Is This Theft?

A Chabad shaliach asks a grieving widow for a donation in memory of her freshly-buried husband – $18,000 to pay for a new ark for the shul. She agrees and pays the money. In the end, the ark turns out to be  a plywood and veneer armoir-like box  worth in the neighborhood of $2000. The widow is outraged and sues. The Chabad rabbi says he has done nothing wrong. Whatever is left after buying the ark is used to pay for his living expenses and the programs he runs. I know this attitude is common among shluchim. I think this is a clear case of theft even under halakha. If you disagree, please tell us why.

[Hat tip: JWB.]

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22 Comments

Filed under Chabad Theology, Crime

22 responses to “Is This Theft?

  1. Nigritude Ultramarine

    Making a profit on a donation? Who even thinks like that?

    / In today’s lesson we learn, don’t give money to rabbis
    // Instead, give directly to the poor
    /// It rather reminds me of this OU switcheroo.

  2. Harbona

    There is nothing wrong with the Rabbi did in this case.
    In synagogues all over the world, one is invited to purchase this or that “right” (if you will) to be dedicated in honour or memory of so and so.
    The $18,000.00 were for the right, in our case, and the rabbi provides the arch. Were the donnor to tell the rabbi that she will shop for the arch, chose the contractor and pay the contractor directly. The rabbi would have refused and would have been right to refuse.
    In a little Beit Midrash that my father z’l attended, they had no vaad and each could do what he wanted. The result in such places, is that the shul ends up with a different light with a little dedication plaque under each. Often several, different, light fixtures on the same wall. Clearly, each well meaning member bought what he could afford, and brought it to shul.
    In this case, I think it’s a case of buyer remorse. While the shock of the loss was still fresh in the donnor’s mind, $18,000.00 seemed a reasonable sum to pay. If she was so keen on getting what she was paying for, she could have requested for an artist rendering before agreeing to the sum.
    Such situation is not likely to happen in non-chabad synagogues, as only in chabad, the rabbi is the chief executive, he is not hired, he decides who is in his vaad not the other way around etc…
    Other shuls have elected committees responsible to their members.
    One very ennoying thing a rabbi could possibly do when he runs a synagogue single handedly, is sell the heikhal this year,say 2006, in the memory of the dearly departed X.
    3, 4 or 5 years later, he will launch a refurbishing program and resell the new heikhal for more money in the memory of somebody else. If the person who bought the heikhal is lucky, his heikhal with the dedication would be moved to an auxilliary room, otherwise, dearly departed X is left with no memorial and no mention of him in that particular shul.

  3. Neo-Conservaguy

    She should have followed the same rule as with contractors: never pay in full until after you see the work – caveat emperor.

    From an ethical point of view, I find the rabbi’s alledged actions problematic – it appears he may have taken advantage of someone in a distressed state of mind. I also understand that it takes donations to the “general fund” to keep a shul functioning – but it doesn’t seem the donor was honestly told that more than 80% of her donation would be used in that manner and not toward the specific item in question.

  4. Leila

    If she said she designated the 18,000 dollars for the ark and only the ark then what the rabbi did was very wrong. There is a difference between a specific donation and a general donation. I am sick of the Chabad rabbis taking advantage of people. I stopped giving money to Chabad when I saw the huge town house my rabbi lived in and how poorly he and his wife treated and paid their nanny. Growing up secular who always have so much admiration for the religious, many chabad people prey on this respect. I am sick of it.

  5. Ma Rabbi

    Reply to Leila:
    I am a Chabad rabbi. My wife and family do not live in a big townhouse. Nor do we have a Nanny to take care of our children. We do it ourselves.

  6. Leila

    Kudos to you. I did not say every Chabad Rabbi lives in a big house or takes advantage of those who work for him. I had a whole second part to my post that some how did not make it online and for that I am truly sorry

    I have a lot of respect for a lot of people in Chabad. Even the people that I mentioned do many good things and help people. People are indeed complex, doing both good and bad at the same time. I just think that Rabbis should be more scrupulous in following Halaka then me, your run of the mill secular Jew. And I don’t mean the have a hundred separate pots and pans, and wear the right stockings and swinging chickens over your head kind of halakaha ( cause they defiantly have me beat in those areas), but I mean all those laws that have to do with the treatment of other people; Jews, non Jews, and even *gasp* svhartzes right. (G-D created everything and everybody for a reason, and when we disrespect HIS creations we disrespect HIM.)

