The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Crooked philanthropy

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A man who spent time in prison having been convicted of financial wrong-doing is to provide money and other assistance for a major new communal project.
A number of Torah concepts come immediately to mind:
(1)    Mitzvoh haboh ba’aveiroh eino mitzvoh.  Robin Hoodism is contrary to the Torah.  Money that is acquired wrongly does not become purged by being given to a good cause.  Indeed, if I have reason to believe that money has been dishonestly acquired I may not receive it, whether for my own use or for anyone else’s.
(2)    Hatovel v’sheretz beyodo.  To build a communal institution designed to spread Torah values using money acquired by their breach is like, in the symbolism of the Talmud, someone who goes to the mikveh while clutching a source of tumoh in his hand.  Better not to build than to build with tainted money.
(3)    Teshuvoh.  Any criminal can repent and become rehabilitated.  But it requires not mere regret and good intentions, but an active attempt to compensate for the harm done.  In the case of gezel min horabim – theft from a class not all of whose members can be ascertained – it is very difficult to make any meaningful reparation.  But there are ways that one could try.  Giving to a parochial and sectarian institution, having caused monetary loss to members of the wider community, is clearly insufficient.
(4)    Ma’aris ho’ayin.  We must be seen to act properly, as well as acting properly.  The criminal in question may have tried to make effective reparation to the wider community.  But unless his attempts are made as public as his involvement in the communal enterprise, the latter will be tainted by the appearance of profiting from the loss caused to the wider public.
(5)    Chillul hashem.  Anything which makes it appear that the Jewish community is prepared to honour and to be lead by dishonest people brings discredit on the name of God, to glorify which is our only communal responsibility.

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Written by Daniel Greenberg

March 18, 2006 at 8:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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