The Jack Abramoff situation, aside from being sleazy, is sad. Jack was an idealistic youth when he headed the College Young Republicans, and it is sad to see that youthful idealism give way to the lust for money and power. What is additionally sad is that Jack is an orthodox Jew. One who is supposed to live by the moral teachings of the Torah.
Jeff Jacoby, another orthodox Jew, has written an article titled, “Bringing faith into contempt.” Some excerpts:
By his own admission, Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is a crook. But that isn’t the worst that can be said about him.
He defrauded his clients of millions of dollars, bribed public officials, cheated on his tax returns, and deceived lenders to qualify for a loan. But that isn’t the worst that can be said about him, either.
He made himself at home in and contributed to the swamp of corruption that fills Washington with its stench. His e-mails to cronies, with messages like “Can you smell money?!?!?!” and “I’d love us to get our mitts on that moolah!!”, oozed greed and boorishness. Behind their backs, he crudely mocked those who hired him, calling them “morons,” “monkeys,” “troglodytes,” and “the stupidest idiots in the land.” He played fast and loose with what were supposed to be charitable funds. But not even that is the worst that can be said about him.
The worst is that Abramoff is a Jew. Not only a Jew, but an Orthodox Jew — someone who claims to be committed to strictly observing Jewish law and faithfully adhering to the Torah’s ethical standards. But instead of upholding those ethical standards Abramoff trampled on them, and a “religious” Jew who behaves so corruptly disgraces not only himself but all religious Jews. He brings his faith into contempt. He is guilty of what Jewish tradition calls, with disgust, *chillul ha-Shem* — a desecration of God’s name.
For me — also an observant Jew — that is the worst thing of all.
Honesty in financial dealings is not optional in Judaism; it is mandatory. The Talmud teaches that when a person is brought to judgment in the world-to-come, the first question the heavenly tribunal puts to him is: “Did you conduct your business affairs in good faith?” A Jew who takes the values of his religion seriously must be scrupulous in his transactions with others. To be sure, even the saintliest people — not to mention the rest of us — sometimes fall short of the values they profess. But Abramoff’s criminal deeds and sleazy manner are a lot worse than mere lapses in judgment. One who behaves so unethically and illegally drags more than his own reputation through the mud. He is an embarrassment to his religion and his community, and that comes close to being unforgivable.