A Reply to Satmar Defenders

Donating stolen moneyFourteen people were arrested yesterday for a series of fraud charges spanning welfare, mortgages, rigged appraisals, and evading repayment of loans. It was organized by, and included, many members of Rubin family, prominent members of Satmar.

The Satmar PR machine went into full gear with “You should not paint with a broad brush” type of claims, and “Don’t judge a community for the actions of a few” etc. They basically throw their hands in the air and say “It is not like WE control what they do.”

This is absurd. We are talking about one of the most dictatorially controlled religious communities in the very controlled ultra-orthodox Jewish world.  They control every action from what makeup women wear (little to none); to what literature they read (punishment for reading People Magazine meant spending time in a locked in a room with a “Torah Therapist” & rapist Nechemya Weberman); what kind of phone can be used (smartphones are confiscated by the Modesty Committee); and how one must behave as a rape victim (shut up!).

Imagine what would happen if they put up the following sign:

It is a violation of numerous Jewish laws to lie on a welfare application/loan application/tax return. Those that do this will be spit out by our community. They, their children, their siblings, and their siblings children will be denied use of our schools, shuls and cemeteries.

That would probably solve the problem but would create another in its place. They would now have to figure out how to survive honestly after preventing their youth from getting the education necessary for success in the modern job market. They would also have to replace many in their leadership who are culpable of these acts.

Instead, their fraudsters plow charity dollars to subsidize their community and when they get arrested they instruct their students to pray for the freedom of these great charitable benefactors.

In my book, donating stolen money does not make you a good guy. In fact, it is not even charity if it never was your money.

It is time for people to stop talking about Satmar as very religious. They are a community with a shocking tolerance for fraud which happens to be obsessive about some religious observances.

It is time for people to stop talking about Satmar chesed (charity/kindness) unless it can be confirmed that the dollars supporting the endeavour are clean.

P.S.- I do know that Satmar Bikkur Cholim which provides food to the sick in NYC hospitals is based on volunteer labor in cooking and delivering the meals and I am not directing my attacks at their wonderful volunteers.


21 thoughts on “A Reply to Satmar Defenders

  1. Joel and Rivky Rubin claimed that they were homeless. thank god the upside is that they will have .permanent abodes in some federal penitentiary. Get them off the street. A mechaya. Wonder if they will be zachaim to conjugal rights?

  2. “It is time for people to stop talking about Satmar as very religious. They are a community with a shocking tolerance for fraud which happens to be obsessive about some religious observances.”

    This is the single pithiest description of Satmar behavior that I have ever encountered. Bravo!

  3. They also usually defend with look at all the chesed the community does (hatzala, chaveirm, bikur cholim etc..

    They don’t realize how they want us to take the good a few volunteers do and paint the whole community in a good light while arguing that we shouldn’t paint an entire community in bad light because of the actions of a few!

    • In truth there are more than aa few good volunteers. The value of chesed runs deep in Satmar, one of the positive legacies of the first Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitelbaum. However, you are right. It does not excuse or diminish the bad. Hamas and Hezbollah also operate large social welfare services in the areas under their control and run them better than virtually all the surrounding Arab governments. But I would not dismiss the gravity of their crimes by saying, “Look at all the chesed of Hezbollah.”

      • with all due respect i would have to disagree in this count as well. much of the “chesed” and social welfare programs that the satmar community enjoys is yet another attempt to insulate and control. The fewer outside influences that are allowed into the community the easier the authorities find it to broadly paint them in whatever light they want while emphasizing their own desire to help their neighbours. Additionally I think think Newts point about showing the few good people and using them to highlight the benevolent character of the community is just as bad as judging the community based on the “few” bad apples. lastly I would like to point out that in my humble opinion the majority of the money that these communities take from the federal government is unconstitutional. with the segregation and exclusion of outsiders they take discrimination to a whole new (and completely illegal level).

  4. The difficult thing about understanding this is not that there is one roup on one side: bikur cholim and one group of thieves on the other side: rubin. The problem is that there are many, many on each side. Satmarim do tons and tons of good things, and tons and tons of bad things. the broad brush really doesn’t work here. But, the Ribono Shel Olam will sort it all out.

    • Yes, final judgment would weigh the good and bad against each other. But Jews don’t defer action because of our imperfect ability to evaluate the relative balance of good and bad. We support and acknowledge the good and fight the bad.

  5. One particularly striking thing about Satmar’s “defense” is its application of a double standard. I have yet to hear a Satmar spokesman, or (for that matter) any Orthodox rabbi, praise a non-Jewish community by saying, “Yes, they steal enormous sums of money, corrupt the young (note how schoolchildren have already been conscripted to lobby for the Rubins), slander the innocent, and protect rapists and child molesters — but after all, they share the money they steal with less wealthy coreligionists (excluding, of course, those in the much larger general public who probably need it at least as much).” On the contrary, such an arrangement among non-Jews would promptly be described as what it is: organized crime. When Jews defend the same sort of arrangement as an expression of religious piety, what they’re really saying is that religious piety — in plain terms, Orthodox Judaism — is just another form of organized crime. Once that point is grasped, all debate about just how vicious a form it is, or how tender-hearted some of its operatives may be, is revealed as a time-wasting trifle. (There’s considerable evidence of Al Capone’s generosity and “soft heart,” but can you imagine any Orthodox rabbi holding him up as a model of virtue?)

