Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Article: Hasid Goes Undercover To Aid Drug Sting

It's been a little while since this story first appeared but a) it didn't get much attention and b) I think that rather than just kvetch about bad behavior we should praise good behavior and c) we could all use a little chizuk right about now.

Hasid Goes Undercover To Aid Drug Sting
By Nathan Jeffay
Published April 10, 2008,

A few months ago, Israeli police planning a sting were hard-pressed to find a convincing small-time dealer who could buy large quantities of drugs without arousing suspicion. In the end, they settled on a novel solution: a Hasidic man who would claim he was buying for students at his yeshiva.

The case ended up netting the arrests of 15 men in the Israeli town of Lod. The arrested will face trial next month on charges of possession and supply of illegal substances. The operation was given the name Ketoret Samim, a double entendre referring both to drugs in modern Hebrew and to a talmudic mixing of incense in ancient Hebrew. The operation’s success was thanks to footage recorded from cameras secreted in the long black coat of Shlomo Treitel, a 34-year-old Hasid from Netanya who is a community police officer.

“My wife didn’t know what I was doing, but when I told her, she said that she knows I’m guided by our rebbe, so I won’t come to any harm,” he told the Forward.

On some 30 occasions, and spending $14,000 altogether, Treitel went to dealers in Lod, notorious for its Arab-controlled drug trading. He bought hard and soft drugs. His story was that the students in his yeshiva were ba’alei teshuvah (secular Jews who have turned to more observant lives), and he had come to the conclusion that he could well cash in on their habits by becoming a small-scale dealer.

“We wanted somebody who would not arouse suspicion of being a police officer,” explained Chanoch Yitzhack of Ramle-Lod police, who masterminded the operation. “On occasion we have used a young woman, another time a taxi driver, and for this we knew people are unlikely to think a Hasid is a police officer.”

Treitel recalls that the dealers would say, “You’re religious, we trust you; we don’t mind giving you business.”

Yitzhack and Treitel’s other superiors deemed his dress a safety device: The theory was that religious clothing inspires a certain respect even from hardened criminals, lessening the chance that they would make physical contact and discover recording devices. The superiors also believed that his religiosity would allow him to get away with being relatively unfamiliar with drug culture; any slip-ups in underground etiquette would be considered a symptom of his devout lifestyle.

“It really proved quite easy,” Treitel said. “The dealers just want money, and they’ll take it from anyone. I just handed over the money and took the drugs.” Though Treitel was unarmed, he “wasn’t scared, because there was backup nearby.”

When intelligence chiefs first approached him to go undercover, Treitel was working as a uniformed community officer in Kiryat Sanz, a Netanya neighbourhood in which 700 families from his sect reside. (He has returned to this role since the sting.) Treitel refused to become involved in the sting until he had checked with his religious mentor, the renowned Sanzer Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech Halberstam.

The rebbe met police chiefs for an in-depth discussion about the plans, and then gave them his blessing. “He said that drugs are a problem for the whole of society, and that it was an important task to take on,” Treitel recalled.

The rebbe’s encouragement reflects a long-standing legacy in the Sanz sect of attributing religious importance to initiatives intended to improve society. The current rebbe’s father and predecessor, Rabbi Yekutiel Halberstam, founded Netanya’s Laniado Hospital in the 1970s because of the religious value he attributed to healing. It has been known that when bloodstocks were dangerously low, prayers were actually stopped until enough worshippers came forward to donate and replenish enough for immediate use.

Treitel continued his daily part-time studies in kollel throughout the operation, and kept details from his wife and five children.

He was put through a crash course to teach him about different kinds of drugs and how to talk the talk — not easy for a man who conducts most of his life in Yiddish. He was given phone numbers of dealers and told how to behave when — inevitably — he was short-changed or sold fake drugs.

His superiors held a special ceremony to honor him after the arrests. He spoke, declaring that exchanging his uniformed duties for a career — albeit a made-up one — as a drug dealer had ended up allowing him more time to spend studying Torah.

Now that his community knows of his exploits, he has become something of a celebrity. He said, “My community often feels negatively towards the police, but they know there is a war against drugs that needs to be fought and people are really happy.”

