Athletic Foundation “was used to launder funds from the tribes to Eshkol.” Federal tax records show that various Indian tribes donated more than $1 million to the foundation, which in turn benefited the school.

Behind every corner of this investigation there is another right-wing rabbi or
“observant Jew” ready to “kasher” Abramoff’s antics. If it wasn’t one of the Lapins, it was Abramoff’s other crony David Klinghoffer blessing Abramoff’s actions.

Klinghoffer is a self-described Orthodox Jew who seems to revel in castigating Jews about the need for morality in American public life. Yet, as late as May 13, 2005, this great self-righteous moralist was still defending Abramoff in the Forward. In the artcle, Klinghoffer praised Abramoff’s yeshiva charity, castigating his readers and telling them, “I’d like to see Abramoff left alone in large part because, instead of spending the millions of dollars he raked in on Ferraris and yachts, he lavishly spent it on causes that I think are good and important: an Orthodox high school he founded in the Washington, D.C., area, headed by a rabbi whose taped lectures I have long listened to with admiration.”

Using biblical metaphors and justifying Abrahmoff’s actions as “mundane” Klinghoffer asked his readers to sympathize with poor Abramoff. “His humiliation is nearly complete,” wrote Klinghoffer, “yet who among us would not be humiliated if a decade’s worth of our e-mail were leaked by Senate investigators to be dissected by journalists eager to carve us up like a Thanksgiving roast?”

I am sorry, Mr. Klinghoffer. There is nothing remotely Orthodox or Jewish about your opinion. Jack Abramoff is a blot on the Jewish world.

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