I’m not really a current events blogger, but the corruption scandal in NJ raises some interesting questions around a topic I am very interested in: the relationship between the US government and the American Jewish community.
Lots of websites and commenters have been throwing around the term moser to describe Solomon Dweck, the FBI informant who cooperated with authorities to help implicate rabbis, politicians and other notables in the recent sting. A moser, according to traditional halacha, is a Jew who delivers other Jews into the hands of secular authorities. The sin of mesirah is a grave one, and the violator is considered worthy of being killed, even in an extrajudicial manner (as in, vigilante justice). It makes no difference whether those being informed against are innocent or guilty, by the way. The law prohibits turning Jews over to non-Jewish authorities even if these Jews are despicably evil.
It’s easy to understand how Maimonides, for example, who writes in such terms about a moser, might feel so strongly. Whether living in Christian Spain or Muslim Egypt in the 12th and 13th centuries, little could be expected by way of justice, fairness, or humane treatment by the prevailing governments and legal systems. Some would argue that the Dreyfuss Affair, the trial and convictions of Julius and (especially) Ethel Rosenberg, and Jonathan Pollard suggest that modern democracies and even American democracy don’t have a much better track record. The point, though clearly an overreaching, is well-taken.
In the modern world, where does this leave us? We know that child-molestors like Baruch Lanner and Yehuda Kolko were left free to ruin more lives and abuse more innocent victims precisely because rabbis in the Orthodox community refused to turn them into secular authorities. These same rabbis also lacked the tools and powers to prevent these men from committing further abuses.
Omerta may be appropriate when secular authorities are capricious at best and violently cruel and antagonistic at worst. Faced with such an enemy, the Jewish community must be secretive, protective, and devious. Yakov deals with Lavan, just such an enemy, b’mirmah, deceitfully. Trust, honesty, and openness must be mutual to be meaningful.
However, in the United States, where Jews live with a government that they too elect, and in a nation that is unprecedented in history for its embrace of Judaism, Jewish culture, and Jewish leadership, this culture of silence is a corrosive and corrupting influence, particularly when silence is coupled with zero enforceability. Instead of protecting us from an exploitative and dangerous authority, it actually endangers us further, because it encourages corruption, extortion, bribery, and a general disrespect and abuse of the system of laws and justice that protect all of us.
If our communities are built on corruption, we encourage hatred of Judaism by Jews and non-Jews alike. How many Jews felt a sense of revulsion upon hearing this latest sordid story? The Syrian community feels betrayed and slandered. The Orthodox community at large feels a pit in its stomach, particularly as this is the period of the Nine Days, a particularly tragic and mournful time in Jewish history. And the broad family of Jews is sickened as well by yet another story of financial malfeasance that seems to confirm all the worst hatreds and stereotypes still held by some non-Jews, even in this, the fairest of nations.
The answer is a difficult one. If we hold fast with the prohibition of mesirah than we, as a community, are the true criminals, for failing to police ourselves, and for allowing this evil to take root in our midst. Alternatively, we can turn over the powers of investigation and enforcement to the State, and lose some of our dignity, identity and uniqueness in the process. What is for sure is that this is not an isolated incident, and that a culture of corruption and contempt for government and for Gentiles is thriving, particularly in some Orthodox communities. We need to address the moral and economic causes underlying this immediately, lest we breed a new generation of anti-Semites, and lest we fail to treat our fellow American with the full measure of justice and fairness that he surely deserves.