Who is more despicable – Bernie Madoff or Solomon Dweck ? On the surface, Madoff would seem to prevail in this match of caged stealers. After all, Madoff, the disgraced financier and “investor,” stole tens of billions of dollars, single-handedly bankrupted elderly people and ruined charitable foundations – and all to support a lavish lifestyle that he knew for years would some day come crashing down on him.
By comparison, who is Dweck ? He stole “only” $25,000,000, and his claim to infamy rests on his informing on several New Jersey politicians who took hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of his bribes and laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars of other ill-gotten gains with several Rabbis – all, allegedly, of course. The amount of money Madoff stole is staggering, and perhaps may never be equaled in history; Dweck’s loot, by contrast, is a relative pittance. So where is the comparison ?
Look beneath the surface. Both Madoff and Dweck preyed on people who trusted them – Madoff for social reasons, Dweck because of his religious and ethnic ties. Both caused a massive Chilul Hashem, not least because both held positions of prominence in various Jewish communal organizations. Both appear to lack any moral scruples whatsoever, notwithstanding that Madoff issued an “apology” to his victims before being sentenced. Both have names that lend themselves to permanent ignominy – Madoff “made off” with people’s money, and Dweck rhymes with… well, Syrian Jews don’t speak Yiddish.
But on a crucial point, Dweck exceeds the venality of even Bernie Madoff. Madoff pleaded guilty, admitting everything and incriminating no one else. He did not seek a deal with the prosecution, he did not look to lure others into his criminal orbit, and he protected his family – wife and sons by taking the fall himself (assuming, of course, that there was something from which he had to shield them).
On that score, Solomon Dweck merits a special place in purgatory. Nothing excuses the alleged criminal conduct of Rabbis, but it hard to conjure a betrayal of trust greater than a Rabbi’s son, yeshiva president, and fellow Syrian-Jew (in a very tight-knit community) ensnaring others in his criminal web by wearing a wire and inducing criminal behavior – all in the hope of getting a reduced sentence.
Dweck was no whistle-blower, no crusader for justice, and no avatar of righteousness – but a lowly thief, an informant, a canary, a fink, a rat, a snitch, a stool pigeon, and a contemptible moser. The latter, an especially heinous characterization in Jewish life, is predicated on the assumption that Dweck’s criminal dealings with the Rabbis (allegedly, of course) post-dated, and not pre-dated, his arrest. If they had engaged in joint swindles before his most recent arrest, then, there is indeed no honor among thieves, and he is arguably not even a moser – saving himself by turning in his fellow larcenists. And shame on the Rabbis (alleged shame, of course) both for their criminal behavior and for not being sophisticated enough to recognize that a federal bandit out on bond, whose trial has been delayed and delayed, is likely turning state’s evidence.
But if Dweck never had criminal dealings with these Rabbis before, and solicited their involvement in his schemes to save himself, to provide the prosecution with bigger fish to fry (religious and secular) – using whatever justification necessary – then there is no honor among thieves, but also no honor among Jews. If that happened, then we are no longer an am – a people, a nation, a brotherhood who can count on each other in the crunch. It is every man for himself (and women too) and what a sad day for the Jewish people and for that community in Deal.
Imagine, for a moment, that someone in your vicinity wore a wire throughout the day – your seatmate in shul (well, you shouldn’t be talking anyway), your spouse, your best friend, your business partner – not necessarily to reveal your criminal behavior (that you shouldn’t engage in anyway) but to reveal your every personal thought – your comments about the people closest to you (and their failings, as you perceive them), or your customers (and how you really feel about some of them). Imagine if every thought you had was broadcast to an unknown audience – who then confronted you on them. The perpetrators of such intrusions of privacy are beneath contempt.
On that score, Dweck sinks to a lower level than even Bernie Madoff. Both betrayed the trust of people close to them – one for money and one for his own liberty (and money), but both have shattered the expectation that Jews can trust Jews. And can anything be more depressing than that, especially during the Nine Days ?
Nothing here should be construed as a defense of the Rabbis’ (alleged) wrongdoing, or in any way a rationalization of tax evasion, corner cutting, finagling, keeping separate books, money laundering or any other possible financial diablerie. They are wrong, wrong, wrong (allegedly). Their crimes (alleged) should be punished. Neither Talmud Torah nor tzedaka is a justification for stealing. But let us not sweep aside the ramifications of having potential informants in our midst – to drive a wedge between Jews and to destroy any semblance of mutual trust.
And the greatest musar from this moser, for all of us ? Whatever we do, whatever we say, and whatever we think – there always is Someone looking and listening. “Know what is above you: an eye sees, an ear hears, and all your deeds are recorded in a book” (Avot II:1). The deterrent to criminal or venal conduct should be our inner sense of right and wrong born of being Torah Jews who stand at all times before G-d, bound by His Torah. Period.
So who is worse, Madoff or Dweck ? They are both bad, in different ways. Madoff stole money, Dweck may have stolen something more valuable. But I lean slightly to Madoff as the prime villain, but slightly.