Dina D'Malchusa

דברי חכמים ח"מ פרק דשאלה: הרוצה לעלות לא"י (כדי לקיים מצות ישוב ארץ ישראל) ו יש לו חסרון פרנסה, ורק יוכל לבוא אם לא הודיע המדינה בארצות הברית על כל מה שהוא הרויח במשרה שלו, למשל, (not report income tax), וגם שהוא טוען שלמעשה הרבה עושין זה ברגילות, האם מותר לו לעשות זה או לא

תשובה: שמעתי מהגריש"א שבודאי אסור לעשות זה, (שאסור מדין דינא דמלכותא) ואסור אפי' אם לעולם לא יוכל לעלות לא"י אח"כ

Loosely Translates:

Question: Someone wishes to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael (to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel) but has financial difficulties, and is only able to come if he does not inform the United States Government about his income, which many people do regularly, is it permitted for him to do so or not?

Response: I heard from HaGaon Y.S. Elyashiv shlita that it is certainly prohibited to do so (which prohibited because of dina d'malchusa) and it is prohibited even if he will never be able to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael afterwards.

(I've ajusted the date to bring this post back to the top)

*Rav Elyashiv shltia lives in Eretz Yisrael so his psak is clearly not out of fear of personal liability.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Laundering may kasher table-cloths but not money III

A little early for Parshas Ekev,

"The holy words of our holy teacher Rebbe Menechem Mendel from Rimnov zy'a are known and brought many times by the holy elder our Master Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech zya [of Dinov, The B'nei Yisoschar] in his holy seforim, "The honorable Admo"[r] The holy Rav Menechem Mendel said concerning the oddity which we see many times, a child, who in his youth goes to cheder and continually learns Torah, and davens with kavannah (prays with concentration) and answers "Amen, Yehei Shmei Rabba" and "Amen", and are upright in their ways. And afterward, when they grow up, they revert to degenerate middos chas v'Shalom, and cease learning Torah and davening and the like. And how can this be, the Torah which they learned in their youth is "breath in which their is no sin" (Shabbos 119:2) should be sufficient to establish them and add strenght to their neshamos, since a mitzvah leads to another mitzvah. And he replied that, 'This is because their fathers fed thme from stolen money, which they enriched themselves with through commerce which was not faithful...'".....

I have already sounded the alarm on this manner many times..why haven't we produced amongst us students of Torah, Gedolim like in the past. Do we see today Gedolei Yisroel or Talmidei Chachamim who fear Hashem like those seen in the previous generation,like the Holy Gaon, the author of the Chafetz Chaim ztvk"l or the Holy Gaon Rabbi Chaim Ozer ztvk"l, or many Admorim [Rebbes] and Tzaddikim....?"

Shefa Chaim, (Chumash Rashi Shiur parshas Ekev, 5742) page 475.

From Aspaqlaria

R. Micha has posted information about a gathering being held Tuesday night on the importance of living with integrity, http://www.aishdas.org/asp/2009/07/email-from-agudah.shtml

I will be unable to attend, but encourage all who can to do so.

Friday, July 24, 2009

From Just Tzedakah we read:

Far worse, however, is misrepresenting the cause being supported, in favor of a more popular one; this practice may enter the realm of theft. (35 Responsa Divrei Yatziv, Yoreh Deah 146; Responsa Yashiv Yitzchak, Yoreh Deah 28; Responsa Shevet HaLevi II, 119; Responsa Shraga HaMeir IV,20:3; Responsa Ateret Moshe, II, 188.)
In all instances, the overarching concern of the organization must be Kiddush Hashem – Sanctification of the Divine Name, and the avoidance of Chilul Hashem – Profanation of the Divine Name (It is also for this reason that when soliciting donations, particularly in matters of basic sustenance,the focus should be within the Jewish community (See Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 254:1-2 and 259:3-4 and Orach Chaim, 154:11; Responsa Da’at Cohen, 132; Responsa Teshurat Shai, I, 15 and II,51; Responsa Divrei Yatziv Yoreh Deah 142).

Divrei Yatziv is the Responsa by the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe z'ya and Yashiv Yitzchak is by the Rosh Yeshiva in Kiryat Sanz.

