Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Skydiving Over Jerusalem

Last year at about this time the financial markets were tough but it was just after Rosh Hashanah that the ceiling came down. Add to that a stagnant economy, record high unemployment, and a real estate market that’s writhing in pain and you have the perfect storm – almost. What more can go wrong? A pandemic, the swine flu has been plaguing us this past year and threatens to come back with a vengeance this fall. But I’m not really that concerned, because the best and greatest minds will be put to the test as they were when dealing with the global financial crises.

Over the past year financial wizards, international financiers and industrialists converged with statesmen and politicians from around the world in an attempt to staunch the financial hemorrhaging, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the great depression of 1929. It would appear that their efforts have born fruit. While we may not be in a full recovery, it seems that we have turned back from the abyss. What I found disappointing in the press and media coverage hitherto of the handling of the financial crises the conspicuous absence of the role our revered rabbis are playing in the recovery.

As a matter of fact, the media really hasn’t done justice to our rabbis in the handling of the health and financial crises. Our rabbis have been working feverishly around the clock in tandem with the World Health Organization in trying to find a solution to the swine flu. Apparently, the long awaited vaccine which promises to save many lives didn’t meet the high standards of our rabbis. Our rabbis, determined to protect humanity from this scourge has a new approach: to offer blessings while flying over Israel offering sounding the shofar and praying for the health and welfare of Jews Arabs and Christians. It would seem that to maximize the effect they ought to skydive – doing so would put them in even closer contact with god!

On the financial front, Yitzchak Cohen of Shas is promoting a new concept – kosher investment. The idea involves having rabbis in different communities who rule on halachic questions approve of investment avenues for the hareidi community. One such rabbi is Moshe Yosef, son of Ovadia (from the same family who brought us clarification as to the appropriate bracha for bamba). According to Cohen “we want to approve investment avenues based on values, for example, halachic principles”. That is a scary thought. After all, Israel is worse off today because there was never a clear separation of church and state. One would think that learning from previous errors there would be a clear delineation between the financial markets and the religious establishment.

The religious establishment isn’t known for its pristine ethical standards. Just look at the recent scandal in Deal, New Jersey, or the hechsher affixed to the products of Rubashkin. Ethics don’t only impact on financial transactions; they also are taken into account regarding medical decisions, business as well as civil comportment. While there has been some outstanding rabbinical leadership living and setting the standards for ethical behavior like R’ Arye Levin who stands head and shoulders above the rest. Unfortunately too many of our rabbis in key keadership positions haven’t exhibited the metal necessary to serve as ethicak role models.The 4th Belzer rebbe who while instructing his flock to remain in Nazi Europe fled, saving his own skin while his hassidim were decimated.

Their ethics are so skewered that they aren’t capable of setting standards by which to hold their rabbis accountable. Their ethics are tainted because of their relationship with the broader political landscape. Once politics enters the picture anything associated with it becomes tainted. Our rabbis in Israel are tainted, since there is no separation between church and state; their ethics have been compromised and some of their halachic decisions are questionable; and therefore I can only assume that their hechsherim regarding investments will be tainted as well. I suppose that compared to some of them, Bernie Madoff looks like a tzadik - or maybe even the gadol hador, when it comes to solid financial investment.