JERSEY CITY — To the gentrifying stew of bankers, artists and college graduates who are transforming this once blue-collar city across the Hudson River from Manhattan, add an unexpected flavor.
In a heavily African-American neighborhood, 62 families from a number of Hasidic sects based in Brooklyn and rarely seen here have bought a scattering of faded but roomy wood-frame rowhouses whose prices are less than half what homes of similar size would cost in New York — roughly $300,000 compared with $800,000.
These families are pioneers in a demographic and religious shift that is reshaping communities throughout the region. Skyrocketing real estate prices in Brooklyn and Queens are forcing out young ultra-Orthodox families, which are establishing outposts in unexpected places, like Toms River and Jackson Township in New Jersey, the Willowbrook neighborhood on Staten Island and in Bloomingburg, N.Y., in the foothills of the Catskills.
The influx, however, has provoked tensions with long-established residents, as the ultra-Orthodox seek to establish a larger footprint for their surging population. Residents complain that investors or real estate agents representing the ultra-Orthodox community have been ringing doorbells persistently, offering to buy properties at “Brooklyn prices.” Jersey City, Toms River and Jackson have all passed no-knock ordinances barring such inquiries under the threat of fines or have banned solicitations altogether.
The mayor of Jersey City, Steven Fulop, said his town took pride in its diversity but had been concerned about “very aggressive solicitation.”
New York City and the surrounding suburbs are home to the largest concentration of Jews in the country and because of their high birthrate — five or six children are common — Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox Jews represent the fastest-growing subset. They are now estimated to number about 330,000 in New York City alone — one-third of the city’s overall Jewish population.
They have become a more muscular political and social force and have turned the generally liberal profile of the area’s Jews more observant and conservative. Lakewood Township, near the Jersey Shore, voted for Donald J. Trump last year by the largest margin — 50 percentage points over Hillary Clinton — of any New Jersey community, according to an analysis by NJ Advance Media.
Squeezed out of their traditional neighborhoods, ultra-Orthodox Jews have taken steps that have raised concerns as they settle into new communities.
Michele Massey, a former Jersey City councilwoman who is the executive director of an organization that oversees a commercial corridor along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, said Hasidim had opened a synagogue on the avenue despite a recent zoning change forbidding new houses of worship.
“It’s not because they’re Jewish,” Ms. Massey said of her opposition. “It could have been any other religion or group. It was simply the zoning law. I’m a person of color. Obviously I don’t care who lives where.”
The Hasidim contend that they have been primarily buying boarded-up or vacant homes and that solicitations have come from outside investors, not from the families that have moved in. They support the city’s no-knock law and point out that the Hasidic families that have moved into the Greenville neighborhood are a minuscule fraction of the area’s 47,000 people, half of whom are black.
“We’re not looking to push out anybody,” said Mordecha Feuerstein, a volunteer for a Hasidic organization that helps people find new homes in affordable places like Jersey City.
What Hasidim have opened in a boarded-up dry cleaner on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, he said, is not a synagogue but a small community center that, like many Jewish institutional buildings, is also used for prayer and study. Next to it is a narrow grocery stocked with kosher foods and Yiddish newspapers. Some Hasidim point out that within a few blocks along the avenue are a Catholic church, a mosque and a storefront church called the Sanctified Church of Jesus Christ. Those were grandfathered in under zoning rules and officials are weighing whether the community center violates the rules.
Underlying the objections of many municipalities is an often unspoken worry that ultra-Orthodox Jews will transform the character of their communities. The ultra-Orthodox may not explicitly raise the specter of anti-Semitism, but they do see a bias against their unconventional lifestyle, modest dress and customs. Orthodox Jews, in general, live in tight-knit communities because of their need to cluster around an infrastructure that includes a synagogue within walking distance, kosher butchers, yeshivas for boys and girls, and ritual baths.
One community that is rapidly changing is Bloomingburg, on the edge of Sullivan County. A developer, Shalom Lamm, started building a complex of 396 townhouses that he marketed to Hasidim. Opponents claimed the development would quadruple the village’s population of 420 and significantly alter its tranquil, rustic ambience. Thirty homes are occupied and another 70 or so are in various stages of building. Vacant homes nearby have been bought for Hasidic tenants, while a boys’ yeshiva, a ritual bath and a kosher store have opened.
