Madoff vs. Dweck: Steal Cage Match


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.

9 responses to “Madoff vs. Dweck: Steal Cage Match

  1. Harold Tepler

    I wholeheartedly agree with your accurate assessment of these events. Since this incident, the paragraph “v’lamalshinim al tehi tikvah” in the Amidah takes on special meaning.
    Although Madoff’s crime was egregious, low, and horrific, he probably never really intended to cause the harm that he ultimately caused. He probably started out with a little cheating and things then just blew out of control. By contrast, Dweck intentionally brought down whomever he could in order to save himself. A coward and low life thief. Nonetheless, the rabbis who (allegedly) participated are certainly not as pious as they would like their communities to believe. Their immorality stings the entire Jewish community and causes us great shame

  2. Srully Epstein

    I really don’t see the comparison.

    Had Dweck “convinced” these rabbis with his plan to help him eat chazer, I doubt they would have acquiesced.

    Besides, my understanding is that all of these people were involved in these sorts of shenanigans way before Dweck entered their lives.

    • Not so simple.
      Today’s news reveals that Dweck reached out to Rav David Yosef, son of Rav Ovadiah, with a similar scheme. Rav Yosef rebuffed him. Isn’t the attempt itself despicable ? And is it possible that many other rebuffed him as well ?
      But you are right about the chazer, a good reminder of what Rav Yisrael Salanter said, quoting his Rebbi, Rav Zundel Salanter: “Just like one must check his food to see if it is kosher, so must always check his money to see if it is kosher.”
      Of course, the lust for money is much greater than the lust for food; hence, the criminal charges herein. It is easier to be “pious” regarding food than regarding money, so indeed, money is a much truer test of one’s piety and connection to G-d.

  3. yasher koach
    actually rabbi, there is someone wearing a ‘wire’ around us all the time, also knowing all of our inner thoughts. and being broadcast to the only one which ultimately matters –
    the kadosh baruch hu

    your analogy is actaually very good and should give us pause in everying we say or do

  4. You mention that this was depressing, especially in the Nine Days. People were saying that it’s no coincidence that this scandal broke during the Nine Days. What are your thoughts on that?

  5. I am afraid that comments such as yours, coming from you and other respected leaders in the Orthodox community are saying (despite all protests to the contrary) that what is really bad is that they got caught and are making the Orthodox Jewish Community look bad. So we reserve most of our anger at the person who turned them in and give a slap on the wrist to those who commit the crimes. Can’t you see how this sounds!

    Too often our children are being taught that “goyim” are bad, instead of looking inside to make sure that we as Jews meet a higher standard.

    Too often our children are taught that “technically” its OK to cheat a non Jew and that the only issue is Chillul hashem (read, get caught). We should be telling them instead that stealing is wrong, PERIOD!

    Too often we teach that it is OK to overlook the law as long as we are contributing to a greater good, Yeshivas, the poor, paying our bills. Sorry, but this is wrong.

    I hope that our Rabbis, teachers, and parents say loud and clear to everyone in our community and especially to our children that just as it is wrong to violate Torah law, its wrong to violate the laws of our country. And instead of worrying about if Dweck or Madoff is worse we should recognize that we have a problem in our community and that we must denounce those who (after having the forum to defend themselves) must be condemned.

  6. I never said “it is bad that they got caught.” They deserved to get caught, for what they did was criminal. But what Dweck did was despicable in its own right, and we should not pretend that he was some “white knight.” Two wrongs don’t make a right. Criticizing Dweck is not the same as exonerating the alleged wrongdoers. I think you missed that point. I certainly have not spared them any criticism, allegedly, of course.

    The Nine Days ? Did the FBI know that Jews aresupposed to avoid litigation with non-Jews during the Nine Days ? I wonder… but I doubt it.

  7. Rabbi,

    I am a non jew. I live in south Long Branch in the neighborhood that I grew up in. This community has become increasingly Orthodx Jewish. My neighbors do not speak to me even when I welcome them to my neighborhood. They only summer here from Brooklyn. They have no interest in knowing me, my values, my community, my person.

    Are David Z.’s coments about what is too often taught to your children regarding “goyim” accurate? I know that this may be a difficult question to answer but I have welcomed all types of people into my life and have never felt so much rejection by a group as I do now in my own neighborhood. Please elaborate as best you can.

    I’m American and by proxy support Israel through my taxes, and generally receive neither reciprocation nor a sense of community and neighborhood. This is affecting my out look upon people whom I have always considered more like me than different as I read, write, speak Greek, & practice Greek Orthodoxy.

    I am at a crossroads that I never believed possible. I am alienated by a people who know alienation.


    • I would guess that there are some Jews who are prejudiced, much like there are Christians, blacks, Asians, Arabs, etc. who are prejudiced also. But is it normative ? No. Is it widespread ? No. E.g., many blacks assume that Jews are prejudiced against blacks, yet Jews voted 80% for Obama. Was I ever taught that non-Jews are evil, should be cheated, etc. ? Of course not. I was taught – as the Talmud teaches – that all man was created in the image of G-d and that it matters not what ‘status’ a person has in life (Jew, non-Jew, male, female, etc.) we are judged by our deeds (Tana D’Bei Eliyahu 10). That is how I and most Jews live – overwhelmingly.
      I also think that Jews have a tendency to be critical, especially of other Jews, and therefore I would take most of what he said as an exaggeration, although in some cases it might be true.
      I don’t understand why the people in your neighborhood are not more welcoming. My guess would be that it has nothing to do with you as a person and more to do with the nature of the halacha (Jewish law) that makes natural socializing between Jews and non-Jews challenging. For example, it would be natural for neighbors to share meals, and get together on weekends, but the laws of kosher and Shabbat make that extremely difficult. But it is not personal – in fact, one of the things I rail against in my own community is that Jews have a tendency not to greet other Jews they do not know.
      I think if you became involved in certain neighborhood associations or activities, then you might gain a different perspective on Jews. Where I live, for example, the local Volunteer Ambulance Corps. (60% Orthodox Jews even though we are 10% of the population) is a great mingler.
      And where you live – in an enclave of Syrian Jews – the clannishness is even more pronounced. Syrian Jews – wonderful, charitable people – do not easily socialize with even Ashkenazic (European) Jews, such as myself. IN that particular case, you have Jews who not only leave near each other in Brooklyn or South Jersey, but whose grandparents and great-grandparents lived in the same town in Syria. Even Syrian Jews from a different town in Syria are somewhat outsiders ! How much more so me or you ?! So, I wouldn’t take it personally, and in the end, good neighborliness, I pray, will breed good neighborliness in return.
      Thank you for writing- RSP