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article imageOp-Ed: Madoff: Jewish fury as a community reviles a cultural betrayal

By Paul Wallis     Dec 23, 2008 in Crime
The Madoff situation, with billions lost to investors, has enraged the Jewish community in New York, and around the world. The sense of betrayal, rather than loss, has produced some real Biblical vitriol from the normally restrained community press.
In this case, the ethical issues seem to have far overtaken the cash value of the Madoff affair as the community tries to deal with a hideous sense of infidelity. The utter disgust is obvious, and so is the genuine anger.
The New York Times:
Jews are also grappling with the implications of Mr. Madoff’s deeds for their public image, what one rabbi referred to as the “shanda factor,” using the Yiddish term for an embarrassing shame or disgrace. As Bradley Burston, a columnist for, the English-language Web site of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, wrote on Dec. 17: “The anti-Semite’s new Santa is Bernard Madoff. The answer to every Jew-hater’s wish list. The Aryan Nation at its most delusional couldn’t have come up with anything to rival this.”
The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement that Mr. Madoff’s arrest had prompted an outpouring of anti-Semitic comments on Web sites around the world, most repeating familiar tropes about Jews and money.
Anti Semites aren’t famous for their intelligence, or sanity, or ability to comprehend, let alone express, ideas. In this case, they’re way out of their league. The quote from the Haaretz piece alone is such an indictment that most non-Jews wouldn’t quite get the implications.
Ever since the Jewish Diaspora, the general sense of community and broad cultural familial context have been a precious concept. The references throughout the NYT article are to a form of betrayal which doesn’t exist in other cultures. The fury is very real.
This isn’t a piece for comment or regurgitation by outsiders. It needs to be seen as a very rare glimpse of a culture which is normally (and unfortunately) opaque to the outside world.
When you get someone being described by a rabbi as “the antithesis of true piety”, they’re not talking about some obscure theory of Judaism, they’re talking about an intolerable insult to the people, traditions, beliefs, and the culture.
Indications are that Madoff isn’t going to be a name you see much in New York in future.
Just for the record, the world's most famous Jew was a guy called Jesus Christ. Take that as an indication of the ethical history and background. This is one case where a money changer in the temple would be rather unpopular.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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