What the village will look like is in limbo, however, because Mr. Lammpleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process by signing up ineligible voters to elect a village government friendly to his project. He will face sentencing in September.
Lakewood is also feeling the impact of a fast-growing minority group. Decades ago the area was rural, filled with hardscrabble egg-raising farms owned by Jewish Holocaust refugees, a few grand hotels and an estate that had once been owned by John D. Rockefeller.
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Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews clashed with Israeli police Sunday when an anti-military demonstration grew violent.
Members of the ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit group were protesting a recent court ruling that compels them to serve in the Israeli Defense Force. They began to block traffic and resisted riot cops’ efforts to disperse them, according to officials.
“Eight rioters who used violence against police were arrested,” a police statement said in Hebrew, according to The Associated Press. “They lay down in the road, shouting slogans against the police, some of them threw stones at police.”
The court decision, reached last week, struck down a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men from military service if they are engaged in religious study.
Typically, men over 18 must serve two years and eight months in the IDF, and adult women must serve two years.
Religious hardliners argue Judaism forbids a Jewish state — and thus a military — under certain conditions. Others claim that time in the service will expose men to colorful language and detract from their religious studies.
by Lawrence Bush
Discussed in this essay: Who Will Lead Us?: The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America, by Samuel C. Heilman (University of California Press, 2017, 269 pages).
AS MY WIFE AND I were driving this week on the New York State Thruway, a magnificent double rainbow with a full 180º arc pushed through the clouds and diverted us to the Sloatsburg rest stop for a good look. We parked on the roof deck, hopped out of our car, and found ourselves in the company of some twenty or thirty khasidic men gathering in a corner of the parking lot for evening prayers before heading to their homes in Kiryas Joel, New Square and other ultra-Orthodox enclaves in Orange and Sullivan counties.
Susan and I had our smiling faces turned upwards towards one of the best displays of water-and-light refraction that we’ve ever seen, but the men in black barely glanced skywards as they hurried over to where their fellows were reading and rocking. (There were no women; among Skver khasidim of New Square, women are not allowed to drive.) I wondered how many of them had ever in their lives taken the opportunity to recite the Jewish blessing for seeing a rainbow: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheynu melekh ha’olam zokher ha’brit v’ne’eman bivrito v’kayam b’ma’amaro (blessed is God, etcetera, for remembering the covenant — the rainbow being the sign of the renewed covenant in the Biblical story of Noah). Surely all of them knew it, but they seemed intent on practicing that ultra-Orthodox thing of being indifferent to the aesthetics of the natural world.
Poor stooges: leading lives of strict sex segregation, ridiculously prohibitive rules of female modesty, absurdly large families, a 65 percent poverty rate (within a community that is rich in real estate and other resources), fealty to mystical, messianic nonsense, and utter obsession with their rebbe. Am I being biased or uncharitable in this assessment? Having just read Samuel C. Heilman’s Who Will Lead Us?, I would say no, not at all. Although Heilman, America’s most prolific portraitist of Orthodox Jewish life, refuses to “judge” or even dig underneath the surface of the stories he tells (“[T]his book,” he writes in his prologue, “is not a consideration of the writings, ideological arguments, and teachings of Hasidic rebbes or the spirituality that animates followers’ attachment to them”), Who Will Lead Us? authenticates every negative feeling I’ve ever carried about the cultish Jewish fundamentalism of khasidism.
HEILMAN’S BOOK traces the history of the dynasties of Hungary’s Munkacs khasidim, Vienna’s Boyan and Kopyczynitz sects, the Bobovers of Poland and Brooklyn, the Satmarers of Hungary, Brooklyn, and upstate New York, and the Lubavitchers, who are the most well-known and worldly of khasidic groupings. In each instance, a late-18th-century democratizing movement that sought to move Judaism out of the hands of “learned” and legalistic rabbis and into the hearts of the common folk via joyous worship devolved within a generation or two into a cult movement, religiously inflexible, dead-set against modernity (and, in most cases, against one another), and utterly in thrall to a rabbinical “court” consisting of the rebbe, his family, his lieutenants, and his enforcers.
