Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Black Hat Made Me Do It

Unkosher in Washington

The New York Times and ABC News just could not understand why Jack Abramoff, a master of public relations, would walk out of a courtroom - where he pleaded guilty to three felony accounts - wearing a Mafioso-styled black fedora. Whose sympathy exactly was he after? While the Times could not understand the bizarre spectacle, Jews recognized Abramoff's headgear all too well as a sign of Orthodox piety.It is far from ironic that Abramoff would be wearing such a hat to court.

From start to finish his lobbyist carrier and his cover-ups have been cloaked in religious garb.

Perhaps the best example of Abramoff religious antics comes from a story reported in The New York Times Magazine in 2005. Abramoff was nominated for membership in the Cosmos Club, an exclusive Washington insiders' organization.

Abramoff was flattered by the nomination, but knowing all too well just how newly cool he was in Washington circles, he feared the club would realize the emperor had no clothes. He needed some serious moral and intellectual credibility quickly. So he reportedly called his "rebbe" and long-time supporter Rabbi Daniel Lapin, head of the right-wing organization Toward Tradition, and asked him if he could patch together some award in his honor - "something like Scholar of Talmudic Studies," Abramoff wrote in an e-mail to Lapin. While Lapin was at it, Abramoff asked him if he could make it appear "that I received these in years past." Lapin assured him it was no problem.

The story only touches the surface of the disturbing symbiotic relationship between Abramoff and his rabbis. Abramoff founded the Eshkol Academy, an Orthodox Jewish school in Maryland. David Lapin, Daniel's brother, served as the dean. According to e-mails revealed during US Senate hearings into the Abramoff-Ralph Reed Indian gambling scandal, Lapin was reportedly paid $20,000 a month through Abramoff's Capital Athletic Foundation. The Eshkol Academy closed in 2004 after questions were raised in the press about Abramoff's financial dealings with Indian tribes. In 2004, 13 former Eshkol employees sued the academy for back salary and claimed that the Capital Athletic Foundation "was used to launder funds from the tribes to Eshkol."

FEDERAL TAX records show that various Indian tribes donated more than $1 million to the foundation.

Behind every corner of this investigation there is another right-wing rabbi or "observant Jew" ready to "kasher" Abramoff's actions. If it wasn't one of the Lapins, it was every evangelical's favorite Jew, David Klinghoffer, a writer who, along with Michael Medved, was part of Lapin's group American Alliance of Jews and Christians, which was geared towards promoting morality in American public life.

Yet with all his "moral" fiber behind him, Klinghoffer as late as May 13, 2005, was still defending Abramoff in The Forward. In the article, Klinghoffer praised the lobbyist in Robin Hood terms, castigating his readers and telling them, "I'd like to see Abramoff left alone in large part because, instead of spending the millions of dollars he raked in on Ferraris and yachts, he lavishly spent it on causes that I think are good and important: an Orthodox high school he founded in the Washington DC area, headed by a rabbi whose taped lectures I have long listened to with admiration."

Using biblical metaphors and justifying Abramoff's actions as "mundane," Klinghoffer asked his readers to sympathize with poor Abramoff. "His humiliation is nearly complete," wrote Klinghoffer, "yet who among us would not be humiliated if a decade's worth of our e-mail were leaked by Senate investigators to be dissected by journalists eager to carve us up like a Thanksgiving roast?"

In an article that recently appeared on, Klinghoffer justified his words by arguing that Judaism required him to give Abramoff "the benefit of the doubt." Furthermore, he exclaimed that, as an Orthodox Jew, he was in no way embarrassed by Abramoff's actions.

I do not think Klinghoffer gave Bill Clinton the benefit of the doubt. Klinghoffer seems to have fallen into a far more dangerous trap.

That is, being lenient when it comes to crimes committed between human beings and being stringent when it comes to ritual laws between God and man. If Abramoff's kosher restaurant had substituted pork for beef, he would not be justifying him.

I am sorry, but no matter how much you keep kosher and castigate Americans about sexual morality, if you support corrupt power and act unethically to other human beings, you are a failure as a Jew.

