Orthodox Crime

There are, to our great shame, Orthodox Jews who have committed serious financial (and other) crimes…and the days when that fact could be hidden are now, thanks to the popularization of the Internet, long gone. If we care about protecting our families and communities from corruption, we’ve got to respond with clarity and determination.

Unfortunately not everyone in the Orthodox world seems to understand it that way. A disturbing number of frum individuals and organizations seem to assume that any outwardly religious Jew who is tried or convicted of a financial crime must somehow be perfectly innocent and the victim of a dishonest and antisemitic court, not to mention a deeply corrupt Federal Administration.

In advocating such versions of the events, one risks making heroes out of people who are most likely unrepentant criminals.1 Worse, an entire generation of Jewish children will grow up convinced that the most benevolent and generous government in the history of our exile lacks the basic rule of law and whose most trusted judges are nothing more than the willing puppets of dark political interests. Think about some of the consequences: if the government is as crooked as some Jews would have us believe, then may we not conclude that it is reasonable to “take back” – or withhold – what’s “rightfully” ours (i.e., through tax evasion or welfare fraud)? Will that not inevitably help further break down any psychological resistance to financial crime that still exists in the frum community?

What right do we have to ignore the possibility that the courts are right? Or, if even that’s too much, to ignore the perception that the courts are right? Is this approach likely to enhance basic moral standards among frum Jews?

In the 1970’s, Rabbi Shimon Schwab wrote an article (later included in “Selected writings: A collection of addresses and essays on hashkafah, Jewish history and contemporary issues” C.I.S. Publications) in response to criminal convictions of “frum” Jews engaged in white collar crimes. I would imagine that, were he alive today, Rabbi Schwab would have applied just these sentiments to the many similar horrors we face today. What else could these words mean:

Certainly we are not sitting in judgment of the persons who are publicly accused and we have to wait (to see) whether the indictments will be borne out by irrefutable evidence. However, be it as it may, the Chillul Hashem is there in the worst possible way. “Rabbi” so and so, who sits in court with his velvet Yarmulka in full view of a television audience composed of millions of viewers, is accused of having ruthlessly enriched himself at the expense of others, flaunting the laws of G-d and man, exploiting, conniving and manipulating – in short, desecrating all the fundamentals of Torah Judaism. And this sorry onslaught on our Jewish sensitiveness is repeated by similar allegations, proven or unproven, involving more prominent men who are stigmatized as orthodox Jews, sometimes even with so-called rabbinic diplomas.

…The Chillul Hashem of a few individuals provides excuses for the doubter, and encourages the desecration of Torah learning, Torah education and Torah influence. To defraud and exploit our fellowmen, Jew or gentile, to conspire, to betray the Government, to associate with underworld elements all these are hideous crimes by themselves. Yet to the outrage committed there is added another dimension, namely the profanation of the Divine Name and that means the profanation of all that is supposed to be held sacred by us as well as – in their heart of hearts – by the perpetrators themselves. What a sorry picture that is.

…Suppose I have cheated my neighborhood or my Government and then I stand in the midst of a congregation of honest and decent men and women to recite the Kaddish which is the prayer for Kiddush Hashem in the world. What audacity! What a shame! Can there be a worse contradiction than the strict Sabbath observer who may also be a stickler for Kashrus and who at the same time violates the spirit of Shabbos and Kashrus during the week with non-kosher money manipulations?

…Therefore, no white-washing, no condoning, no apologizing on behalf of the desecraters. Let us make it clear that anyone who besmirches the sacred Name ceases to be our friend. He has unwittingly defected from our ranks and has joined our antagonist, to make us all suffer in his wake. And – noblesse oblige – the more prominent a man has become in orthodox Jewish circles the more obligated he must feel to observe the most painstaking scrupulousness in his dealings with the outside world.

Source Material

These quotations are included here to help inform the way we go about our daily financial activities. They represent the curriculum of “Jewish Finances 101”. Some of these passages may not be so widely known, and some, in certain quarters, might even appear controversial.

What a shame.

Why some people seem to imagine that a life filled with Torah and mitzvos but lived in neglect of these principles should have any great value upon arrival in the next world2 is a mystery.

