Religion Politics Grift

I wasn’t sure how to do this without inciting against ultra-orthodox Jews. But the problem is actually bigger than the one reported here in the NYT and it’s best not to be sentimental. The detailed investigative report is about the special access of leaders of semi-autonomous religious communities to political power. This story is bad for the public good, bad for democracy, bad for religion, and bad for the Jews. Over the last several years, we have seen the larger story especially pronounced in the non-education of Haredi youth and the flouting of Coronavirus and other public health regulations. It’s as if community leaders, their machers and rabbis, do not care about civil society. This particular report concerns the Aleph Institute and the Tzedek Association, charitable organizations ostensibly committed to prison-sentencing reform, and how “efforts to seek clemency for…wealthy or well-connected people benefited from their social, political, or financial ties to a loose collection of lawyers, lobbyists, activists and Orthodox Jewish leaders who had worked with Trump administration officials on criminal justice legislation championed by Jared Kushner.” As Joshua Shanes writes here, the relation between orthodox Judaism and reactionary politics is not new in modern times. And still, this story here in all its transactional brazenness is unique to New York City and the Trump “era.” At this historical moment, this kind of religion getting close to this kind of political power with this kind of money invites this kind of white collar, criminal grift.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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