Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz vs Rabbi Barry Freundel, who is worse? A lesson in inverted Tzedaka from the Rambam

Here I go again, looking for trouble. Something tells me I’m going to get it. Before everyone gets all “what in blank’s name are you talking about Captain Ahab?” on me, let me set up the comparison first. I know I said I’d lay off him after he thankfully advocated organ sales, but the hypocrisy just boiled over the surface of the pot again and I can’t take it.

A spate of articles came out recently about Barry “Tom” Freundel the “Peeperer Rov” Shlitah (everyone rise). One article was published in the Washingtonian on January 3rd, brought to my attention by my wife, that brought to light even worse aspects of the case than we knew about previously. Apparently, Barry set up hidden cameras in a vacant apartment he had set up for a Haredi woman as a safe shelter who was fleeing from her abusive husband. The woman had gotten in touch with him for help and he took advantage of the opportunity to see her naked.

The schadenfreude instinct in all of us loves to squirm at the thought of something like that and denounce Barry for being even more heartless than we thought. It certainly is quite gross. From his perspective though, there wasn’t any difference between that and spying on women in the mikveh. In both cases he assumes he will never get caught, nobody will ever know, and therefore no harm will be done because none of the women will ever find out.

So practically it doesn’t matter if he’s peeping on an abused woman he himself is helping shelter from an abusive husband, or converts dunking in the mikveh or whatever. There’s no nafkah minah (practical difference) assuming he is never caught, and all criminals assume they will never be caught or they would never commit their crimes.

The Eight Levels of Tzadaka, The Eight Levels of Harm

But let’s consider harm in levels parallel to Rambam’s 8 levels of Tzadaka, or charity. Rambam, Zra’im, Hilchos Matanos Ani’im 10:7 says that the highest form of charity is giving someone a loan or a gift (notice Rambam does not differentiate between loan and gift) or a job so that he does not have to rely on charity any longer. This level is higher than the ever-praised level of giving anonymously to people who not even the giver knows the identity of, which is only the second level, and called a Mitzva Lishma, a Mitzva for its own sake, by the Rambam. The third is knowing who you give charity to but them not knowing who gave it.The lowest level is giving tzedaka grudgingly, publicly with a sour resentful face.

Conceptually, this means that employing someone at $10 an hour who needs a job is considered better than  dumping a million bucks on the same needy person who will simply consume it and continue to live off charity. Hiring someone, whether to help him (Lishma) or make money off him (Lo Lishma), is a higher level than anonymous giving. According to the Rambam then, the highest form of charity is not even charity, since it could even be a loan or employment. The highest level is to lessen the need for charity in the first place.

Before we even flip that around, it’s amazing to consider that hiring labor at any wage or extending a loan for someone to start a business (which could include buying shares in an IPO or buying corporate bonds, setting aside the issue of interest) is a greater level of charity than giving a billion dollars anonymously to anonymous people. In today’s world though, those who give away $1 billion anonymously are considered gracious selfless philanthropic saints. A business owner who hires a worker at $10 an hour, which is a higher level than giving $1 billion anonymously to charity, is considered a cheap selfish misanthropic schmuck.

Now let’s invert that. If the highest level of charity is turning unproductive people into productive people, then the highest level of harming a person or people is turning productive people into unproductive people, necessitating that they live off charity, or worse, taxpayer money. Harming anonymous people anonymously, say by being a sadist for fun and setting a bear trap for random people on a sidewalk you will never see and just reveling in the thought that someone you will never know got seriously hurt, well that would only be the second worst way to harm someone. That would be harm for the sake of harming people, “harm Lishma”, paralleling Rambam’s description of anonymous charity to anonymous people as a Mitzva Lishma, but still only second level.

The third worst way to harm someone would be to harm people anonymously, they no knowing you but you knowing who they are. The least bad way to harm someone would be to harm him grudgingly, he knowing you and you knowing him, but not really wanting to harm him at all, and the victim knowing that you don’t really want to harm him.

Barry is on level three in terms of the harm he inflicted. He inflicted it anonymously against people he knew about. He wasn’t as bad as harming anonymous people for its own sake. He wanted to see them naked. He didn’t want them to be harmed Lishma. If he did, he would have uploaded the videos so everyone could see them. Had he taken videos of anonymous women, never watched them or knew who he was videotaping, and simply uploaded them to the internet just to cause harm, that would be harm Lishma, only the second level.

