Both WebGirl over at The Road Taken and Rabbi Maryles have posts up concerning stealing that sometimes occurs in the frum community.
WebGirl discusses activities such as money laundering and lying to obtain free goods. Rabbi Marlyes discusses stealing from the government. In the past, I've discussed dishonesty in such forms as copying media, illegally avoiding sales tax and even electoral fraud. I've even blogged about my own failings and when I wimped out when I had the chance to stand up for honesty.
While I find it disturbing that such activities go on in the Jewish community, I don't find it surprising. After all, Jews are human too, and we're subject to the same temptations as everyone else. I'd be lying if I said I *never* stole anything in my life, and I suspect the vast majority of people would be too.
However, what I find particularly disturbing is the openness that exists about stealing. No one seems to be ashamed of it anymore - it's simply accepted as a part of the way of doing things. People who are halachically married but not legally so as to qualify for benefits? Not a problem. Paying cash for goods or services to avoid sales tax? It's okay. Running money laundering schemes? Where does it say in the Shulchan Aruch that it's wrong? And so on. The same people who would recoil in horror at the thought of violating a mitzvah d'rabbanan or a such as eating fish and meat together or not wearing a hat during davening, or eating kitniyos on Pesach have no problem being blase about the Torah commandment of not stealing -- which applies whether the money being stolen belongs to a Jew or a non-Jew, a person, partnership, corporation or government.
Rabbi Maryles reports that one person's attitude toward defrauding the government is:
I wasn't aware that defrauding the government was one of the three cardinal sins. My bad.
And yet, I somehow suspect that the same person would not be so blase about a frum person eating treif or a woman wearing a skirt that ends a bit above the knee. Neither of things are cardinal sins either, and yet, I'm sure they would get a reaction (and possibly a violent one in some quarters).
So, why does theft and dishonesty get a pass? Why does stealing seem to be "okay" as long as it's not on the scale of Bernard Madoff, or as long as you're not the victim? Or even better, why do we pay lip service to the idea that stealing is wrong -- why not simply declare that stealing is okay?
Well, okay... perhaps my last suggestion was somewhat over the top - but the underlying question still remains. We pay a lot of lip service to the ideal of honesty. We say that the seal of Hakadosh Baruch Hu is truth. We repeat stories about how scrupulously honest our Sages were. We go so far as to say that one of the primary reasons for the destruction of the world in the days of Noach was because of dishonesty. And yet, all that is lost upon us. All that is lost upon us to the degree that not only do people steal in private (which might be expected -- again -- we're only human), but they do so openly and without any shame.
Lord knows, I'm not perfect. I have my faults and weaknesses. But I would never dream of bragging about something that I've done wrong. I would never even think of being open (and worse, blase) about it. But that seems to be the point we've reached as a society.
You know what? I would trade adherence to all the chumros in the world -- whether justified or not -- to gain a greater adherence to things such as honesty and personal integrity.