A good deal of ink has already been spilled concerning the Jack Abramoff scandal – he's the once highly influential Republican lobbyist who also happens to be an Orthodox Jew – and doubtless lots more ink will be spilled in the future. But few pieces, in the mainstream press especially, have touched on what a terrible thing this influence peddler's misdeeds have meant to Jews and Judaism.
That's why Jeff Jacoby's opinion piece in the Jan. 8 Boston Globe, titled "Bringing Faith Into Contempt," was such a surprise – and a potent one at that. Here, in a significant daily paper, a staff writer looked at this scandal not through what it reveals about the Washington elite or what it's done to America's sense of trust. Instead, Jacoby considered the issue as a Jew would, and it is this that seems almost unprecedented in context.
"By his own admission," began the columnist, "Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is a crook. But that isn't the worst that can be said about him.
"He defrauded his clients of millions of dollars, bribed public officials, cheated on his tax returns, and deceived lenders to qualify for a loan. But that isn't the worst that can be said about him, either.
"He made himself at home in and contributed to the swamp of corruption that fills Washington with its stench. His e-mails to cronies, with messages like 'Can you smell money?!?!?!' and 'I'd love to get our mitts on that moolah!!' oozed greed and boorishness. Behind their backs, he crudely mocked those who hired him, calling them 'morons,' 'monkeys,' 'troglodytes,' and 'the stupidest idiots in the land.' He played fast and loose with what were supposed to be charitable funds. But not even that is the worst that can be said about him."
The worst thing, noted Jacoby, is that Abramoff is Jewish – and not merely a Jew but an Orthodox Jew, "someone who claims to be committed to strictly observing Jewish law and faithfully adhering to the Torah's ethical standards." Abramoff, continued the columnist, trampled on these principles, and his misdeeds not only corrupted his soul but tainted all religious Jews as well. "He is guilty of what Jewish tradition calls, with disgust, 'chillul ha-Shem' – a desecration of God's name.
"For me – also an observant Jew – that is the worst thing of all."
Jacoby pointed out that honesty in financial dealings is not optional in Judaism, but mandatory. Abramoff wronged his business partners while at the same time parading his Orthodox identification. As Jacoby noted, these details make his crimes far worse than mere lapses in judgment.
Abramoff recently told a U.S. district judge that, for the rest of his days, he will regret his conduct, and he hopes that God can grant him forgiveness. "By themselves," wrote Jacoby, "these words will not undo the damage Jack Abramoff has done. But they make a good start. Right now, that is the best that can be said about him."