Still not as bad as turning productive people into unproductive people.

But let’s face it. Had Barry recorded women in the mikveh, not knowing who they were, never watching the tapes, and uploading all of it to the internet just to harm them for fun but not watching because מסתכלין בעריות (watching pornography) is assur and he’s too frum, we would consider that even sicker than what he actually did. We would consider that really incredibly sick and bizarre. But it’s still only level 2.

That incredibly bizarre sickness of harming anonymous people only for the sake of harming them, is not nearly as bad as turning productive people into unproductive people living off charity or taxpayer money, according to the Rambam-1.

It is fascinating how the Rambam’s top level of charity is not even considered charity in the popular sense. Employing a worker or giving a loan is not generally seen as charitable, though it is, and the highest level of it. By the very same token, turning productive people into unproductive people is generally not seen as all that harmful, but it is. It is an even higher level of harm than hurting anonymous people for its own sake.

And how does one turn productive people into people dependent on charity?

Let’s take one example from the Social Justice Rav’s Facebook page. He hasn’t blocked me from seeing the page yet, even though after this post he might. (I dare him.)

I mentioned that the reason Rav Shmuly “unfriended” me years ago was that I yelled at him publicly for supporting American intervention in Syria. He was busy thwacking about trying to get politicians to send lethal weapons and training to “the Rebels” to unseat Assad. These weapons and training ultimately ended up in the hands of ISIS, and led to the civil war that caused the Syrian refugee crisis.

And now, Rav Shmuly Yanklowitz, who advocated for the very cause of the Syrian refugee crisis in the first place, is scoring even more social justice publicity points by diarrheaing about how he has personally invited Syrian refugees to his home for Thanksgiving and New Year’s and Whatever.

So not only is the Social Justice Rav advocating for turning productive people (former Syrian citizens) into unproductive people (current Syrian refugees) by rooting and lobbying for war in their former country. He now wants US taxpayers to support these people with free immigration, free healthcare, free education, food stamps and whatnot. And to add even more insult to that injury, he gets all the publicity for helping them out.

Disclaimer: Helping out refugees is a great thing. But not in this case, where he was the one who was rooting the refugee status on in the first place, and he now wants others to pay for it. In this case his hachnasas orchim (taking in guests) is manipulative self-righteous BS, which seems to be the essence of nearly every single one of Rav Shmuly’s initiatives. I support the actual act of taking in refugees, but cannot refrain from calling hypocrisy on the people who help cause the problem to begin with.

This is just the one thing that set me off this time. Shmuly tries to turn productive people into unproductive people by advocating for minimum wage laws, equal-work-equal-pay laws, and boycotting products made in third-world sweatshops. Minimum wage laws prevent the least productive workers from working at all. Equal-work-equal-pay laws prevent women from being productive. Boycotting sweatshops unemploys destitute third world kids from earning enough money so they don’t have to choose between starving to death and performing sexual favors for a piece of bread.

Shmuly spends a lot of his time advocating that unproductive people remain unproductive with labor legislation. He spends the rest of his time demanding that taxpayers support these unproductive people by force.

And then he takes the fruits of his anti labor (Syrian refugees) and manipulates the whole situation to make it look like he’s the good guy.

The harm Rabbi Shmuly “Social Justice” Yanklowitz causes is much worse than the harm that Barry “Tom” Freundel ever caused. Yes, Shmuly has good intentions, and some of his initiatives are good, like this one. and Barry’s intentions were neutral to bad. He never tried to actively harm anyone, but he did cause harm. I’m sure Barry also had some good initiatives over his career as well. They don’t count for much now, at least not in the public consciousness.

But Mao Zedong, the biggest murderer in world history who killed 45 million people in 4 years in an attempt to create a socialist utopia, was filled with good intentions just as well. Good intentions count for nothing. Zero. The only thing that matters is whether you support liberty, or control over other people’s lives. Ultimately, life and death comes down to that single question. This is reality folks, and as Ayn Rand liked to say, “Existence exists.”

If you advocate for a war in a distant country, don’t be surprised if there is a refugee problem. And when there is, don’t you dare ask that other people pay for it.