“Ultimately, Hasidim viewed their leaders as model individuals to be emulated and embraced with devotion (dvekut),” Heilman writes. “In return, the rebbes would (sometimes miraculously) provide for their followers the blessings of children (bonei), health (chayei), and livelihood (mzonei). Hasidism held that the material and spiritual well-being of the entire community was part of the rebbe’s responsibility.” He continues:
In some cases, even the rebbe’s smallest gestures were judged as having cosmic significance, and his Hasidim dwelt endlessly on the meaning of them. . . . Every detail mattered in this drama, in which both the observers and the observed were certain heaven was involved because the [rebbe] was after all able to ascend spiritually to the highest regions and powers. . . The longing to be near him even competed with the Hasid’s attachments to his own family, so that men left home, wife, and children to spend extended time near their master.
The chief building blocks of this relationship are notes of supplication (kvittels), accompanied by monetary gifts (pidyon nefesh) and ongoing donations of a portion of each household income (ma’amad); attendance at the rebbe’s weekly table (tish) and any and all other opportunities for “face time” with the holy man; constant testimonials about his magnificence and miracle-making power; and bonding around ideologies that include a rigid anti-Zionism (Israel is a form of humanistic idolatry, a human interference with God’s plan for bringing the messiah), a belief in the imminence of messianic salvation, and a loathing for, and paranoid fear of, the temptations and corruptions of the modern world.
ULTIMATELY, these movements resemble nothing so much as mafia families minus the guns (though enforcers, shtarkers, often have a role to play in enforcing the rebbe’s will and enforcing conformity among the khasidim). In Heilman’s book, the essential corruption and powermongering of khasidic sects are implicit in his narratives of succession, in which sons and son-in-laws compete for control over the multi-million-dollar properties and institutions of aging, failing rebbes — wealth established through the contributions of followers, control over the resources of their Orthodox Jewish lives (school tuitions, kosher butchers, etc.), and fundraising from outside sources who view khasidism as uniquely authentic Judaism.
Mixed in with the gang wars of succession are also moving episodes of coping with Nazism and the Holocaust. Some of the escape stories of rebbes and their courts are just short of miraculous (usually entailing multiple acts of bribery more than derring-do) — and the khasidic retelling has eliminated the “just short of.” Ironically for movements that made a demon of Zionism, Palestine loomed large, right alongside America, as their sanctuary.
Few such ironies or critical interpretations are explored in Heilman’s narrative, however. Who Will Lead Us?acknowledges bloc voting and its influence among the khasidim, but fails to identify the quid pro quibusdemanded by them for their votes. Heilman notes the “conspicuous wealth and consumption of the rebbe as well as his stable of philanthropists who pay him tribute,” but never discusses how that wealth interacts with the endemic poverty of khasidic households as well as the “millions of public dollars” finagled “for health, welfare, food stamps, and public housing” — nor how khasidic wealth and power can dominate in communities that are non-khasidic and subject people outside the community to shoddy housing, reduced school budgets, and suspicion and hostility.
Heilman also identifies the confining rules faced by khasidic followers, especially women and girls, without exploring the crippling effect of these rules, particularly regarding education, on those who seek escape from their cults. In this regard, Heilman’s own son, journalist Uriel Heilman, does a far better job: In a recent portrait of several refugees from khasidism in Hadassah magazine, the younger Heilman describes “cloistered, Yiddish-speaking enclaves” in which people “frequently find themselves ill-equipped for life in the wider world: Their English may be substandard, they have little secular education and few marketable skills.” “It’s like being an immigrant from . . . North Korea,” says one of his contacts.
Says another, who grew up as a Belzer, prayed two doors down from his home at the Vishnitz shul and studied in the Sanz yeshiva in Brooklyn: “‘I grew up with all these flavors, different extreme versions of the same bullshit.’”
It was the dramatic kickoff of a series of well-publicized raids that since late June have netted 26 suspects on charges of stealing $2 million in government benefits. Prosecutors say that the suspects understated their income to get free healthcare, food stamps, rental subsidies and other benefits.
All of those arrested — 13 men and 13 women — were ultra-Orthodox Jews. The charges have tapped into a well of festering hostility toward an insular and eccentric minority.
nce a backwater at the edge of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, Lakewood is now home to one of the largest concentrations of ultra-Orthodox Jews outside of Israel. They are a fast-growing population with a high birthrate; the population of Lakewood has exploded from 45,000 in 1990 to more than 100,000 today. Many of the newcomers are from large families priced out of Brooklyn by gentrification.
