Rabbi, I have a prob­lem

QUES­TION: A mem­ber of our com­mu­nity stole money from a char­i­ta­ble fund. When the theft was dis­cov­ered, a col­league of his re­paid it. Should we have re­ported it to the po­lice or were we right to deal with it in­ter­nally?

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - If you have a prob­lem to put to our rab­bis, please ring 020 7415 1676 or email ed­i­to­rial@thejc.com with de­tails Now out: the book ver­sion of Rabbi I Have A Prob­lem avail­able at £12.99 — £9.99 to JC sub­scribers — from www. thejc.com/rab­bi­book

THERE ARE two fac­tors that of­ten in­form the choices Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions make in sim­i­lar in­stances.

The first is a sur­vival in­stinct that all or­gan­i­sa­tions share. No or­gan­i­sa­tion wants neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity. Re­port­ing a theft or worse can be highly em­bar­rass­ing, es­pe­cially if the per­pe­tra­tor was a mem­ber of the or­gan­i­sa­tion or com­mu­nity. The in­stinct is to hush up the mat­ter and sort it out in­ter­nally so that the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s rep­u­ta­tion is up­held. One sees this de­fen­sive po­si­tion taken in all sorts of or­gan­i­sa­tions from fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions to re­li­gious bod­ies.

The sec­ond fac­tor is unique to the Jewish com­mu­nity and it harks back to a time when liv­ing un­der harsh gen­tile do­min­ion, the most rep­re­hen­si­ble thing a Jew could do was to re­port a fel­low Jew to the au­thor­i­ties. This con­cept known in He­brew as mesirah (a moser means an in­former) is not ap­pli­ca­ble today in so­ci­eties that are gov­erned by the rule of law and it is never ap­pli­ca­ble­wher­ere­main­ingsi­lent­mightleadthep­er­pe­tra­tor to vic­timise oth­ers. Yet de­spite our changed real­ity, there re­mains for some a deep dis­com­fort in re­port­ing a fel­low Jew to the au­thor­i­ties.

Did your or­gan­i­sa­tion do the right thing by deal­ing with this mat­ter in­ter­nally? There was a time when I would have sym­pa­thised with your col­league but I have since come to the firm con­clu­sion that all crimes with­out ex­cep­tion ought to be re­ported promptly to the au­thor­i­ties. In many sit­u­a­tions there may well be a le­gal re­quire­ment to re­port the crime and fail­ure to com­ply would be a vi­o­la­tion of the law.

Or­gan­i­sa­tions are health­ier when they are trans­par­ent and po­ten­tial crim­i­nals need to know that they will not get pref­er­en­tial treat­ment. Some of the worst abuses that took place in faith com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly in the area of child abuse, were the re­sult of per­pe­tra­tors know­ing that if caught, they would get away with their crimes be­cause the com­mu­nity lacked the nerve to go pub­lic.

From a moral per­spec­tive there can be no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for pro­tect­ing a crim­i­nal from the rule of law. If there are mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances, one can rest as­sured that they will be taken into full ac­count by those trained in the law and weighed ac­cord­ingly.

Fi­nally cov­er­ing up a crime is not only un­just to the vic­tims, but in the long term it is also harm­ful to the crim­i­nal. Get­ting away with a crime can of­ten only em­bolden a crim­i­nal to con­tinue, if not ex­pand, his crim­i­nal be­hav­iour.

WE WILL need sev­eral hands to un­ravel the com­plex­i­ties be­hind this ques­tion.

On the one hand, a theft was com­mit­ted and the law against steal­ing was bro­ken. On the other hand, no ma­te­rial dam­age was done to the char­ity, as the money was re­gained.

On an­other hand, there would have been con­sid­er­able amount of alarm when the theft was first dis­cov­ered, as well as dis­tress as to what might un­fold. On yet an­other hand, there was a cost to the col­league who pro­vided the re­place­ment funds.

There is a feel­ing in some cir­cles that one should not hand over a Jew to a non-Jewish court. This is for three rea­sons: first, it dates back to a time when there was so­cial war­fare be­tween Jews and the sur­round­ing pop­u­la­tion, with mu­tual dis­re­spect. This is not the case today.

Sec­ond, it was as­sumed that Jews would not get a fair trial, whereas now there is full equal­ity be­fore the law and courts are im­par­tial.

Third was the fear that the case would bring shame on the wider Jewish com­mu­nity and that the vast num­ber of law-abid­ing co-re­li­gion­ists would be tainted by the mis­deeds of reck­less in­di­vid­u­als.

Maxwell and Mad­off prove this is true to a lim­ited ex­tent, but more in the minds of Jews them­selves than in ac­tu­al­ity, and cer­tainly not to the ex­tent to pre­vent jus­tice be­ing pur­sued.

The only rea­son that might stop the theft be­ing re­ported is the mo­tive be­hind it. If, for in­stance, it was greed, then it is hard to see why it should not be pun­ished.

How­ever, if it was to pay for ur­gent med­i­cal treat­ment un­avail­able on the NHS, then there might be a case for not go­ing to the po­lice if cer­tain con­di­tions ap­plied: clear ex­pres­sion of re­gret, all par­ties agree, a plan by which the money is re­paid over time plus in­ter­est, and an on­go­ing sys­tem of mon­i­tor­ing to pre­vent fu­ture lapses, lest le­niency now lead to mores crimes in the fu­ture. Ju­daism does be­lieve in sec­ond chances. That is the pur­pose of Yom Kip­pur - and re­pen­tance at any time through­out the year, so that the mis­takes of the past are not a per­ma­nent al­ba­tross around our neck.

Half-de­cent mo­tives do not make crimes any less crim­i­nal, nor do they ex­cuse a per­son from pub­lic ex­po­sure, but there may be highly ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances where guilt and rec­om­pense are done pri­vately.

Naf­tali Brawer is chief ex­ec­u­tive of Spir­i­tual Cap­i­tal Foun­da­tion

Jonathan Ro­main is rabbi at Maiden­head (Re­form) Syn­a­gogue

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.