Stealing from Non-Jews


כל הגונב ממון משוה פרוטה ומעלה עובר על לא תעשה שנאמר לא תגנוב ואין לוקין על לאו זה‬ שהרי ניתן לתשלומין שהגנב חייבתו תורה לשלם ואחד הגונב ממון ישראל או הגונב ממון עכו “ם‬ ‫ואחד הגונב את הגדול או את הקטן‬

(הלכות גניבה פרק א הלכה א)

Anyone who steals more than the value of a prutah (somewhere in the range of a penny) has transgressed the negative Torah commandment of “Do not steal”… Whether he steals Jewish property or he steals non-Jewish property; whether the property of an adult or a child.


‫ואסור לגזול כל שהוא דין תורה אפילו עכו”ם אסור לגזלו או לעשקו ואם גזלו או עשקו יחזיר‬

(הלכות גזילה ואבדה פרק א הלכה ב)

It is forbidden by Torah law to rob3 even the smallest amount, even from a non-Jew it is forbidden to rob or cheat him. And if someone does rob or cheat him, he must return it.

Shulchan Aruch

המקדש את האשה בגזל או בגניבה או בחמס, אם נתייאשו הבעלים, ונודע שקנה אותו דבר ביאוש,‬ הרי זו מקודשת. ואם לאו, אינה מקודשת. הגה: קדשה בגזל או גניבת עובדי כוכבים, הוי מקודשת‬ דהא אינה צריכה להחזיר רק מכח קידוש השם (מהרי”ו סי’ קל”ח)

(שו”ע אה”ע כח א)

If one marries a woman (through kiddushin) using the proceeds of theft, robbery or illegally forced sales, and the victims have already given up hope of reclaiming their property – which the thief has (illegally) acquired through “ye’ush” – the kiddushin works. (The Rema adds that if one) marries a woman using the proceeds of the theft or robbery of a non-Jew then the kiddushin (always) works (i.e., even without the victim’s ye’ush) as she needs return (the property) only in order to sanctify God’s Name (but not because of the rules of property law).

The key commentators to Shulchan Aruch (Bais Shmuel and Chelkas Mechokak) express their surprise at the Rema, observing that the Rambam and Tur both rule that the theft of a non-Jew is prohibited through Torah law. They therefore explain that the Rema does not argue against Rambam and Tur and the thief himself would be fully obligated to return what he had stolen. However, a woman who innocently received a gift of stolen property is bound only by the relatively less direct principle of Sanctification of God’s Name.

Be’er Hagola

ואני כותב זאת לדורות, שראיתי רבים שגזלו והעשירו מטעות שהטעו העכו” ם ולא הצליחו וירדו‬ נכסיהם לטמיון ולא הניחו אחריהם ברכה‬

(באר הגולה שו”ע חו”מ שמ”ח)

And I write this for all generations, that I have seen many who stole and attained wealth through deceiving non-Jews but they were not successful, their fortunes fell to nothing and they left nothing of blessing behind.

Kad Hakemach (Rabbeinu Bachaya)

אל יתפתה אדם לומר בלבו מה שהגזל איסור חמור דווקא בגזל ישראל אבל בגזל הגוי מותר, אין‬ הדבר כן, אלא אף גזל הגוי אסור מדין תורה. ומפני זה ציווה להחזיר הכסף למצרים. הוא שכתוב:‬ ‫ ואת הכסף המושב בפי אמתחותיכם תשיבו בידכם אולי משגה הוא (בראשית מג, יב), ואף על פי‬ שהיו המצרים עובדי עבודה זרה ציווה להחזיר הכסף מפני קידוש השם. והיה זה קודם מתן תורה,‬ ‫מכל שכן בזמן הזה שיתחייב אדם בכך

(כד הקמח אות גזלה)

A person should not fool himself saying in his heart that theft is only a serious prohibition when the victim is a Jew, but to steal from a non-Jew is permitted. The matter is not so, since stealing even from a non-Jew is forbidden by Torah law. And that is why (Yaakov Avinu) commanded (his sons) to return the silver to Egypt. And that is what is written (Beraishis 43:12) “And the silver that was lying in your sacks you should return with your hands; perhaps it was (placed there in) error.” And even though the Egyptians were idolaters, (Yakov nevertheless) commanded that they return the silver in order to sanctify God’s Name. And this was before the Torah was given, all the more so in our day a man is obligated thus.

