Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street says the coldly amoral line: “Greed is good.” Well, I think greed is funny. It’s also sad when its uncovered and faces the light of day.
Lobbyist as a fat-cat
(credit: Thomas Butler/The Hill)
Take the sorry plight of Jack Abramoff, former K Street powerhouse lobbyist and Tom DeLay hanger on. Today’s New York Times reveals this deliciously hilarious e mail that Abramoff sent to a rabbi:
“I hate to ask your help with something so silly, but I have been nominated for membership in the Cosmos Club, which is a very distinguished club in Washington, DC, comprised of Nobel Prize winners, etc.,” Mr. Abramoff wrote in an e-mail message on Sept. 15, 2000, to Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a prominent social conservative who runs Toward Tradition, an alliance of Jews and evangelical Christians.
“Problem for me is that most prospective members have received awards and I have received none,” Mr. Abramoff wrote. “I was wondering if you thought it possible that I could put that I have received an award from Toward Tradition with a sufficiently academic title, perhaps something like Scholar of Talmudic Studies?”
You might gather from this that Jack Abramoff is an Orthodox Jew. I am a strongly identified Jew. But I don’t hold much stock in the theology or political stance of most Orthodox Jews. But even if I was a devoutly Orthodox Jew, Jack Abramoff would bring a chill to my very bones. A good Jew does good deeds. Jack Abramoff did good deeds. He stole tens of millions of dollars from various Indian tribes (how did they let him get away with this??) and used it to open a DC kosher deli so he and his friends would have a lunchtime watering hole in which they could hold their kosher heads high. He donated money to the DC Orthodox day school (again with clients’ money) which his own children attended. But there’s some kind of disconnect going on. Somehow Jack could feel good about stealing Native American money because he was doing good with it. Weird. That’s not the kind of Orthodox Jew I’d want to be.
Now to get back to the e mail: Abramoff’s pompous and terribly insecure personality is on display in his desperate need for validation from the good rabbi (even if it was fake validation). What I’m dying to know is what Rabbi Lapin wrote back to him. Did he reject him? Or did he coddle him as I’d expect this rabbi would do with such an important “personality” as Jack Abramoff? Of did he tell him it would be fine to call himself a Scholar of Talmudic Studies?
Some of my intrepid readers have provided links to the Lapin-Abramoff correspondence (pgs. 42-43) and eye-opening it is. Before we quote this embarrassing material, I should note that Hillel’s comment below accepts Rabbi Lapin’s claim that he was merely humoring Abramoff in his reply. It’s clear below that Abramoff was dead serious and Lapin is a willing co-conspirator. The first e mail from Abramoff to Lapin is quoted above. The ones that follow are:
Lapin: Mazel tov, the Cosmos Club is a big deal.
Abramoff: Thanks so much for everything…
Lapin: Do let me know if you want to work on this today. I am home till I leave…to do the show…
Abramoff: Just tried you & got a busy signal.
Lapin: Sorry I didn’t get back till late…
Abramoff: …Hope we can chat tomorrow to get the awards moving. Thanks again.
Lapin: Yes, I just need to know what needs to b e produced…Letters? Plaques? Neither?
Abramoff: Probably just a few clever titles of awards, dates and that’s it. As long as you can be the person to verify them (or we can have someone else verify one and you the other), we should be set. Do you have any creative titles or should I dip into my bag of tricks?
The fact that the good rabbi goes along with Abramoff’s chicanery in this exchange does little credit to the stainless reputation that such a figure should have. With his continuing support for Abramoff I see Lapin as just another Baruch Korff (he was Nixon’s “chief rabbi” during the Watergate affair).
Jack Abramoff’s main problem was that he didn’t study enough Talmud or Chumash (Five Books of Moses). If he studied them at all, he surely forgot that little commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.”
ira newborn says
Abramoff is a pathetic crook and not an “Orthodox Jew” as far as I’m concerned but you are a smug, ignorant shit about it.
Richard Silverstein says
Abramoff considers himself an Orthodox Jew as I’m sure does his rabbi, Rabbi Lapin. I didn’t know you had the personal power to decide who was & who wasn’t an Orthodox Jew. I hope that you at least are an Orthodox Jew yourself, otherwise why would you arrogate to yourself the privilege of declaring whether someone was or wasn’t a good Orthodox Jew?
