Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Deal Deal Deal Deal - UPDATED

UPDATE - See the important comments from Rabbi Bibi in the comments section.

I spent last Shabbos as scholar-in-residence at Congregation Magen David in Deal, New Jersey. It was a fascinating and wonderful experience, but the community is in great distress. With regard to the deal made by Dweck with the Feds to expose the deals of others in the community of Deal, Rabbi David Bibi weighed in with his view on the deal with this story in the Jewish Star, in an article that I found quite appalling; it stated that a true friend, when his friend's son turns up at the door with a body in a bag, helps him hide it and does not inform the authorities. Rabbi Josh Waxman has a fascinating analysis of the origins and message of this story. Meanwhile, I was very pleased to be sent the following response to Rabbi Bibi's article which was written by someone from the Sephardic community:


Nativ Winiarsky
President, Congregation Magen David of Belle Harbor

If the Orthodox Jewish community in general, and the Syrian Jewish community in particular, ever wanted greater evidence of the mire and morass it presently wallows in, it need look no further then the recent article by Rabbi David Bibi published on the front page of the Jewish Star edition dated August 7, 2009. (See web address above for article)

In the article, Rabbi Bibi pleads that we should be dan lekaf sechut to those Rabbis who recently found themselves arrested for a host of illegal transactions. In support of his argument, he cites to a story about a father and son engaged in a debate as to what defines a true friend. Seeking to educate his son on the value of a true friend, the father paints the picture of a son who “got into a fight with a guy at the bar, one thing led to another and [the son] killed him.” While the son’s acquaintances wanted no part in helping the son bury the dead victim, a true friend, Rabbi Bibi extols, would assist in burying the body. Thus the Rabbis recently arrested, like the son’s true friend, were merely helping a pour soul in need and no fault should lie at the door side of these benign souls.

One can’t help but wonder if this story is one Rabbi Bibi conjured up on his own or cut and pasted from a scene in Goodfellas with Joe Pesci playing the “friend” helping Henry Hill cut up the body parts to hide the evidence. The moral of the story portrayed by Rabbi Bibi would be laughable if not for the sadism to our Torah that it breeds and champions.

Does this Rabbi, who leads the Sephardic Congregation of Long Beach, actually believe that being an accomplice to murder is a true indication of friendship? To what end? What was the lesson learned? That the son can continue to get in fights at bars, kill those he chooses at his tainted discretion, taking solace with the knowledge that if he gets into trouble he can always count on his friends to hide the body?

This is our Torah? This is our Mesorah? These are the teachings we wish to convey from the pulpit and publish on the front page of “Jewish” newspaper?

With all due respect Rabbi Bibi, you have utterly lost your moral compass. Friendship is not engaging, encouraging, participating, aiding and/or collaborating in a heinous criminal act. Rather, the son’s true friends were those who would not cooperate with the murderer. The son’s true friends would be those who would shun the son at first sight so that he may come to understand that violence, murder, and the breaking of the law are not to be tolerated on our world. The son’s true friends would be those who report the murderer to the authorities so that justice can be dispensed and rehabilitation of the character of the murdered may hopefully follow.

Rabbi Bibi rhetorically asks what crimes the Rabbis committed in merely helping a man who pled with them that his children had no food on the table. In the first instance, if food was the issue, give the man money for food to eat with, not money to launder with. Moreover, if food was the only concern, why the ten percent fee which was retained by those who engaged in the transaction? Lastly, we must instill in the hearts of all that the ends simply do not justify the means. Irrespective of whatever good cause exists, we cannot evade and violate the law (and the halacha) in the process.

Rabbi Bibi ends his missive labeled “Don’t Point Fingers” by directly pointing his finger at the “traitor among us.” To the contrary, without the “traitor”, these criminal and illicit actions would have remained unimpeded and would have continued with no examination of the actions of the leaders of the community ever having been undertaken.

The fact that Rabbi Bibi has twisted and contorted the Torah to lend its imprimatur to these iniquitous actions is reprehensible for him. The fact that we as a community might allow Rabbi Bibi to remain in his position while he endorses such views is reprehensible for us. I have sent this letter to the leaders of the Sephardic Community so that no one could later plead ignorance either to the article or the uproar it has caused. Will they stand pat or will they take the necessary action to ensure that the honor and nobility of the Syrian Jewish community in particular, and the Torah in general is restored. Silence, to the extent it ever was, is no longer an option.


  1. Excellent article. I too was shocked by Rabbi Bibi's article. It seemed like a page out of the crips or bloods gang handbook, as it was so far away from the Torah I've learned.