Laundering may kasher table-cloths but not money II

When I posted the piece last night I knew that their was a piece in the Shefa Chaim I had read more recently that dealt with this topic, I was just looking in the wrong year and a parsha too early. In the Chumash Rashi Shiur for 5743 on Parshas Devarim we read:

"A hint to this is said in Chazal (Shabbos 31a) that at the time when a person enters for [heavenly] judgment, they say to him, "Did you engage in commerce faithfully?" etc. Of all the Taryag mitzvos of the Torah, they first ask him specifically about faithful commerce, without theft or deception, since if he is not careful over this he will automatically be unable to be particular on the rest. With this we answer the difficulty presented by the Gemara (Sanhedrin 7a), "A persons judgement only starts with words of Torah" since we infer that a person's judgement doesn't begin with faithful commerce but rather words of Torah. But according to our understanding this makes sense, since as a prerequisite for asking if a person engaged in Torah, it is necessary to initionaly aske if he engaged in commerce faithfully, since if he is a robber and thief soiled(?) with money which isn't his, it is not possible that he fixed time for learning Torah. And the matter is simple and obvious, that his mind was contaminated with stolen money so his learing will not be effective." Page 452.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Laundering may kasher table-cloths but not money

"The Holy Rav, our master Menachem Mendel (of Rimnov) commented about the curious sight that we often see children who in their youth go to school and continually learn Torah, and daven with kavanah, and answer "Amen, yehei Shmei rabba" and Amen, and are upright in their ways. Afterwards, when they grow up, their behaviour reverses, chas v'Shalom, with diminished middos, neglecting Torah, Prayer, and so forth...the Torah which they learned in their youth, breath in which there is no sin (Shabbos 119b), would be suitable to establish them, and add strength to their neshamas, since a mitzvah leads to another mitzvah.

Regarding this he said, "This is because of their fathers who feed them stolen money which they enriched themselves through unfaithful commerce, and fattened themselves in violation of halachah...and in this way they descend into desire and degraded middos."

From his Holy words it is established, that also with food which is inherently kosher, except that it was acquired with money which isn't acquired in an upright manner and lacking in emunah. The power of the act enters the product, and the food goes from the side of kedushah and descends and degrades himself into desires and poor midos, rachmana litzlan. "

The Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe zy'a, Shefa Chaim, Chumash Rashi Shiur, parshas Nasso 5742, page 395.

**Brought because it's an inyana d'yoma, but not to render judgment on any particular incident.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Igros Moshe on Kollel Income

Hirhurim recently had a post which discussed the appropriateness of giving money to those unwilling to work. Inevitably, although perhaps not intentionally, this led to commenter's discussing the propriety of giving to support those learning in Kollel. I have therefore done my best to produce this humble translation, a loose and unfinished translation, of a teshuvah by Rav Moshe Feinstein zt'l on this topic:

Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 116

Regarding a Talmid Chacham who wishes to engage in learning Torah and to become wise, knowing the Torah in quantity and quality and he sustains himself by the income he receives from the Kollel. And likewise with Rabbanim who receive income for teaching students or Roshei Yeshivos who receive income to sustain them: Is it permissible to do so or is their basis to reconsider this and that it is a middas chassidus to not be supported by this, but rather by the work of one's own hand?

Certainly it is permissible to do so, and this is the ruling of the Rama in Yoreh Deah 246:21 that even a healthy person is able to receive the distributions from the givers in order that their hand be strengthened in learning Torah, since in doing so they will be able to engage in Torah study with peace of mind. And the Shach in seif katan 20 also cited the Kesef Mishnah who rules do even if we say that this is not in accordance with the opinion of the Rambam since all of the Chachmei Yisrael who preceded the time of our Master (the Rambam), as well as those which followed, were accustomed to receive payment from the congregation. And even if the ruling is in accordance to the Rambam, the Sages of the Generations relied on doing so because it was an "Eis la'asos l'Hashem... (A time to act for Hashem)" since if there wasn't support for students and teachers [of Torah] ZZZ and they would not be able to exert themselves as appropriate and the Torah would be forgotten from Israel. And with that ZZZ he will be able to increase the Torah and magnify it." This is the language of the Kesef Mishneh on Hilchos Talmud Torah 10
towards the end.

Likewise it is brought down from the Maharashal who writes: "Truthfully were it not so the Torah would already have been nullified from Israel since it is not possible for a person to engage in Torah and to become wise in it while sustaining themselves from the work of their hands. . . . since it is not possible that he will

Therefore it is a clear and obvious ruling which has been excepted in all generations, whether according to strict halachah or whether because it is an "Eis la'asos", that it is permitted to engage in learning Torah and to sustain themselves by receiving stipends, or from what he receives from teaching Torah to others or for being a Rav or Moreh Hora'ah, and there is no reason to refrain from this even as a "midas chassidus."

