Wednesday, March 29, 2006


The New York Times reports:
After the Florida sentencing, Mr. Abramoff's lawyers, Neal R. Sonnett and Abbe B. Lowell, said they would ask the authorities to place their client in a low-security prison with special facilities for observant Jews.

Exactly what does he claim to be "observant" of? It couldn't possibly be any of:
And that's just some of the biblical commandments whose plain-sense meaning Abramoff has violated. That doesn't even begin to get into rabbinic interpretations, which would expand his violations much further.

But again, adherence to any interpretation of Torah can't be what he means by "observant Jew". He means that he wants shrink-wrapped kosher prison meals (many steps down from the food at Signatures, but probably a step up from the standard prison food). But this alone does not constitute an "observant Jew".

Abramoff's actions over the past decade are a desecration of Torah, and any individual or community who claims him as an "observant Jew" or a "religious Jew" is an accomplice in that desecration.


  1. While I understand the magnitude of the crimes that J.A. has been involved in, please don't forget that people can and do change. Are not the gates of repentance always open? If he's a scuzball again when he gets out of prison, then yes, heap scorn on the guy, but for now, what harm will there be in giving the man a chance? He'll be out of sight for the next 5 years or so. Who knows what will happen then.

  2. at least the way i understand it, judaism is heavily concerned with the interpersonal and morally governing the way one interacts with others. JA has not lived his life in a way that suggests he knows or cares about jewish approaches to business, life, or honesty.
    the jewish hilchot of business are quite stringent and intense. they suggest it is even wrong for instance, to enter a shop in which you intend not to make a purchase, as your presense indicates that you are considering it. more info and cases can be found here:

    abramoff has been wearing a kippah and keeping "kosher" while cheating, stealing, commiting fraud, bearing false witness, and corrupting the very core of our government system. the man is a disgrace to the jewish people and i hesitate to even call him a jew.
    it is not new and it wasn't one mistake. he has been using judaism as a cover for evil for a long time. its time they fed him the pork he has been serving.
    that said, i support religious liberty and suppose as a matter of principle, though i find him disgusting, i'd need to let abramoff choose his own food. i just don't have to be happy that we share a moral tradition.

  3. People (intentionally and unintentionally) do bad things. Some people do very bad things that go against their own professed moral code(s). That does not mean that we abrogate their right to follow other tenets of their religion, correct? Do we have any more of a right to suggest that the thief or murderer should be eating pork than we do for a person who disrespects his or her parents? Or "desecrates" the sabbath? While I agree wholeheartedly that J.A.'s actions are despicable and horrifying, and I share the embarrassment of "sharing a moral tradition" with him, I believe the following statements take us a step backwards with respect to the idea that no one can take "ownership" of the word "observant": When we say things like "any individual or community who claims him as an 'observant Jew' or a 'religious Jew' is an accomplice in that desecration..." or "I hesitate to even call him a jew" (zt), we undermine our very own ability to critique those who would do the same in other circumstances.

  4. I don't think Abramoff should be denied kosher food; he is entitled to the same rights in prison as any other felon. And I don't hesitate to call him a Jew; as embarrassed as I am to have him as a member of this big family, we don't kick people out.

    However, I do take issue with calling him an "observant Jew" because of what that says about what it means (or can mean) to be an "observant Jew".

    Person A might play instruments on Shabbat, and person B might not, and they might both be "observant" within their own interpretations of Judaism. If there exists an interpretation of Judaism anywhere out there that says that fraud and bribery are permitted while eating non-kosher food is forbidden (such that someone who commits fraud and bribery but keeps kosher is considered an "observant Jew" under that interpretation), then I am willing to say that that interpretation is a desecration of Torah.

    As hard as they try, there is no way to metaheir this sheretz

  5. Hi,
    I think it is morally more correct to claim responsibility for others in our community rather than define our community as only those who do the things that we sanction. So, as an Orthodox Jew, I claim J.A. as an Orthodox Jew, and also Barukh Goldstein, and also Yigal Amir. I now have to take responsibility for those elements of my community.

  6. Would you claim him as an Orthodox Jew if he ate treif? If he davened at an egalitarian minyan? If he denied Torah miSinai?