Is it possible that an Orthodox Jew who is unscrupulous in business is worse than a Jew who doesn’t observe mitzvos but at least he’s decent?
Oh, I see. It’s the same old red herring question. The old red herring about people with beards who steal being worse than the irreligious who are always tzadikim gemurim.
He’s asking me if an unscrupulous Orthodox Jew is as good as an honest unorthodox Jew. But let’s ask the question this way: Is the unscrupulous unorthodox Jew as good as a scrupulous Orthodox Jew? Because really, that’s how it is.
Let me tell you a little story. There was a time when I used to take a taxi every day. I had to go from one school to another to talk. And I used the same driver every day; he was an old American Jew, an eighty year old man. He didn’t know how to learn a thing. He didn’t even know siddur; he knew nothing. But one thing he did know. He knew that the Orthodox Jews are no good.
He was describing to me how his daughter was married. He had an old daughter who finally got married and he hired a chazenta to put on a tallis and a yarmulke and she sang “Oh Promise Me,” – a big fat chazenta singing her heart out. When I smiled at that, he said, “You Orthodox Jews don’t have any beauty in your ceremonies.” Finally we crossed the Parkway and we came into Flatbush; there was a long way to go yet but he closed down his meter. I said, “Why are you closing the meter?” So he tells me “Because my boss earned enough today. The rest of the fare will go to me.”
Now, he didn’t dream that he was a crook. And that’s how it is – the unorthodox don’t even know that they’re crooks. All they know is that the Orthodox are crooks. By virtue of being Orthodox, you’re already a crook.
And therefore, certainly it’s wrong to be a crook. And it’s wrong to be unorthodox. It’s wrong to be every bad thing. But let’s use our own judgment and ask who is more liable to be a crook? Who is more likely to be a crook? A man who studies his whole life the dinim of somebody else’s money or someone who never opened the Gemara? An Orthodox Jew learned Bava Kama when he was a boy in the yeshiva. He learned that you can’t take somebody’s money. He learned about gezel ha’ger. He learned that if you swear falsely you have to bring a kaparah. You had to bring an asham and the keren and a chomesh. It’s a big job. And suppose that the man you wronged went to Madai, to a faraway place? So you have to go after him all the way to Madai. It’s a big job to return money you stole. Because there’s a very big responsibility once you take somebody’s property. That’s what it is if you know Torah.
But an unorthodox Jew? People take it for granted that from the atmosphere he absorbed all the laws of decency and all the ideals of justice and righteousness. All good things he learned from the TV and the movies. That’s as cockeyed as can be! Because the unorthodox, they’re the ones who are really crooks. I’m not saying all of them. But if there’s a possibility of crookedness, they’re the ones.
I’ll explain this. Let’s imagine it’s Yom Kippur and let’s say you have an intermission in your shul. They daven a fast musaf you have a lot of time before mincha. So you take a little walk on Ocean Parkway and you now you pass by the Mirrer Yeshiva. The door is open because it’s hot and they’re busy davening. Everybody is weeping. They’re shouting and weeping. “What are they weeping for?” you ask. You think that maybe somebody important just died. So a boy who’s near the door tells you that they’re weeping for their sins. They’re weeping for their sins! It means that the Mirrer Yeshiva is full of sinners.
So now you walk further down, way down to the other side, and you come to a big Jewish center and you’re curious. You stick your head in and people are smiling. Everybody there is happy. Nobody is weeping on Yom Kippur. There’s no sin in that Conservative Jewish Center.
Why is it that in the conservative place there are no sins? The answer is, listen to the following words: When you have a good conscience it’s a sign of a poor memory. The Orthodox Jew says, נחפשה דרכינו ונחקורה – “Let us search out our ways; let’s investigate.” And he does searching. He learned what’s wrong and sometimes he even thinks about it too.
But if you never learned then you think you’re a tzadik. Where did you learn it’s wrong to steal? Just by chewing gum and playing baseball? How do you pick up the ideal of regarding the other man’s property as sacred? You’ll never hear it! So you must realize that this question is a red herring question.
TAPE # 204 (February 1978)