Bureaucratic Bumbling

By Rabbi Jay Kelman

The allegations emanating from the Gomery inquiry implicating the governing Liberal Party of Canada and their friends in a taxpayer funded fundraising scheme are discouraging but not to be unexpected considering the potential monetary gain involved. Those who have illicitly profited must return their gains possibly adding on a 100 percent penalty.

Jewish law states that a ganav, a thief who tries to hide his activities must pay back double the amount stolen. Interestingly the gazlan, the brazen crook who steals in the open pays no such fine. At least such a person is not hypocritical hiding behind a cloak of false honesty. Thus the armed bank robber pays back what he stole and no more, G-d will deal with the fear he creates in people, while the government bureaucrat lining his pockets pays double.

Knowing the all pervasive desire for money our Sages tried to ensure that only those whose integrity was rock solid should be entrusted with community funds. Jewish law at times actually forbids giving money to those whose honesty is not a matter of record.

Our elected officials are, truth be told, a reflection of the values of the society they represent. While people tend to get all excited about government waste, I see no evidence that they are any more or less dishonest and corrupt than societal practices at large, be they corporations or sadly to say many not for profit organizations including those providing “religious” services. In a society where the culture is very much egocentric, with many predominantly, if not exclusively, concerned with their personal interests irrespective of the public good, we should expect no less.

Our legal codes rule that when electing communal officers one must vote “for the sake of heaven”. Despite the fact that you may personally benefit more from an alternate candidate, Jewish law stipulates that you should vote with the interests of the wider community involved. While this notion may sound foreign to us, it is the basis of a properly functioning democratic society. Western philosophers understood that one must be willing to give up some of our rights for the benefit of society as whole. In the end we all personally benefit from such an approach. This ruling applies equally to our elected officials who must vote with more than re-election on their mind.

This article originally appeared in the April 5, 2005 Money Matters column of the Canadian Jewish News.

Rabbi Jay Kelman is a founding director of Torah in Motion, an educational institute dedicated to inspire Jews to engage with the challenges and opportunities of the modern world through the prism of Jewish law, values and traditions. Rabbi Jay teaches ethics and Rabbinics at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto. Rabbi Kelman served for nine years as Rabbi at Beth Jacob V’Anshei Drildz and was a practicing accountant, earning both his Chartered Accountancy (Canada) and CPA (USA) designations; working in the International tax Department of a large international firm.