    I have Chabad friends who are great people; genuine and loving and wonderful and caring, and G-D fearing. But so much of Chabad is corrupt both morally and spiritually, or at least that’s how a lot of people see it. The sad part is that you guys are in contact with a lot of people who have had no contact with Orthodoxy or even Jewish life at all ( as you know). So when you guys mess up, it’s really big time. So…………….

    Perhaps, you can lead the way to reform !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Rabbi, how bout we strike a deal? I will continue to defend and explain Chabad and Satmar ( even though you guys don’t always get along, ( but you do know that outsiders confuse you all the time, so their behavior also reflects on you) to all the students I work with and go to school with from BK ( who so desperately try to say hi to you on the street but get ignored, who don’t understand why you expect them to push elevator buttons for them in hospitals, and why, and this was the worst…Satmar men seek hookers on the block some of my friends go to church on.
    Can you believe it! I bet even a master Chabad PR/ask moses kinda guy would have trouble humanizing that.

    So… while I continue to do all that…. perhaps YOU, YES, YOU could work on the inside to make my defense of You more meaningful. I am sick of explaining away corruption and rudeness out of love for my fellow Orthodox Jew, while they continue to disappoint me. So come on, help a Sista out.

    I never thought I would ever speak to any Rabbi like this, least of all in a public forum . But I can’t hold it in anymore. So please, I don’t mean to hurt you, or upset you, just understand where I am coming from, and feel it for a second. So, it is late, and I am tired but tonight I will pray that meschiach will come, speedily in our days and save us from all of these nonsense.

  7. Me again Leila

    “She should have followed the same rule as with contractors: never pay in full until after you see the work”

    What is our world comeing too when we can’t even trust our Rabbis.

  8. I am not sure ‘theft’ is the word, but shady, unethical, etc. fit.

    Had it been worded that she donate toward the ark, while her gift would also ensure operating and programming, that would have been honest. Who knows? She may have even been willing to do so, in any event.

    However, the way it was gone about, and the result even to the point of personal enrichment if that is the case, appears to be a disgrace.

  9. C-Girl

    In the post-Rebbe era, Chabad shluchim appear not to be franchises that follow a singular model. So I don’t think the conduct of this one shaliach should reflect on any other Chabad rabbis- other than as an important guide for how *not* to operate.

    I’ve known some incredible Chabad rabbis, and some not-so-wonderful ones. They’re people- some more ethical, people-friendly and up-front than others. Same goes for any other rabbi, or doctor, lawyer or politician, for that matter. We expect that people in whom we place our trust will not let us down, but alas, they’re human so they occasionally do.

  10. Zayin Gadol

    Leila, I have similar experience, where I live the Chabbad people live large and yes they do have huge houses and they are shady in financial matters.

    And they just hate schvartzes which I never understood where the hatred is coming from.

    And Yes, there are some chabbad who are real Tzadikim but unfortunately I did not encounter them.

  11. Ma Rabbi

    Reply to Leila:
    You sound like a very sincere person. How can I contact you ?

  12. Ma Rabbi

    Reply to Leila again:
    I do not mean for you to post your email on this website that would be foolish for obviuos reasons.

  13. JewishCynic

    Where is 770 in this matter? Clearly this rabbi is out of control (read the article) and causing a chillul hashem in the name of chabad. They should have paid the lady and sent someone to supervise or replace this “rabbi”. Now the IRS might step in and cost the shul a lot more than $18,000. And result in more embarassing newspaper articles.

  14. Leila

    We expect that people in whom we place our trust will not let us down, but alas, they’re human so they occasionally do.”

    If you mother had a tumor removed by a brain surgeon who fucked up because he wasen’t paying attention to the rules of surgery, you would’nt say “alas” he is only human.

    If your lawyer embezzedled your life savings you would not say alas he is only humnan.