At first glance, little sets Lakewood apart from any number of other suburban communities on the fringes of the New York metropolitan area. But the differences are there. Signs are commonly in Hebrew and Yiddish. The Shop-Rite has closed and was replaced by Glatt Gourmet, a kosher supermarket. New subdivisions have Jewish-themed street names, like Hadassah Lane.
Like the Amish, these strictly observant Jews are instantly recognizable by their modest dress — the women in long skirts and wigs that cover their hair, and the men with yarmulkes or black fedoras and tzitzit, the strings hanging out of their shirts that remind them of their religious obligations. Instead of buggies, though, they mostly drive SUVs or minivans to fit large broods of children.
Around New York, there are a handful of similar towns that are dominated by ultra-Orthodox Jews, but only in Lakewood have federal and state authorities laid down the gauntlet so definitively.
Many young families are heavily dependent on government benefits. Couples marry and bear children young, usually in their early 20s while the fathers are full-time students in religious schools, the mothers working part-time doing office work.
With five or more children, many of them with special needs — a result attributed to women having multiple births until late in life and genetic disorders in a relatively closed population — families cannot survive without government assistance, especially to buy health insurance.
In Lakewood, 65,000 people — more than half the town’s population — are on Medicaid, the government health program for low-income families, according to state data. Lakewood has more children with two parents receiving government benefits than any other municipality in New Jersey, including large, chronically depressed cities such as Newark and Camden. A report by the Asbury Park Press found that Lakewood had received 14% of the money from a $34-million state fund for catastrophic illnesses in children, despite having only 2% of the state’s children. It also found that the town had 29 times more grant recipients than any other town in New Jersey.
In 2015, the New Jersey state controller’s office flagged the disproportionate sums of government money being absorbed by Lakewood. The town didn’t look poor by any conventional yardsticks of poverty.
“You have a family or six or seven or eight, somebody is paying the mortgage, somebody is paying the taxes, they have two cars in the driveway, they’ve got food for all the kids … and they’re reporting their total income at $10,000,’’ said Joseph Coronato, the Ocean County prosecutor who took the lead in the case. “You have to ask — what is going on here?’’
In one case unsealed by the court in June, a couple with six children are alleged to have reported their income at $39,000 per year — low enough to qualify for Medicaid — when in fact they were getting more than $1 million annually from a limited liability corporation.
Members of the religious community say that cases of deliberate fraud are rare. For the most part, they say, the couples caught up in prosecutions had failed to report money they’d gotten from parents who were either paying the tuition for children in private schools or helping with the mortgage.
“The rules are very confusing. You have to be a Talmudist to figure out which program treats gifts from family as ordinary income,” said Rabbi Moshe Weisberg, the Lakewood head of what is called the Vaad, a self-governing council for the ultra-Orthodox community.
People most often got in trouble with their Medicaid applications, motivated by their inability to afford market-rate health insurance, which he said ran as high as $30,000 annually for a large family. Several of the families have disabled children, he noted.
“None of these people used any of this welfare money for an extravagant lifestyle. They were struggling to make ends meet and trying to pay medical bills,” said Harold Herskowitz, a businessman who runs a toy store in Lakewood. He believes the prosecutions were motivated by hostility toward the ultra-Orthodox.
“I’m the child of Holocaust survivors; I don’t appreciate Jewish people dragged out in public early in the morning,” Herskowitz said.
The initial arrests in June received extensive news coverage, with television crews tipped off in advance to film the scenes of couples in handcuffs being led away. Following complaints, the prosecutors have made subsequent arrests more discreetly, but still the publicity rankles.
The case has tapped into a wave of hostility toward the community. Last month, somebody hung an anti-Semitic banner on a Holocaust memorial in Lakewood, and fliers were distributed on the windshields of cars with photos of those arrested under the caption, “Thieving Jews Near You.”
Under fire from many sides, the observant Jews of Lakewood are trying to burnish their reputation in New Jersey. They’ve hosted outreach programs between the community and the police — Bagels, Lox & Cops, as the meetings have been called. Other public programs have been designed to advise ultra-Orthodox families on how to stay on the legal side of public assistance programs.