  2. evidently rationalists dont believe in/posses a soul

  3. I am so sorry that my article was so misunderstood. I am completely at fault. Here’s why!

    The article in the Jewish Star was simply a very edited version taking my column in the weekly newsletter I have been writing for 15 years which is distributed to almost 20,000 people. The original was 4000 words and cutting it to 900 or so was probably the first mistake. I guess I could use lessons from Reader’s Digest.

    The second was going against my own advice to avoid stating in public things that might be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Only this week I cautioned others following a terrible article in the Asbury Park press and after hearing a press conference by former mayor Koch on this very matter.

    My intent in releasing the edited letter to the Jewish Star was to argue against the paper’s headline the previous week.

    As I wrote this past Friday, it “was to state that the problem is not a Syrian problem, not a Sephardic problem, not even an Orthodox problem. It’s a Jewish problem. Lets come together to solve it, lets give each other the benefit of the doubt and lets avoid pointing out scapegoats, because in the eyes of the world, we’re all the scapegoats.”

    But for those who accuse me of condoning murder – and you were not the only one – I am saddened by my own lack of foresight.

    And again I wrote on Friday, “I realize if even a few people misconstrue and write about it, then a hundred times that number may think the same but not write.”

    With regard to the story of a friend and half a friend, obviously the story is not my own, although I liked the Goodfella’s line.

    Again I quote myself, “It is a story told to all our children and one used by our Rabbis for a thousand years to define a friend. It was meant to convey the lessons we grow up with not to condone murder chas veshalom. Ask your Rabbi why it’s told. Ask Aish HaTorah why Rabbi Weinberg uses it to define friendship in his series on the 48 ways to wisdom, tape #11.”

    In hindsight I agree. It was probably then wrong story to use.

    And concluded my column Friday with the following four paragraphs

    “Was it wrong to break the law? Absolutely!
    Do I condone the behavior? No, I do not.
    Should thing have been done differently? Yes.
    Do we live in a country where we are required to follow the law? We do and we should be thankful for that.
    see the rest

  4. The original unedited version of my article ended as follows. This may help to better understand where I was going with it.

    “Have we gotten too comfortable here? Have we as scripture states become so fat that we’ve forgotten? Have we forgotten who we are, where we come from, and what it’s all about? Do we bear responsibility for our children leaving the path and turning against us whether as playwrights, authors, con men, or going so far as to set people up? It doesn't happen in a vacuum my friends. We're doing something wrong. Hashem tries to tell us. At first gently but eventually with a smack when we are not paying attention. When Rabbis are implicated and it is a son of a Rabbi who implicates, the fault must lie with all of us.

    What's the solution? Who am I to say? But let me close with one final story - another my Rabbi often told me and a lesson he preached. Its a famous story told about the Chafetz Chaim zs"l.

    When he was a young boy he wanted to change the whole world. He tried, but became frustrated. So, he revised his goal. He was only going to change his country, Poland. He soon saw that this was also a bit too ambitious, so he decided to just change his little town of Radin. Alas, this also proved to be too much, so he decided to change just the Bet Midrash where he prayed and learned. He soon realized that the only person he was capable of changing was himself. (Rabbi Abittan would also say, before you preach take care of yourself, let your inside match your exterior.)

    So, the Chafetz Chaim got to work. As we all know, he succeeded in becoming one of the greatest sadikim in the history of our Nation. People began gravitating toward him and his Bet Midrash soon filled with people eager to learn from him. In time, his name spread through Radin. The small town became a Torah center by virtue of the great saddik who lived there Sure enough, the Jewish population of Poland began heeding the words of this saddik and Gadol HaDor. He wrote many sefarim (books). His masterpiece of halacha (Jewish Law), the Mishna Berura is used by poskim (halachic authorities) worldwide. His works, "Chafetz Chaim" and "Shmirat HaLoshon" have revived the all-but-forgotten mitzvah of proper speech. It has become a cornerstone of serving Hashem. His multitude of sefarim cover all aspects of Jewish life, and anyone who wants information or inspiration on practically all aspects of Torah need only turn to him. Yes, Rav Yisrael Meir succeeded. He changed the whole world.

    We can do it. We can change the way things are. We can change our country, our city, our town, our community and our families. Where do we begin? With ourselves. We must examine our values and sense of honor. We must look at the justifications we make, the blind eye we turn aside and the way we live and act.

    Each of us must build himself up to the point where he can truly say he has fulfilled the vesre to become a light on the nations. When the world turns to us and says, “I want to be like you”, then we have succeeded.