Abramoff's hat signals the extreme lack of self-reflection in his religious life. Before the Bible says anything about black hats, abortion or kosher restaurants for Washington insiders, it says "Do not steal." What can be more Jewish than that?

Hypocritical moralizing treats the public as fools and does a disservice to all those who take Judaism seriously. Being a frum Jew entails being an example for humanity. It means that we hold ourselves to a higher level of ethical correctness. If using an Orthodox yeshiva to launder ill-begotten money does not embarrass us, then what does?

Hey Lip-Shits, so much for the Shevet Levi uniform.


Boog said...

Hey Lipshits, what's this weeks editorial?

Wearing your tsitsis outside your shirt signals that you're from Shevet Yissocher?

Boog said...

I'm surprised the Agudah didn't give Abramov a Man of The Year Award at one it's annual dinners.

Would have been a tzu'gepast Shidduch.

Boog said...

BTW, what was the name of that Indian tribe?

Probably the Fuckgawee Indians.

Un-Orthodox Jew said...


You're on a roll!
I'm cracking up!

Elul53 said...

One of the most asinine attitudes in Orthodox circles, (and I am Orthodox) is the extreme emphasis on clothes. It is past idiotic. The emphasis on wearing black suits and white shirts and black fedoras is a very recent phenomenon. That we judge people by their clothes is pathetic...I once saw an old film made in the Ponovich yeshiva before WWII. I expected to see a bunch of Chofetz Chaim lookalikes. Instead, I was surprised to see the students dressed in fashionable light suits, carring walking sticks, with no beards for the most part. They looked nice, not like a caricature of 19th century polish stereotypes. What is most absurd is the amount of credibility we invest in someone because of a black suit and black hat. It is almost childish, and it is having a terrible impact on kids who grow up thinking these are the most important Jewish values.

Acher said...

Elul very well put. When I used to go Shacharit, even on Shabbat I would dress in a nice clean but comfortable Jacket and a type of brim cap that my peasant father and grandfather would have worn as middle class working jews in Poland. I always enjoyed my Shabboses that way.

Boog said...


Childish to us but it allows the "leaders" to homogenize their flock and have them march step under their control.

Jim Jones/Guyana...pass the Kosher Kool-Aid,please.

Anonymous said...

Acher, I take it you no longer go to Shacharit. Why?

Un-Orthodox Jew said...

A guy walks into our shul many years ago at shalosh seudos with a kipa sruga and white pants asking to daven maariv because he had yahrzeit. He came over to me; I am friends with his brother.
I said yes, I would arrange it for him.
I told the gabbai that there's a chiyuv, he said fine(he did not see the guy).

After maariv the rav called a meeting setting a new policy that nobody goes to the amud unless he has a hat and suit.
The meeting got hot. I threw a chair at the rav and that was the last time he saw me.

Three of his kids are m'challel Shabbos in public. Go ahead you animals teach kids what clothing to wear, make that the NUMBER ONE ISSUE, and forget about their hearts and minds!

Un-Orthodox Jew said...

You just have to look at some pictures of the chassunas in the U.S. in the 1940's. You will see R' Hutner and R' Pam and many others in "regular" clothing, colorful hats at the beards...and no tziziz flying out of their clothing.

Anonymous said...

Niskatnu Hadoros

boog said...


You threw a chair at your Shul Rabbi!!

Mama Mia!! I'm happy I'm on your side of the tracks.

Interesting point about Rav Hutner. In his later years he did put on the malbush.

Some Tayne that it was part of an act, others that it was truly and purely motivated.

Today, you no wear the uniform, you're on the outs. Clothes make the Man.

Un-Orthodox Jew said...

The shmuck caught me in a good mood, the shalosh seudos was fresh and the challah was only a week old.

boog said...

Vey, Vey; he got off easy.

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Moishe Pipick said...

Growing into a more respectable/Rabbinical garb is fine, maybe even commendable.
I am sure Rav Hutner and others did it that way.
OPutting a monkey suit and gangster hat on 13 year olds is ridiculous.
It also gives these kids a feeling of accomplishment when nothing has really been accomplished.
Changes in external Levush should reflect the internal advancements, and maybe prod the person to grow somewhat, not because every other guy is doing it.