Barry Freundel Issues Apology, But Were his Actions a Crime?

First off, Freundel’s actions were absolutely a crime against God, and a חילול השם of the first order. I don’t know if God will forgive him for what he did. But is being a peeping Tom really a crime? It depends on the circumstances.

In Defending the Undefendable II: Freedom in All Realms, Dr. Walter Block has a chapter on Peeing Toms. I have not read it yet, but from the snippets my wife reads to me, it seems that being a peeping Tom is not necessarily a crime. If it were, then looking a woman up and down would be a punishable offence. Men do this all the time, without even realizing it most of the time. I do it myself, admittedly, it’s just instinct. To deny it would just be stupid.

When straight men see an attractive woman, we all look at her sexually. The question is how fast we get back to our senses and the real world, and suppress it towards more appropriate outlets. The sickos don’t, the functional men do. That’s the way the human race works.

I would say, without reading what Dr. Block has written yet, that being a Peeping Tom in public places is definitely not a crime. It becomes a little more difficult if you’re looking through someone’s window into a private residence. But then again, it is up to the owners of the home to leave their shades up or down. If you’re leaving your shades up and someone with binoculars is looking into your home, it’s your problem. You should have left your shades down.

But, if someone plants a camera in your home to look at you no matter what you’re doing, naked or not, it is an actual crime, by libertarian standards. The crime is not “being a Peeping Tom”, but trespassing private property. It doesn’t matter what you see. It’s all a crime.

However, if a wife were to install a hidden camera in a husband’s bedroom suspecting he were having an affair, since the bedroom is her property, no crime.

In that sense, what Frendel did was an objective crime, assuming that the Mikveh he peeped on had privacy written or implied in the contract or verbally by whoever was supervising it, which was him. I’m assuming the mikveh did have that contract.

Freundel’s apology seems sincere. Forgiveness is not a requirement until certain prescriptions are fulfilled, which include bringing groups of people to each victim and begging three times. Freundel’s victims are under no responsibility to forgive, yet.

But keep in mind, there are much worse crimes than voyeurism, that are much more damaging, by Rabbis that are seen as social justice saints. I would consider crimes that lead to death as much worse, like advocating against organ donation, for example. Or being the Chief Rabbi of Israel and living off of stolen money.

As bad as Freundel’s חילול השם was, people recognize it as the actions of a single flawed human being, and can eventually write it off as not representing “Judaism” whatever that is. But the actions of an entire bureaucracy of tax-receiving Rabbis is much worse. That is an entire institution that lives off the livelihood of others that millions of people hate with a passion that will not end.

The Rabbinate is much worse than Barry Freundel. Let’s keep that in mind. In terms of halachic observance, if that is your value, the Rabbinate inflicts much more damage than a Peeping Tom.

Barry Freundel Ain’t Movin’ Out of His House

From the Forward:

The Washington, D.C. rabbi charged peeping at his synagogue’s mikveh has refused to move out of the synagogue-owned house where he and his family had been living, the congregation said in an email to congregants today.

The guy won’t move out. This is going to be fun. I propose a compromise between Freundel and Kesher Israel. I say, allow Freundel to stay in the house, on the condition that cameras are installed in his shower.

I don’t know who would watch, but it’s an idea, no?

Jewish Men Should Take Comfort in the Barry Freundel Voyeurism Case

For those who haven’t heard yet, some Jewish guy named Barry was arrested for installing a hidden camera in the women’s mikveh at a Washington DC shul that sports members like Jack “Secretary of the Debt” Lew and Joe “Let’s Bomb Everything” Lieberman.

Barry is the Rabbi of the shul. He’s been the Rabbi since 1989. Barry is also on a bunch of committees for stuff like conversion, Beis Din of America something, and he teaches as an adjunct professor for an ethics course or some other ironic thing. He converts women to Judaism. But not anymore.

He was caught installing a dream machine 1980’s looking radio clock with a hidden camera in it just outside the shower.

Dream Machine Hidden Camera Radio Clock
Dream Machine Hidden Camera Radio Clock

While installing this thing in the Mikveh right outside the shower, my favorite line in the article happened:

On Sept. 28, a woman in charge of the bath’s changing area and showers noticed Freundel “plugging in a clock on the sink inside the changing area, right by the shower,” an affidavit says. She told the rabbi that there was already a clock on the wall, according to the document, and he responded, “This clock will help with the ventilation in the shower.”

