Earlier this week, Israeli authorities rounded up numerous Chareidim in Israel who are accusing of defrauding the State. In a classic case of identity fraud, it seems that the yeshivos were collecting monies for students who either did not attend the schools or were taking the monies allocated for the personal use of people who attend the yeshiva but have a policy not to take money from the State.
I don't know if the accusations are true or not. However, this episode has helped to illustrate several interesting points:
1. We Keep Our Priorities Straight -- Marty Bluke points out that this affair is being discussed on the Chareidi website. However, there the discussion isn't about whether or not the parties involved are guilty or whether we need to rethink the way we do things. The discussion there focuses on trying to find out who notified the authorities. In other words, it's not the fault of the thieves, it's the fault of the people who turned them in.
2. We Learn To Distinguish Between Important Issues and Issues of Lesser Importance: I find it highly telling that these same people who would look down at me for wearing a colored shirt, or working for a living, or for wearing a leather yarmulke, or for any of the other things that violate the chareidi lifestyle -- but yet don't even rise to the level of minhag or Rabbinic mitzvos, have no problem blithely violating the actual Torah commandment against theft.
Lord knows that I'm not perfect... and I don't expect Chareidim to be either. We're all human and we all make mistakes. But it's one thing when someone makes a one-time mistake and yet another when the violation is repeated and systemic. How someone who is repeatedly violating a Torah law can look down at someone who simply doesn't dress the same way or is otherwise acting in accordance with halacha is beyond me.
3. We're Can Keep the Big Picture In Sight: I am personally in favor of Torah study. I may have some quibbles with the way the kollel system is currently set up (ok, perhaps more than quibbles), but on a deeper level, I believe that there should be a kollel option for those who have the aptitude and desire.
But it has to be realized that the purpose of the kollel (or at least one of the purposes) has to be to educate people in the observance of the mitzvos. If the purpose of the learning doesn't include actual observance of the mitzvos, then what the heck is the point of the whole venture? To learn what the Torah wants while hypocritically acting the other way? I don't think so -- nor should any rational person. But if we support Torah learning with thievery what message does that send to the avreichim that are learning there -- especially in this day and age where many in the yeshiva world revere the Rosh Yeshiva himself and view his behavior as a model to emulate?
I don't have a problem with instutions that serve the community -- be they kollelim, tzedakah organizations, or the like. But the paramount thing is that these organizations have to be run above-board and with complete honesty. If we can't do that, not only do we risk further chillul HaShem, we also might begin to lose faith in our own institutions.