Olomeinu Magazine’s Shady Deal

Commenting on cartoons is obviously not something I do all that often. But this one, from Olomeinu’s October, 2011 edition, caught my attention – and for all the wrong reasons.

Olomeinu was an established magazine which for many decades aimed to inspire and educate Jewish children through the medium of Torah values. Because of its well-established reputation in the Orthodox community, many thousands of children (and their teachers and parents) must have read this particular back cover story and innocently absorbed its bizarre messages. And that’s a problem. Only Olomeinu itself is in a position to even attempt to properly undo the damage they’ve caused, but I feel I must register at least a token protest.

Just to be clear, I am convinced that these events could never have taken place, and claiming that they did can only blacken the reputation of a fine rabbi.

In the story, the rabbi and his followers exerted significant pressure on the traveling merchant to abandon his family and hometown for the coming yom tov (perhaps depriving them of the mitzva of esrog). Since their goal was clearly to acquire the esrog for their own use (one has not fulfilled the mitzva on the first day without having made it his), they would seem to have ignored nothing short of one of the Ten Commandments. Here’s how the Rambam codifies it:

משנה תורה גזילה ואבידה א:ט
כל החומד עבדו או אמתו או ביתו וכליו של חבירו או דבר שאפשר לו שיקנהו ממנו והכביד עליו ברעים והפציר בו עד שלקחו ממנו אף על פי שנתן לו דמים רבים הרי זה עובר בלא תעשה שנאמר לא תחמוד.

But rather than stopping there, the rabbi then instructed his followers to blackmail the poor traveler into giving back the very “payment” in exchange for which he’d agreed to stay in the first place (which, if one assumes that a flesh and blood “guarantee” of a particular position in the Next World is worth anything, would constitute a second count of לא תחמוד)!

Perhaps you will argue that goal of teaching the fellow some moral lesson, “justified the means” of, for all intents and purposes, robbing him twice. Halacha thinks otherwise.

But that’s far from the only problem.

Since the merchant was now separated from his home and family and, according to the story, in need of meals, no matter how wealthy he might have been, he is considered legally poor:

So now, when they refused their victim food and a place to stay, the townsfolk fell badly afoul of these Torah laws:

And it was Sukkos…

The Torah obviously wishes us to be especially sensitive to the needs of our unfortunate and disadvantaged neighbors during the festivals. The followers of this rabbi, in stark contrast, saved up their greatest cruelty for just such a time.

But there’s more. Besides (unwittingly) encouraging open disregard for Torah Law, the Olomeinu story champions a most corrupting approach to mitzvos. Think about it. The rabbi was frustrated in his attempts to acquire an esrog and, at least as far as he is portrayed by the story, was determined to do “whatever it takes” to ensure that he will be able to perform the mitzva over Sukkos.

Whatever it takes.

  • Blackmail a man into letting you use his esrog? If that’s what it takes.
  • Transgress Torah mitzvos? If that’s what it takes.
  • Prevent a man from being home with his wife and family over the yom tov? If that’s what it takes.
  • Possibly prevent all the people in this man’s town from doing the very same mitzva? If that’s what it takes.
  • Advise your trusting followers to ignore the mitzva of tzedaka? If that’s what it takes.
  • Defraud business associates and investors in order to maintain Torah institutions? If that’s what it takes.
  • Defraud government programs through fraudulent claims for which you aren’t legally eligible? If that’s what it takes.
  • Riot, burn garbage bins and engage in violent behavior to ensure that things are done just the way you want? If that’s what it takes.

Is this the Judaism that Olomeinu really wishes to promote?

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