The history of power and influence is always littered with personal scandals. This is evident in all of the words of the great prophets of Israel regarding the rulers and officers of their times. Unfortunately, over the long history of human civilization and of Jewish history as well, religious leaders who profess to represent superior morals and decency many times are tarnished as well by scandalous acts of their own.
We have been witness over the past decade of the scandals, sexual and financial, that has engulfed the Roman Catholic Church worldwide. As is the case many times, the cover-up only compounds the problems caused by the original sin and crime.
While we are accustomed sadly but realistically to all types of scandals that engulf political leaders and government officials, we are certainly less accepting and less stoic regarding scandals that touch those who purported to be religious leaders and moral examples. These types of scandals shake our very faith and force many to turn away from religions and faiths.
In Jewish life these types of scandals are said to reflect badly not only on the perpetrators but on Heaven itself. They are assigned the worst of all titles – a desecration of God's name. And even if we follow the minority opinion that even these types of crimes can be salvaged by repentance, all admit that such repentance is difficult to gain and in many cases is just completely unachievable.
We know that our political and governmental leaders are not perfect. Most of them are wise enough not to present themselves as such and to stick to the business of governing and administering our national interests. Therefore, when they are brought low by crimes and/or scandal, we ordinary citizens take his disappointment in stride. However when religious figures of note and station are found guilty of scandalous conduct, it affects us much more deeply, if not even permanently.
So, we are almost immune to the long list of political leaders and even heads of our government who have been found guilty and jailed for the crimes that they committed. We are almost not surprised that new rumors and scandalous reports constantly are the grist of our media mills. It is almost as though we do not expect differently when it comes to those in power and influence.
However, when those who advertise themselves as religious leaders – rabbis, educators, holy individuals and spiritual savants – are exposed as predators, frauds and monetarily corrupt to the core, we are truly shaken to the depths of our faith and belief. Prominent rabbis who are sent to prison for criminal behavior create an indelible stain upon the profession and upon the religion itself. That stain is almost impossible to erase.
The generation will have to pass, before the matter and its effect on others can somehow be put to rest. Published media reports have it that a former Chief Rabbi here in Israel is about to plead guilty to many offenses and will serve time in prison. It will take the Chief Rabbinate much time and effort to recover from this blow to its prestige and integrity.
It is undoubtedly true that power corrupts. Even if the individual with power and influence is pure as the driven snow there are always those who gravitate and circulate around that individual. Usually they exploit their appearance of power and influence to their own personal benefit. Many times that person who is truly honest and even holy is unaware or unable to prevent this pernicious exploitation and corruption.
Especially when the person is believed to have great and supernatural powers, those around him should be doubly suspect of their actions and motives. The Talmud teaches us that it is not the mouse that steals food from the house but rather it is the hole in the wall then allowed entry to the mouse that is the true thief. In an age of beliefs in parts of the Jewish world that border on superstition there will be many that will exploit the faith and naïveté of the masses.
The hole in the wall will always attract the mice. But it is incumbent upon us to attempt to close that hole as much as we are humanly capable of doing. As long as money is the currency of certain types of holiness, we should be wise enough to expect that scandals will eventually be revealed. That is human nature 101. Realizing this will help soften the blow when those inevitable scandals occur and dominate the public media.