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Staying Free and Clear

Eytan Kobre

A frank discussion of, and some expert advice on what the average person needs to know about the real-life legal implications of everyday financial dealings

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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Some in our community fall prey to fraudulent schemes due to a positive characteristic we Jews possess: Our emunah is a trait embedded in our metaphysical DNA. We believe in Hashem and we also believe in our peers. Those are good things and they have helped carry us through a very difficult national history

A lthough high-profile criminal cases involving Orthodox Jews generate charged emotions and controversy both inside and outside the frum community, many people aren’t aware that even far lesser offenses — like driving with an expired license, a little fib on a tax return, or even running an unauthorized private gemach — could mean jail time.

Orthodox Jews who’ve gotten into trouble with law enforcement or are already incarcerated have learned that there are dedicated community members who can help them. They work under the banner of Dror, an eight-year-old organization founded with a mission to assist people in navigating the legal maze, advocate for rights a person might not know he has, provide basic religious necessities, and help soften the blow for the families of those in prison. Of course, avoiding jail to begin with is incomparably better than being helped out once you’re there. The “system,” say community askanim dealing with incarceration, is unbearably tough — demeaning and destructive and never worth the risk. Some people can withstand it and some break.

Dror would prefer people don’t find themselves on the wrong side of the law in the first place. Recent media headlines have made us realize that for all the progress our community has made in ensuring that we uphold high standards of ethical and legal probity, there always remains a need for educational programs to raise communal awareness. To that end, Dror has recently held a number of events in different Jewish communities that have brought together a group of highly regarded judges, leading attorneys, and financial experts to address a wide array of fiscal and legal issues, ranging from mortgages and foreclosure to how to respond to subpoenas and police investigations to the parameters of governmental benefits like Medicaid and food stamps. What follows is based on one such event, which featured a frank discussion of what the average person needs to know about the real-life legal implications of everyday financial dealings.

Many people aren’t aware that even far lesser offenses — like driving with an expired license, a little fib on a tax return, or even running an unauthorized private gemach — could mean jail time

Some in our community fall prey to fraudulent schemes due to a positive characteristic we Jews possess: Our emunah is a trait embedded in our metaphysical DNA. We believe in Hashem and we also believe in our peers. Those are good things and they have helped carry us through a very difficult national history.

But every positive trait has its limits. Although we have a mitzvah of b’tzedek tishpot amisecha, requiring us to judge our brethren favorably, it still involves a judgment of whether or not a particular person in a given circumstance merits being given the benefit of the doubt. Here, then, are four basic rules to follow in making that judgment when someone approaches you with a financial opportunity:

First, give the proposal the same level of scrutiny you would give it if it had been made by someone from outside the community. Although you may ultimately decide that a particular risk is worth taking, your starting point should be analysis of the proposal to see if it makes sense, not blind faith.

Second, do not assume that because a person is a generous baal tzedakah, he must also be a person of honesty and integrity in his business dealings. Nor should one assume that his association with a particular yeshivah or other mosad is a guarantee of his personal or professional integrity.

One of my clients was in the midst of doing a deal with someone who, unbeknownst to him, was a con artist. In the middle of the negotiations, a rosh yeshivah came in and made an impassioned plea for a contribution, whereupon the con artist immediately wrote him a check for $25,000. My client took this as evidence of his counterpart’s high integrity, but it had all been a setup — this con artist had told the rosh yeshivah to come to him at the precise time the negotiations were taking place. This charade cost my client $40 million dollars. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 674)

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