    And while my comparuisons , my point is, don’t be a Rabbi if you can’t follows the basics, excpect repruccions,amoung them, people’s anger and mistrust.

    Doctor’s and Lawyers loose their licesenses when they do unethetical or really messed up jobs. Rabbis should be revovked when the break the most basic of Halachaka.

    “In the post-Rebbe era, Chabad shluchim appear not to be franchises that follow a singular model. So I don’t think the conduct of this one shaliach should reflect on any other Chabad rabbis- other than as an important guide for how *not* to operate.”

    Hmm, then they should stop using the same name all over the place, if they dont’ expect to be lumped in all over the place. When I find a nail in my starbucks coffee, I will probebly think twice about going into another starbucks coffe shop even if it is run and owed by another group of people.

    QAULITY CONTROL PEOPLE

    And Rabbi, what would you want to talk about?

    That may be true but if a bunch of people in a movement start to do crazy messed up shit, it is not surprising that people should think the movement itself is messed up”

  15. Leila

    We expect that people in whom we place our trust will not let us down, but alas, they’re human so they occasionally do.”

    If you mother had a tumor removed by a brain surgeon who fucked up because he wasen’t paying attention to the rules of surgery, you would’nt say “alas” he is only human.

    If your lawyer embezzedled your life savings you would not say alas he is only humnan.

    And while my comparuisons , my point is, don’t be a Rabbi if you can’t follows the basics, excpect repruccions,amoung them, people’s anger and mistrust.

    Doctor’s and Lawyers loose their licesenses when they do unethetical or really messed up jobs. Rabbis should be revovked when the break the most basic of Halachaka.

    “In the post-Rebbe era, Chabad shluchim appear not to be franchises that follow a singular model. So I don’t think the conduct of this one shaliach should reflect on any other Chabad rabbis- other than as an important guide for how *not* to operate.”

    Hmm, then they should stop using the same name all over the place, if they dont’ expect to be lumped in all over the place. When I find a nail in my starbucks coffee, I will probebly think twice about going into another starbucks coffe shop even if it is run and owed by another group of people.

    QAULITY CONTROL PEOPLE

    And Rabbi, what would you want to talk about?

    That may be true but if a bunch of people in a movement start to do crazy messed up shit, it is not surprising that people should think the movement itself is messed up”

  16. Leila

    Ahh, I posted by unspelled checked version of the post. So sorry you have to read my post like that

  17. c-girl

    Leila- hold on a moment. I just re-read my comment and it says nothing about excusing imcompetence. What it does say is that messing up is a human trait, so we shouldn’t be so surprised when it happens. Relax.

  18. Leila

    Dude, it was implied, or at least that’s I how I saw it, sorry if I misinterpreted your post..I guess I am just sick of everyone talking about how our Rabbis are human. Why does that even need to be said?

  19. Leila

    Dude, it was implied, or at least that’s I how I saw it, sorry if I misinterpreted your post..I guess I am just sick of everyone talking about how our Rabbis are human. Why does that even need to be said?

  20. Schneur

    Of course the Chabad rabbi is ethically challenged , but can you blame him, did he ever study a Mussar sefer in his young life ?
    He may know about Avya and AK and the sefirot and the Chalal Hayemini vechuli, but did he ever learn a Mesiloth Yesharim or a Chovath halevavoth to KNOW HIMSELF !
    But the real idiot is the victim SHTEH ASSUR LERACHEM ALAV…

  21. mosh

    I knew that Chabad rabbi well. His entire life is given over to his community. He’s a nice eidel guy with a great sense of humor and the furthest thing away from a thief. I’ll ask him what really happened.

  22. Cynic

    Some of the reactions to the “Chabad Ark Scandal” suggest that simplistic and illogical “insights” can explain the behaviour of the shliach. For clarity, the case as presented, involves no unethical behaviour. The Rabbi of the Young Israel to which I belong makes more money than the vast majority of shluchim. Musar study does not prevent sexual molestation of children by all of its students. Chabad bashing makes one feel important because Chabad is important. Rarely does one use his/her valueless time to “identify” and pontificate about an insignificant organization or movement. At the end of the day we all know that anyone to the right of me ethically is too extreme and anyone to the left of me ethically is not ethical enough.

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