[Mb-civic] Abramoff: Bringing faith into contempt - Jeff Jacoby -
Boston Globe Op-Ed
swiggard at comcast.net
Sun Jan 8 07:13:19 PST 2006
Bringing faith into contempt
By Jeff Jacoby | January 8, 2006 | The Boston Globe
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
Far from disguising his Orthodox Jewish identification, Abramoff paraded
it publicly, as if that would cleanse his unkosher activities. He
produced a violent, expletive-filled movie (1989's ''Red Scorpion"),
then turned around and created the Committee for Traditional Jewish
Values in Entertainment. He fired off gross and insulting e-mails, but
made a point of writing ''God" as ''G-d." (''This is a Jewish
tradition," he explained to a reporter for The New York Times, ''to not
write out God's name in something that might be destroyed.") As the
legal stormclouds gathered over his head, he cloaked himself in piety.
His ''political activities, like everything in his life, were informed
by his religious beliefs," his spokesman told the Jewish Telegraphic
Agency. ''While he did not always meet the standard of his faith, he
certainly aspired to do so."
For his appearance in the US District Court in Washington last Tuesday,
Abramoff made a point of wearing a black fedora -- an element of attire
that is de rigeur for men in certain Orthodox Jewish circles. But his
show of devoutness was lost on those who looked at that black hat, and
the black trench coat he also wore, and saw something considerably more
''He looks like if he would open that raincoat, he's got half a dozen
machine guns inside," Newsweek's Howard Fineman commented on MSNBC.
''He looks," replied Christ Matthews, ''like the guy in 'Godfather II'
going after Hyman Roth."
Within the Jewish community whose values he so dishonored, there is
little sympathy for Abramoff, who is likely to receive a prison sentence
of 10 or 11 years. But Jewish tradition also teaches that it is never
too late to repent, and that God's hand is always extended to the
wrongdoer who is genuinely contrite.
''For all of my remaining days, I will feel tremendous sadness and
regret for my conduct and for what I have done," Abramoff told US
District Judge Ellen Huvelle last week. ''I only hope that I can merit
forgiveness from the Almighty and from those I have wronged or caused to
By themselves, those words will not undo the damage Jack Abramoff has
done. But they make a good start. Right now, that is the best that can
be said about him.
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