Lakewood, about 50 miles from New York City, was a resort town for the New York elite beginning in the late 19th century, attracting luminaries such as Mark Twain and members of the Rockefeller family. Their fancy retreats were later turned into kosher hotels catering to working- and middle-class Jews, the town becoming an extension of the Catskills’ Borscht belt across the border in New York state.
In 1943, the Rabbi Aharon Kotler, a Holocaust survivor who fled Lithuania, picked the town for his Beth Medrash Govoha, a yeshiva — religious school — that is now one of the world’s largest with 6,500 students, all men. That would in turn attract other yeshivas, along with Jewish primary schools, kosher delicatessens and shops.
“It was an idyllic little town with a strong Jewish flavor,’’ said Aaron Kotler, the founder’s grandson and current head of the yeshiva, in an interview in his sprawling suburban ranch house, the walls proudly displaying oil paintings of previous generations of bearded rabbis. “My grandfather chose Lakewood because it was quiet, which is ironic because people complain the yeshiva has ruined the quiet.’’
Kotler describes Lakewood today as one of the most attractive destinations for young religious Jews to study and raise families, making the demographics similar to other university towns.
“I like to think of Lakewood as poor by choice,’’ said Kotler.
The community has shown itself to be unusually adept at navigating the intricacies of politics and government.
“Their lives depend on knowing everything about how Section 8 [subsidized rental housing] works and getting into WICs,” the government Women, Infants and Childrenfood assistance program, said Samuel Heilman, a sociology professor at Queen College who has written several books on the community.
Politically speaking, the ultra-Orthodox wield clout beyond their numbers, with adult members almost always turning out for elections and voting as a single bloc.
“They tend to vote like the Christian right, and they have learned to make their votes very important,” said Heilman.
In all of New Jersey, Lakewood had the highest concentration of Donald Trump voters in last year’s presidential election – 74.4%. With their children all in private religious schools, they are strong supporters of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary who has called for school vouchers. Charles and Seryl Kushner, the parents of Trump aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner, are benefactors of the Beth Medrash Govoha yeshiva, and the rotunda of the school’s 2-year-old main building is named for them.
Ultra-Orthodox votes are even more important in local political races. They have installed candidates who favor their interests on the Lakewood school board, township committee and zoning board.
Lakewood’s 30,000 ultra-Orthodox children are ferried to 130 private religious schools on public school buses — boys and girls separately, since they attend single-sex schools — while public schools with only 6,000 children, mostly Latino and African American, have been gutted by a lack of funding. (This is in part due to a quirk in New Jersey’s school financing formula that requires busing for private school students but reimburses the districts based on public school enrollment.)
Some 4,000 new units of housing have been approved in Lakewood in the last two years, making the township the fastest-growing municipality in New Jersey. Real estate developers catering to the ultra-Orthodox are carving new subdivisions lined with four- and five-bedroom townhouses for large families.
“When I moved here, there were trees. Now I wake up and I’m surrounded by high-density townhouses,” said Tom Gatti, a retiree who heads a coalition of senior citizens opposing the pace of new development in Lakewood. “Anytime you try to challenge anything the ultra-Orthodox are doing, they drop the anti-Semitic card on the table.
“They are not looking to assimilate into the community; they are trying to take over,’’ Gatti said.
The ultra-Orthodox Jews also face criticism from less religious and secular Jews.
“Being observant should, first and foremost, involve living and working ethically,’’ complained a hard-hitting editorial in the Forward, the Yiddish- and English-language Jewish publication based in New York. The editorial called the welfare fraud cases “a desecration of God’s name.’’
“It’s too simple to say that this is a problem with Jews,’’ said Heilman, the sociology professor. “It is not their Jewishness that has created the problems; it is the way they interpret the demands of being Jewish.’’
Becoming Every Brother’s Keeper
All humanity descended from one family.
“And in this original familial relationship resides our profound responsibility to one another. The recitation of the generations of Adam trumps the golden rule as the “greater principle” because it clarifies the subject of the ethical imperative. “Let there be no mistake,” the begetting seem to say. “The ‘neighbors’ for whom you must care are not only the people around you, but the entirety of this large, unruly human family from which you are a lucky, and burdened, descendent. Each member of this family is your ‘brother.’ And none, therefore, are you free to abandon.”