Sefer Chassidim

ורבים אשר קדשו השם והחזירו טעות עכו”ם בדבר חשוב גדלו והעשירו מאוד והצליחו והניחו יתרם‬ ‫לעולליהם וכו’‬

(‫ספר חסידים – תתרע”ד)‬

And many who sanctified God’s Name and returned non-Jewish money of a significant amount that had come to them in error became great and very wealthy, were successful and left their (legitimate) profits to their children.

  1. Evading tax and stealing from a government


רמב”ם הלכות גזילה ואבדה פרק ה הלכה יא‬

במה דברים אמורים שהמוכס כליסטים בזמן שהמוכס עכו”ם או מוכס העומד מאליו או מוכס‬ העומד מחמת המלך ואין לו קצבה אלא לוקח מה שירצה ומניח מה שירצה אבל מכס שפסקו‬ המלך ואמר שילקח שליש או רביע או דבר קצוב והעמיד מוכס ישראל לגבות חלק זה למלך ונודע‬ שאדם זה נאמן ואינו מוסיף כלום על מה שגזר המלך אינו בחזקת גזלן לפי שדין המלך דין הוא ולא‬ עוד אלא שהוא עובר המבריח ממכס זה מפני שהוא גוזל מנת המלך בין שהיה המלך עכו”ם בין‬ ‫שהיה המלך ישראל

In which case do we say that tax collectors are like thieves (thereby justifying tax evasion)? Only if the tax collector is an idolater, one who collects without authorization or one who is authorized by the king, but is not restricted to any set amount but instead collects according to his whim. However, a tax authorized by the king for a set amount like a third or quarter or some other portion (of the taxpayer’s wealth) for which a Jew is appointed to collect on behalf of the king, and it is known that this man is trustworthy and will not add anything beyond the king’s decree, such a tax collector is not considered a thief because the king’s law is halacha (i.e., the king has the right to raise taxes from his citizens). And not only that, but one who would evade such a tax has stolen (the rightful property of) the king – whether the king is Jewish or not.

The distinction between Jews and non-Jews in this context (i.e., that all non-Jewish collectors were considered corrupt while some Jews could be reliable) would seem to reflect the realities of the tax franchise system used in much of the ancient world. This has absolutely no relevance to modern tax systems in which revenues are never trusted to individual collectors but are, instead, submitted directly to government accounts electronically.

It would therefore seem that the only factor that could possibly justify evasion was the near certainty that funds would never reach the king. This, obviously, is not applicable in our day.


‫הלכה יז‬

‫מלך שכרת אילנות של בעלי בתים ועשה מהן גשר מותר לעבור עליו וכן אם הרס בתים ועשאן דרך‬ ‫או חומה מותר ליהנות בה וכן כל כיוצא בזה שדין המלך דין

If a king cuts down privately owned trees and builds with them a bridge, one may cross the bridge (i.e., it is not considered gaining benefit from stolen property because the king acted within his rights). If he destroys houses for a highway or wall one may similarly benefit. This is true of all similar cases as the king’s law is halacha.

‫הלכה יח‬

במה דברים אמורים במלך שמטבעו יוצא באותן הארצות שהרי הסכימו עליו בני אותה הארץ‬ וסמכה דעתן שהוא אדוניהם והם לו עבדים אבל אם אין מטבעו יוצא הרי הוא כגזלן בעל זרוע וכמו‬ חבורת ליסטים המזויינין שאין דיניהן דין וכן מלך זה וכל עבדיו גזלנין לכל דבר

In which case is this true? When the king’s currency is accepted as (this proves that) the people of that land have agreed to rely on (this king) as their master and with them as his servants. However, if his currency is not accepted then he (by collecting taxes) is a forceful thief no different than a gang of armed bandits whose law is not halacha. This king and all his servants have the status of thieves in every respect.