    We also shouldn’t forget what the boasts about generosity and charity DON’T mention. For instance, when was the last time anyone heard about the “personal aide and confidant” of the Satmar Rebbe in Kiryas Joel who got a mysteriously early release from prison after being caught red-handed arranging a shipment of 90,000 Ecstasy pills through Tokyo in April 2008? There was a huge hoopla in support of the mules (yeshiva students) who were prosecuted in Japan over that criminal conspiracy, but no discussion at all of how, and to what extent, Hasidic leadership was involved in snaring young religious students into drug-smuggling — even though this wasn’t the first such episode on record. And I’m not just blaming Satmar for this. My own children, in two different Orthodox schools, were hit with appeals to support the “boys” in Japan (only one of whom was actually under eighteen when arrested) as a part of a campaign throughout Orthodox communities. Where was any similar concern about the criminal enterprise that had landed them in jail in the first place?

    All right, I know I’m plugging myself, but all this is thoroughly discussed in my new book: Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish communities. So I’ll stop with the details. Except to say that I included such discussion in the book because I believe that when you treat child sex abuse, and the cover-ups surrounding it, as a kind of aberration, a mysterious deviation from the Orthodox norm, you never see the real picture at all. And the same is true of financial scandals like this one. Of course, that doesn’t mean (and I’m not suggesting) that Orthodox leadership is all bad. But you can’t understand it without grasping its structure and underlying ideology, just as it would be pointless to dismiss Stalin’s crimes as nothing more than personal excesses and a few regrettable mistakes. And in my view religious people should be the FIRST to apply a stringent moral standard to our own institutions, as (in fact) the Talmud directs — instead of yielding to the Agudah/Satmar approach that seeks to turn us into apologists to the “world,” slaves to the rabbinate, and hypocrites to ourselves.

    • Michael, by all means plug your book. I have been remiss in not yet reviewing it. But Michael Lesher is immensely knowledgeable about this topic from both his research and his work in the trenches on behalf of survivors of abuse. You can buy his book for reading on a Kindle at Amazon. If you are going to buy hard copy go directly to his publisher and leave more of the profit with them rather than Amazon.

      Michael Lesher, Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities.

      Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sexual-Shonda-Concealment-Orthodox-Communities/dp/0786471255

      I would add on that this book goes beyond documenting instances orthodox sexual abuse to explore why the problem is not being dealt with properly by the orthodox community.

    • I agree with every observation made here, including the endless rationalizing that goes on within this community whenever one of the bad guys gets caught and the Satmar publicity machine goes into full victimization mode. It’s only a matter of time until they begin invoking the canard of “anti-Semitism” as an additional mode of defence against the obvious- that these dirtbags are guilty.

      Lest anyone think that this is a latter day and/or an anomoly in the history of Satmar, have some fun by googling the interview Ed Bradley a’h of “60 minutes” fame conducted years ago with the head of the Satmar yeshiva in Monroe; its a dialolg where the school’s principal gets caught redhanded lying when he is given a state auditor report tha shows how funds were misappropriated for a medical center and the construction of a school. And pay close attention to how this “mechanich” extolls the virtues of the “Satmar religion” that will be taught to these darling yingelach. I taught “English” in Satmar for a year; although I’m no expert, I am privy to what their day school system looks like; I have seen what goes on in the elementary school, and based om my experiences, I’m inclined to agree with this Rebbe that indeed, they do teach the “Satmar religion” quite well; the problem is that it has little relation to what is more commonly known as Judaism. When you have a population base wherein 80% of them are receiving public assistance- food stamps, Section 8 housing, Medicaid, welfare- it’s a safe assumption that they will game the system and expoit it.

      One comment- during the episode involving the Yeshiva students who were being held in Japan, my initial hesitation to support their return to Israel was overturned when I read a number of reasonably stated accounts of how they wound up getting arrested (NB- I am not referring to the ringleader who arranged the travel and related drug deal). I believe they were ignorant dupes who were offered a free trip and some gelt in exchange for bringing some antiques on the plane with them, and they were unknowingly hustled by a scumbag drug dealer. I don’t believe they consciously knew they were engaging in a huge drug deal (whether they would have taken part in the deal anyway is a matter of reasonable speculation). However, assuming they were innocent of the crime, there is no doubt that the entire episode is a disgraceful statement about the level of incredible ignorance that pervades Satmar, where a luftgesheft deal that offers a quick buck is more attractive than developing a real profession that allows a person to work for an honest living.