Furthermore it is my opinion that those "Mischassidim" from the side of the Rambam's opinion is advice from the yetzer hara in order that they interrupt their learning and engage in labor and commerce and the like until ultimately they forget even the little which they already learned and aren't relaxed enough to fix even a small amount of time for learning Torah.

Since if the Rishonim were like melachim and said that it was not possible to engage in Torah and become wise in it while engaged in labor to sustain themselves by the work of their hands, certainly in our generation...........it is not possible for anyone to boast that he is able to engage in labor and become wise in Torah. Therefore do not let the thought arise in your mind that advise of the yetzer hara that with a stipend from learning in Kollel, being a Rabbi, teacher of Torah, or Rosh Yeshiva there is any sort of sin or lack of middas Chassidus, since it is only to instgate one into separating from the Torah.

And one who gives and there are found men willing to sustain many talmidei Chachamim, they are increasing b'nei Torah, Gedolei Yisroel, and experts in instruction as is the will of the Holy One blessed be He, since there is nothing for Hashem in His world except the four amos of halachah.


I would like to add a couple of observations. First of all it is very revealing that those who like to bring up the shita of the Rambam do not do so with respect to pulpit Rabbis or teachers, although his opinion would apply to them as well equally. Secondly is the implication that, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure most men in American Kollel's are hired employees, such people do not view Torah as a "real" job. Any other service isn't similarly dismissed. Entertainers are regarded as having earned their money even if we think they get paid too much. We are accept the payment of those who work full time for charities (from charitable funds no less) provided that the overhead is within reason, despite the fact that the giver receives no direct benefit from the service. Ultimately I do not see how we can help but conclude that such people do not believe that those who learn in Kollel do not produce anything of value for those who pay them, i.e. there is no value in learning Torah.

(B'ezras Hashem I will fill in the gaps in the translation. I apologize for any inaccuracies. Any comments kindly given will be graciously received. I also hope to add a few other relevant discussions soon).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I'm still alive

Comming of age, as I did, in the "Grunge Era" there is a certain nostalgia such music brings me. although I was never a fan myself.

One particular song, it would seem to me, has a pretty deep philosophical question at it's core which I think sheds light on one of the more difficult concepts in halachah.

I have always been interested in lyrics, an interest encouraged by occasionally being caught using the wrong ones (and duly ridiculed). But lyrics do not always tell the whole story and occasionally an artist will provide a little background which illuminates the song's narrative. The popular grunge song "Alive" written and sung by Eddie Vedder is an account of a mother revealing to her son that he had a different father than he had known growing up. Although not explicit in the words, interviews indicate that the boy had been conceived in an inappropriate relationship with a relative. The song climaxes with the following exchange between mother and son:
"Is something wrong?", she said
"Well of course there is."
"You're still alive" she said
"Oh, and do I deserve to be?
Is that the question?
And if so, if so, who answers?...Who answers?"

Halachah prohibits a mamzer (someone born as a result of certain relationships of inconceivable propriety) from intermarrying with most other Jews. And any children born to a mamzer, even while married to someone he is allowed to, are likewise mamzerim and share his status.

This is a very difficult notion insofar as the individual in question committed no wrong doing but merely happened to be born as a result of serious transgression.

While it is not up to us to decide who "deserves" to be "alive" most of us recognize that certain relationships are harmful and children should not be born into such circumstances. While we may all have different definitions of inappropriate relationships most of us can agree that morally and/or genetically it is inappropriate for siblings or parents/children to procreate together.

Yet no one (who has any ounce of decency) wants to look at someone else and say, "You are a mistake" or "You should not have been born." Certainly it is difficult for a loving parent to look at their child and say (or even think) that the world would be better without them.

Yet Teshuvah, repentance, requires real regret of the past. While with other transgressions which result in offspring one can regret that they failed to take appropriate steps to permit their actions, this is not the case when the entire relationship is inconceivable. The severe status of a mamzer merely reflects the severe gravity of the relationship which produced him, and the manifestation of that severity, it seems to me, provides the real opportunity for the transgressors to have real regret for their actions.

Furthermore it safeguards society from complacency which can make the inconceivable seem acceptable. The inability to fully integrate into the community prevents the unfortunate individuals situation from gaining any perceived normalcy.

The mamzer's status is not a pleasant one, but the legal status is merely a reflection of the fact that while he has done nothing wrong, he (inherently not circumstantially) should not have been born.