That gem has to go on a T-shirt.

Rabbi Barry Freundel is suspected to have secretly videoed hundreds of women over several years dating back to 2010. Deleted files containing women’s first names from his shul were found on his computers. The amount of hardware this guy had raises an eyebrow itself.

Police listed items seized from the rabbi’s home as six external hard drives, seven laptop computers, five desktop computers, three regular cameras, 20 memory cards and 10 flash drives. Police have said the camera in the bath and another found in the home were part of clock-radios in which the hidden device was linked to a motion detector.

I have one laptop in my home, and one in my office. That’s it.

Those reading this may notice I’m taking a humorous approach to this whole thing rather than an “Oh My God what a Chillul Hashem!” approach. It’s because I don’t trust Rabbis to begin with. That doesn’t mean I don’t trust any people who happen to be Rabbis. I trust my brother and my father, both Rabbis, but that’s because I know them, more or less. I just don’t trust anyone BECAUSE he’s a Rabbi, and I think the world would be a better place if people were more inherently skeptical of people with religious authority.

The less trust in power and authority that people have, the better. That extends to doctors, government officials, financial advisors, and anyone claiming to be an expert. With Google, you can check up on whatever anyone says to you these days.

This case, though, had me thinking of several things. First, the Tefila Zakah that men are supposed to say before Yom Kippur. This is one of those guilt-trip weird psychedelic compositions written by a sad soul about how many demons he gave birth to through chronic masturbation. Then my head skipped to a pasuk from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) I remembered from Shabbos Chol HaMoed Sukkos about nobody going through life without sinning. I’d bet a dollar that Shlomo, or whoever wrote the book, had auto-erotic self stimulation in mind. These days the chronic guilt trip among men is coupled with internet pornography.

So all you men who klopped על חטא for watching porn and other common sins, put things in perspective. These sins would include seeing a prostitute, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality for the gay people out there, or any number of consensual sexual sins. The perspective is this: When you’re watching porn, you may be hurting yourself, but it’s voluntary and you’re not harming anyone against their will. If you’re gay and you have a relationship with another man, you’re not harming anyone against their will. You’re not getting off on invading the privacy of another.

But the line from watching women naked on a screen who have been paid and agreed to be filmed, or any other sexual sin, is very, very far from something like voyeurism, where you are deliberately invading, violently, the life of another. This is a sin against the Non Aggression Principle, and is entirely different in nature.

If Barry Freundel were a normal man committing sins that most men commit, he would sit at home and get off on regular pornography, or see a prostitute, or whatever. Not that this would be perfectly fine, but it would be excusable, at least to me, maybe not to his wife. But I’m trying to imagine the moment in Feundel’s head when he decided he was going to cross the line past the Non Aggression Principle and watch women undress without their consent.

There has to be something very qualitatively different about the brain of someone who decides do do this, something very different from your average everyday guy who masturbates to pornography. I believe I speak for most men when I say that if someone showed me a voyeur video of vulnerable women I would be sick to my stomach and I’d have the urge to punch the guy in the face who took it.

If I try to get into Barry’s head for even a second, think about what it would be like to take pleasure in seeing this kind of stuff, I can’t do it. Unless I pretend I’m actually an evil person taking pleasure in the vulnerability of these poor women.

The reason I have an inherent skepticism of anyone in the position of power like a Rabbi, is that anyone in a position of power is there because some part of him wants power over people. That automatically means he’s suspect.

So let this case infuse you with skepticism. It’s healthy. And if you’re a guy who commits the same sins that most guys do all the time, take it easy on yourself. You’re not a violent voyeur.

My wife includes this chiddush that I actually like a lot. When giving tzedaka, the highest form of tzedaka is anonymous, so neither the giver nor the receiver knows who got it or where it came from. When dealing with violence, or violations of the NAP, it’s almost the opposite. With rape, at least you are not cowardly enough to hide yourself from your victim. She knows who you are, you know who she is.

But voyeurism in some ways is worse. The victim doesn’t know who you are, or even that she is a victim.