This section of the Torah, the recitation of the generations of Adam, thus challenges us to allow God’s question to Cain–“Where is Abel, your brother?”–to reverberate throughout the millennia. It demands that we pose this question with the awareness that, in the eyes of Bereshit, all humanity is descended of one family. It compels us to pay attention to the words of the question itself–to recognize that it is not only a query about Abel’s whereabouts, but also an insistence that he is our brother.
As common descendants of Adam, we are not free to shed our brotherhood with Abel. We are simply not at liberty to allow the gulfs created by national, cultural, linguistic, religious, or racial differences to obscure our responsibility to those who are hurt or violated. Instead, we must step up to this haunting question whenever it is asked and answer resolutely: “I am my brother’s keeper.””
The following is a comment received by one of our readers. We are bothered by the comment because, whether intentionally or otherwise, it defines all ultra-Orthodox Jews by the actions of those who chose to defraud the system.
It then by association defines all Jews by those very same ultra-Orthodox criminals and the various Rabbis, websites (OJPAC) and other Jewish spokespeople who try to justify or whitewash the criminal behavior. It is our belief that if you paint the truth and the lies with the same white paintbrush you taint the good while you are trying to shade the bad.
To the author of the initial post below: there are exemplary, devout, honest and descent members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Simply because they dress the same as those accused of committing crimes, does not mean that they themselves don’t find those very same crimes unthinkable and the very same people reprehensible. Your commentary makes broad generalizations, that we agree are difficult at times to avoid.
While sadly we can’t disagree with much of it, we would be remiss if we did not point to a religion which, when not taken to extremism, when taken as written is rich in charitable random acts of kindness, laden with spectacular cultural history, sincere in its piety and actively trying to achieve a high moral standard and ethical character.
We are here because we believe that we must be our brothers’ keepers. That means reporting the good with the bad. We may miss our mark on reporting the good, but it is there nonetheless.
Finally, you are right in commenting that religion is not the issue. Criminal behavior is the result of those committing the crimes. Judaism does not allow it. As such, please do not view the entire community by the acts of some.
The Torah has tragically been placed in a rabbinically induced solipsistic coma at the very times that we need it to be awakened. It’s hard to know the exact year that represents the golden era of the government being the enemy that the yshiva community is operating in, but based on the posture in our community toward women, I would guess before 1920. Having never seen Hebrew grammar or the Prophets on the syllabi of any yeshivas speaks to the range of post-enlightenment education that is lacking in our schools.
I have heard stories of young couples giving money to an uncle, with a different last name, to use as a down payment on a house. Then the couple would live there while the government (taxpayers) were paying their mortgage. Rumors of second-party checks being used as currency had made their way to the coffee rooms in Israel. Still, I was not prepared for the dominant culture of Lakewood.
My first encounter with the systemic corruption was, sadly, at the local Jewish bookstore. The rabbi rang up the books, but the price changed when I took out my debit card. Unfamiliar with the custom of the city, I asked, “Is it a different price for cash and credit?” “No,” he said, “I just need to charge you tax if there is a record of it.” Unfortunately, this was only the beginning.
The system is broken and it starts at the top. I tell the following story with a very heavy heart. It involves a rabbi that was kind to me. He inspired me and honored us with naming our son. This Rav once told me that people are like borer, the act of separating on Shabbat: You have to take the good from the bad. It is with that intention that I share this reflection because there is there so much good in Lakewood.
I opened the frum, religious, gym at 5:30 a.m. and was a personal trainer before yeshiva started for the day. When I got the job, the owner asked me how I wanted to be paid. “The 1st and 15th?” I answered, not really understanding the question. “No. Do you want me to pre-tithe it for you?” He then explained how there was a wonderful outreach organization that would give him back 90% of a monthly “donation” he made to them in cash. He would get a deduction, no one would have to pay taxes or declare it as income, the organization could continue its “holy work” and I wouldn’t have to tithe it (give 10% of it to charity).
I was silent with disgust, and then it got worse. “Ask a shilah,” he said. “Everyone does it.” Out of curiosity, I called my local Posek. “Cheat!” He ruled, with enthusiasm, as if it were a mitzvah.
I did not. It is the Torah, God and the world that are being cheated. How can the choice to be ethical OR to follow the rabbis even exist at all?