Shulchan Aruch

במה דברים אמורים שהמוכס כלסטים: בזמן שהמוכס עכו”ם, או מוכס העומד מאליו, או מוכס‬ העומד מחמת המלך ואין לו קצבה אלא לוקח מה שירצה, אבל מוכס שפסקו המלך ליטול דבר‬ קצוב, ואפילו צוה שישראל יתן יותר מעכו”ם מכל מקום מקרי דבר קצוב לכל איש )מהרי”ק שורש‬ קצה(, והעמיד מוכס ישראל לגבותו למלך ונודע שאדם זה נאמן ואינו מוסיף כלום על מה שגזר‬ המלך, אינו בחזקת גזלן משום דדינא דמלכותא דינא, ולא עוד אלא שהמבריח ממכס זה עובר על‬ לא תגזול מפני שהוא גוזל מנת המלך, בין שהיה מלך ישראל בין שהיה מלך עכו”ם, וכן אם ישראל‬ קנה המכס מהמלך, המבריח עצמו הרי זה גוזל ישראל שקנאו. ויש אומרים דאפילו ידוע דהישראל‬ לוקח יותר מן הקצבה, מכל מקום אסור להבריח ממנו דבר הקצוב דהוי כגוזל מן הגזלן דאסור‬ ‫(ב”י). אבל אם קנאו עכו”ם, מותר משום דהוי כהפקעת הלוואתו, דשרי במקום דליכא חלול השם.

(‫‫שו”ע חו”מ סימן שסט סעיף ו‬)

In which case do we say that tax collectors are like bandits (thereby justifying tax evasion)? Only if the tax collector is an idolater, one who collects without authorization or one who is authorized by the king, but is not restricted to any set amount but instead collects according to his whim. But a tax collector who was authorized by the king to collect a set amount – even if he commands that Jews should pay more than non-Jews – nevertheless this is considered a set amount. If a Jewish tax collector who is known to be honest and who will not add anything beyond what the king set is appointed to collect for the king, he is not considered a thief because the king’s law is halacha. Not only that, but one who evades such a tax has transgressed the Torah prohibition of “do not steal” because he has stolen the property of the king whether the king is Jewish or not.


‫סעיף ח‬

הגה:… יש אומרים דלא אמרינן‬ ‫דינא דמלכותא דינא אלא במסים ומכסים התלוים בקרקע, כי המלך גוזר שלא ידורו בארצו כי אם‬ ‫בדרך זה, אבל בשאר דברים לא (הרא”ש פ”ד דנדרים בשם הר”מ ומרדכי פרק הגוזל בתרא). ויש‬ אומרים וסבירא להו דאמרינן בכל דבר דינא דמלכותא דינא (מרדכי שם בשם התוס’ ות”ה סימן‬ שט), ולכן המלוה על המשכון יכול למכרו אחר שנה הואיל וכן דינא דמלכותא (שם בשם ר”י בר‬ פרץ), וכן הוא עיקר וכמו שנתבאר לעיל (סימן שנו סעיף ז).‬

Some say that (the principle of) “the king’s law is halacha” only applies to property taxes because the king has the power to expel people from his land unless they agree to his conditions, but concerning other matters, (the king’s law is) not the law (Rosh and Mordechai). And others say and hold that “the king’s law is halacha” applies to all areas of law (Mordechai in the name of Tosafos and Terumas Hadeshen). Therefore one who would take collateral on a loan may sell the collateral after a year since this is the king’s law. And so this is the halacha as I explained earlier (356:7).


הגוזל את הנכרי חייב להחזיר לנכרי חמור גזל הנכרי מגזל ישראל מפני חילול השם. הגוזל את הנכרי ונשבע לו ומת אינו מתכפר לו מפני חילול השם.

(תוספתא ב”ק י:ח)

One who robs a non-Jew must repay him. Theft of a non-Jew is more serious than theft of a Jew because there is (also) the desecration of God’s Name. One who robs a non-Jew or swears against him (falsely) and then dies will not receive atonement because of the desecration of God’s Name.

1See Sotah 41b: אמר ר’ שמעון בן חלפתא מיום שגבר אגרופה של חנופה נתעוותו הדינין ונתקלקלו המעשים ואין אדם יכול לומר לחבירו מעשי גדולים ממעשיך

2אמר רבא בשעה שמכניסין אדם לדין אומרים לו נשאת ונתת באמונה – שבת לא

3I have used the word “rob” as a translation for “גוזל” because it feels a bit closer to גזל’s strong-armed nature. “גונב”, on the other hand (which covers covert theft), I have translated as “steal”.