Times: Syrian Jewish Rabbi Saul Kassin Arrest by FBI Shakes His Community and Us Too

The arrest of a saintly looking man, a rabbi, their leader, a man who instructs his community on what is kosher and what is treif, has shaken the Syrian Jewish community, according to the Times.

It has shaken us too. We have sat reading the news accounts and we cried.

This after all, appears to be the greatest imaginable betrayal of trust by a religious leader that we have witnessed in our memories.

You cannot stand before your flock and purport to tell them what God wants them to do to be good and moral - in this case it was notably to promulgate an edict of who God wants them to marry - and in your own life tolerate and foster corruption and immorality.

Hypocrisy is not a strong enough term to describe this behavior.

The common internal term for it in the community of Jews is "chillul hashem" - desecration of the Lord. But that's just an ejaculative - not a descriptive. The Lord is not desecrated by the acts of hooligans, no matter what are their titles, hairstyles or undergarments.

We left the door unlocked for our ostensible mentors and now they have walked away with our silverware.

This is a desecration of a communal trust - a spouse who has cheated - a business partner who has stolen - a best friend from childhood who has spread a vicious rumor about you.

This is a father who has abused his children - a husband who has beaten his wife - it is all the worst things you can imagine in human relations - magnified by that charter that we call "religion" that we have agreed to abide by because we believe in a thing called "trust."

Read it and weep for that dear friend called trust has died.
Syrian Sephardic Communities Shaken by Charges Against a Leading Rabbi

The young receive free educations and the old get free geriatric care. Family businesses connect relatives in a web of interdependence to the furthest reaches of kinship. Wedding receptions with 1,000 guests are common. A Friday night Sabbath dinner with 40 people is the norm.

And that enveloping tradition among the Syrian Jewish communities of Brooklyn and New Jersey seemed to redouble the shock and outrage among their members Thursday after the arrests of five Sephardic rabbis in a New Jersey corruption investigation.

“Shock and disbelief — my cellphone, my office phone — they’re ringing off the hook” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, who represents an Orthodox Jewish community adjacent to the southern Brooklyn neighborhoods where about 75,000 Sephardic Jews live. “People do not believe it.”

In a criminal complaint, the F.B.I. said the rabbis used their congregations’ charitable organizations to launder about $3 million — passing what they were told was a donor’s ill-gotten gains through their charities’ bank accounts, and then returning the money to the donor in exchange for a cut of 5 to 10 percent.

The donor turned out to be an apparent F.B.I. informer, Solomon Dwek, who, like the rabbis, is a Sephardic Jew of Syrian descent.

One of the five rabbis, Saul J. Kassin, 87, a slight, soft-spoken man who has written several books on Jewish law, leads the largest of about 50 Sephardic synagogues in the United States, Shaare Zion in Brooklyn. He is considered the leading cleric of the national community.

The congregation was founded by his father, Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, who was known from 1932 until his death in 1994 as the chief rabbi of Brooklyn’s Syrian Sephardic Jews.

David G. Greenfield, executive vice president of the Sephardic Community Federation, a group representing the approximately 100,000 Sephardim in Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey, said in a statement, “The community is shocked and saddened by these allegations, which go against every value and teaching the community holds dear.”

He added, “If over time these allegations are proven, we must remember that these are the isolated actions of a few individuals.”

Sephardic Jews trace their ancestry to Spain and various parts of North Africa and the Middle East, as distinct from the Ashkenazic Jews from Eastern Europe. They include Moroccans, Turks, Iranians and Iraqis. But most belong to families that emigrated to the United States from the Middle East, especially Syria, because of anti-Jewish attacks there after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

Unique among groups within Judaism, Sephardic leaders have tried mightily to strike a difficult balance between preservation of identity and participation in the American entrepreneurial dream, said Prof. Aviva Ben-Ur of the University of Massachusetts, author of “Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History.”

In 1935, Rabbi Kassin’s father issued an edict forbidding both marriage outside the faith and marriage to Jewish converts, she said. At the same time, Sephardim, unlike the ultra-Orthodox who live at a remove from American society, attend public schools in the lower grades and are encouraged to succeed in business.

Among the successful businesses founded by Sephardic Jews are Jordache and Bonjour, the jeans makers, and the Conway and Century 21 department stores.

Phone messages left at Rabbi Kassin’s home were not returned. At the home of his son, Jacob S. Kassin, a woman answered and said the son would not be available to comment.

David Ben-Hooren, a member of the congregation and publisher of The Jewish Voice and Opinion, a conservative monthly newspaper, spoke to reporters at the synagogue, on Ocean Parkway.

"When the facts come out, we’ll find out that those rabbis never broke the law,” he said. “I believe they’re going to be vindicated. Knowing those rabbis for many years, I know that they devoted their lives to charity, and there’s no way that they benefited from any of those activities."


Unknown said...

You know, this 87-year old man didn't launder money. He can barely speak clearly...

mamee said...

This is all very upsetting. How about some dan l'chav zchut;some innocent until proven guilty. Maybe at least for the saintly Rabbi.

Art said...

I am Ashkenazik and my daughter went to the Hillel Yeshiva in Deal. She spent many a shabbos with Sephardic families and they were all wonderful people with a great sense of community. Let's wait until all the facts are out before condemning anyone.