      • Just for clarification: I too believe the yeshiva students in that case did not know they were smuggling drugs — though there is considerable evidence that they DID know they were breaking the law (they thought they were avoiding an import duty). Whatever the degree of their guilt on that score, it obviously pales next to the responsibility of those who knowingly snared them into the scheme. What troubles me most is that — despite evidence that this was not an isolated event — there was no inquiry in the community, in the yeshivas, or in Orthodox media into whether drug traders were infiltrating other schools, or into who might have been involved in the schemes that had come to light. Such an inquiry might have led nowhere — or it might not have. But something is very wrong with a system that never asks such obvious questions when young yeshiva students are caught with $3.5 million worth of Ecstasy pills in a Japanese airport.

        I did take the trouble to expand on this story in my book. Maybe we can start to have, among other things, some belated discussion of issues like this one….

        • This is precisely my point, although it takes a different tack on my description. To me, the end run of any event like those we’ve discussed, is there is never any call for self introspection on a Satmar community wide basis. I have never read of a decree that was issued by their Rebbeim to look inward to determine why these events befall certain members of their community under circumstances like these. Rather,instead of looking inward, they point to society as a whole that carries with is a presumed level of extreme anti-Semitism, hence the ability to sidestep any questioning of their own legal infractions by invoking the more elevated status of extreme victimhood. Like you said- amid the celebrations that surrounded the release of the boys from Japan, the call for tefillos on behalf of Rubin and his potentially criminal co-horts, in addition to the massive fundraiser for Weberman before his trial (undoubtedly bowdlerized by the enormously insipid article in Ami magazine about Weberman, and his attorney’s quest for justice”) – the list goes on endlessly, so it seems, such that any rational person would conclude that there exists a very extreme and regnant pathology within this community-one that has ultimately caused massive Chilul Hashem for the rest of us who would never stoop to such a low level of behaviour.

          • Satmar (and related groups) can fairly be called a criminal culture. The norms of their community tolerate all sorts of infractions of civil and criminal law. Moreover, rather than accept the consequences they are in complete denial about the legitimacy of enforcing the law when it comes to them. Of course they demand justice when an outsider hurts them.

            Nevertheless, prominent politicians and criminal justice officials routinely appear at their events. The Brooklyn DA has no trouble hugging Moshe (Gabbai) Friedman, even though his own office found him to have perjured himself to falsely indict a sex abuse whistle blower (Sam Kellner). Would any DA go to public celebrations with a known mafia boss?

            Brooklyn DA Thompson’s appearance at Satmar events probably increases their confidence that they can go on breaking the law. Thankfully, US Attorney’s avoid such events. Nevertheless, there is a feeling inside Satmar that they have most key officials in their pocket.

        • Would any DA go to public celebrations with a known mafia boss?

          Former DA Hynes brought a convicted confessed pedophile, his predecessor/mentor, Eugene Gold, to Hynes’ inauguration and honored him publicly. Gold confessed to sexually assaulting a 10 year old girl (and confessed to assaulting her on at least one additional occasion, one of the assaults was allegedly witnessed by other children).

          The Brooklyn DAs office is so utterly and irreparably corrupt, who knows what lows it has or will sink to.

      • Fred’s points are well taken. To be fair (if grim), I must add that these problems aren’t confined to Satmar. A number of underage Bobov Hasidim were caught smuggling Ecstasy to and from Europe several years before the Satmar students were arrested in Tokyo. The Bobov community vigorously defended the ringleader of that scheme, urging leniency even after he was convicted in federal court.

        An isolated instance? Hardly. Around the same time the Ecstasy-smuggling scandal broke in Brooklyn, pressure from Bobov leaders caused the convening of a rabbinic kangaroo court that undermined the prosecution of Shlomo Hafner for sex abuse; they also orchestrated a smear campaign of the alleged victim and his family. No apologies from those folks, to date, for any of that.

        And it’s not just the Hasidim, either. The rabbinic court that produced trumped-up “evidence” to derail the Hafner prosecution was headed by Dovid Feinstein. And equally prominent non-Hasidic rabbis have played sordid roles in protecting Yehuda Kolko, Avrohom Mondrowitz, Stefan Colmer, Elior Chen, Yosef Kolko… the list goes on. I don’t mention any of this to defend Satmar, but I do think the problems we face run deeper than the ideology of one particularly insular sect.

  6. The Hisachdus CRC is as corrupt as one can’t even begin to imagine. Their motto is “the world stands on three pillars”. Gelt, Gelt, und Gelt. You don’t get kashrus, you get to support the Organization and their cohorts, so they don’t have to stand on the F-R-U-M line. F=food stamps, R- rental assistance, U=double-U- welfare, M- medicaid.

    The Orginizatsias hashguchas like the OU beats them in kashrus anyday.

    • Alas, a once machmir and honest organization has fallen very low. Their administrator, Yitzchok Pink, is widely known in Williamsburg as Itzik Pimp. Yup, when that is your nickname inside your community, you know your credibility is shot.

  7. Vaychabek vaynashek lo, it was a routine reality check whether he has the delivery goods on his person, veda”l.

  8. You are all welcome to turn down the hot delicious food that is being offered for free at NY hospitals, as well as the rest of their chessed organizations.

    After all, it’s probably financed by fraudulent gains. Or so you seem to believe.

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