    All the best,


  5. First of all, that's not how the story goes. The story goes that the son is boasting to his father that he has 100's of friends and the father says that in his whole life the best he's done is made "half a friend". To prove it, he tells the son to cut up some fresh bloody meat from the butcher shop and go around to all his friends and say "Listen, I accidentally killed a man, please help me bury the body." None of his friends do it but the half friend of the father does. Imagine what a full friend would have done.

    Secondly, yes we've lost our moral compass. Haven't you been reading the news over the last few YEARS?

  6. I did not misunderstand the article. It justifies covering up a terrible crime. I can't imagine a worse article written by a rabbi.

  7. David,
    Thank you so much for your contribution to this blog. It reminds me to go straight to the source before I blog about people. R' Slifkin, would you consider adding a "See Update" on the top of your post?

  8. I was asked by Nativ Winiarsky to post the following response:

    Dear David:

    Who am I writing to? The impertinent man who wrote the article in the Jewish Star whose message I found to be so repulsive and morally repugnant, or the gracious individual who wrote an e-mail whose primary message is the astute observance that our first and foremost responsibility is to change ourselves which if done correctly will ultimately beneficially impact on others.
    I am truly at a loss.

    Your explanation of the material redaction of the original article notwithstanding, it is simply inexcusable to allow an article like that to be transmitted to the world at large whereby a reader can, and with good cause, interpret it as implicitly excusing the conduct of the Rabbis arrested. Assuming that was not your intent, I certainly do not have to tell you that words have meanings and we have to be extra careful, especially in these times, of that which we disseminate in public.
    I agree with you that "it’s a Jewish problem" but I disagree wherein you write that "let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt." Sorry but these men were supposed to be our moral and religious leaders and they are subject to a far higher standard. Whatever our obligation is in terms of dan lekaf sechut (and the obligation is undoubtedly present), they have a halakhically imposed more stringent obligation of holding themselves out above any and all suspicion. Now I do not know what you do for a living, but I have experience in criminal law and unless those tapes were doctored (which they were not), these Rabbis have a lot of explaining to do. To the extent that some bragged these were slow years and in years past they used to do 7-8 million in laundering, more then explaining is going to be needed.

    I similarly take issue with your statement that "in the eyes of the world, we’re all scapegoats." Here you have the classic "the goyim are out to get us" argument and it simply is wide of the mark and seeks to deflect the ills that plague us. The truth is that we are indeed all scapegoats. Like you said in your article, we are all responsible for allowing this culture where, as one true Hacham put it, "we got rid of Hoshen Mishpat and pretend to be Hassidei Elyon." We are the ones who appointed these leaders knowing they wouldn’t say boo in the face of the many improprieties we all commit. The world rightly looks down upon us because we are oh so quick to give us the yclept "chosen people" but ever so slow to ultimately live up to that name. No my friend, the answer does not lie with Gentile hate but with Jewish self-deception.
    As for the pretext for your use of the story that my Rabbi would probably know and Aish HaTorah uses, this too falls flat. In the first instance, my Rabbi knows it and thankfully rejected it for the same reasons expressed in my letter. As for Aish HaTorah, I don’t care who uses it, I rely on content - not by authorship. As the great eagle Rambam said in Shemonah Peraqim, "Shema HaEmet, Me She’mar." That being said, if it is authorship you are so concerned with, you should know that the story actually stems from an Islamic source.


  9. (continued from before)

    In regards to your point that the media has jumped on the fact that some of those arrested were Sephardic and have thus erroneously labeled this as a Sephardic problem, you are both right and wrong. Yes, there certainly exists some glee and racism by some who perversely see this as an inherent and innate flaw in the Sephardic character. In the same vein however, when the community is so pervaded with a mindset of "shuufee hada" and is intent on flaunting its material success (however dubiously earned) the attention brought upon it is, yet again, self afflicted.

    Lastly, your penultimate paragraph states that "when the world turns to us and says ‘I want to be like you’ then we have succeeded." Who can speak of success now when we have failed so miserably? Who can talk of the world wanting to be like us when we are the laughingstock of even the rabble? This is why these events so pain me and others who hold the Torah so dear. Specifically because ours is a religion and set of laws whereby the nations of the world are supposed to exclaim "what other nation is as wise and prudent as this (Devarim 4:6)" but our laws are now looked upon with disgrace, our people are deflated, and our leaders corrupted. The hillul Hashem is beyond words and for that I am angry with anyone who so dares to even insinuates that all is well and what was committed can be overlooked. We need a major overhaul and thankfully he who you were so ready to hang (CW), I look upon as an unsung hero for exposing the silent disease that is slowly, but ever surely, destroying us.

    Nativ Winiarsky


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