And if you are Orthodox all I can say is…Ira, Ira such a foul-mouthed fellow for being an Orthodox Jew. That’s just one more thing you’ll have to discuss with God come the High Holidays. You should also consider adding me to your list of people you’ve offended over the course of the year come Kol Nidre. But of course, I’m probably not even a Jew who’s worth apologizing to in your eyes.
I’d say people like Abramoff with his chicanery and you with your juvenile potty mouth do dishonor to Orthodox Judaism. My Jewish education taught me to respect my fellow human beings. I’m sorry yours appears to have left something to be desired.
Richard Cherry says
The point is Jack Abramoff is a thief and a fake. And the author didn’t want to be associated with him.
Why are there so many Jewish people ( ones with power) hanging out with these far, far right wing so-called christains racist, like Tom Delay anyway.
Edwin Mullins says
Good Jew, Bad Jew? Orthodox Schmorthodox. What about being a good person? What about being a human being? Doesn’t that count in anybody’s eyes anymore? And judging from his actions, Mr. Abramoff isn’t much of a human being.
(And don’t let my name fool you. I’m also a Jew. And a human being.)
Mike Schaefer says
For the record: not that it matters to me, but, since it seems to be a thread of discussion here, I am not a Jew. Some of my ancestors might have been German Jewish converts to Catholicism (based on family name “Bruckmann” which, I’ve read, is derived from “Baruchman.”) Family lore has it that my great-grandfather of that name helped Jewish friends from their village outside Munchen escape the Nazis. Family lore also holds that the same great-grandfather left Germany following threats from the SS. Whatever.
Charles Steiger says
We fellow Jews must ridicule someone like Abramoff and Rabbi Lapin. It brings nothing but embarrasment and shame to our people to see them conniving with one another only to advance ones career and reputation. A true Jew would never resort to such deceit and manipulation of facts or people for the sole purpose of power and money. It is equally embarrassing to see how Jack Abramoff has treated those poor Native American Indians by stealing from them and then ridiculing them, calling them stupid monkeys and such, we jews must let the Indians know that the actions of a few do not represent us all, do they?
this is such a schocking and shameful act that abramoff has pulled off. what can we do to bring justice to the indians?
also i feel mr. mullins brings a just point…….
There are 2 problems with the rants here about Abramoff and Rabbi Lapin.
1. Rabbi Lapin never gave Jack Abramoff any kind of award nor did he follow up on this humorous but sad interchange.
2. There have been no accusations that Jack Abramoff stole anything from the Indians.
Charles Steiger says
Hillel, you are wrong, Jack Abramoff i s being investigated by a senate subcommittee that is investigating the fraud and overcharging that he has done to Native American Tribes, his e-mails were confiscated and entered as evidence, this is where he was proven to call his Native American clients a bunch of stupid monkeys and other racial epithets. He did send an e-mail to Rabbi Lapin and asked him for academic awards and titles so he could join the prestigious Cosmo Club, he also asked “if possible, could you say that I have also received these awards in the years past” he finishes by saying ” anyway, I think you know what it is Im trying to finagle here” Rabbi Lapin then responded, ” I will help you organize your many prestigious awards so theyre ready to hang on the wall, just tell me what you need me to produce for you and I will do it. ”
These are all submitted as evidence to the senate subcommittee and hard to refute. All I can say is that it is very shamefull conduct by a fellow Jew who should have treated a fellow minority native american with more respect and dignity, you know that they have basically been the victims of genocide too.
Richard Silverstein says
Thanks, Charles for your comment about Hillel’s post. Can you provide me a link to the Lapin reply somewhere online?
Hillel, I’m surprised you would’ve levelled a blanket statement claiming that Rabbi Lapin did not reply to Abramoff when Charles was able to find his actual reply. A little sloppy on your part isn’t it?
Also, let’s just for the hell of it say that Abramoff was not under investigation for being such a goniff towards the Native Americans. Let’s even argue that the Indians were not aware of the theft; or we could go farther and say the Indians didn’t even care about the theft: can you find me a passage from the Talmud or anywhere that justifies someone stealing from a victim who’s not conscious of the theft? I don’t know about yours, but my Jewish God is offended.
Richard & Charles,
I am surpised that you assume I had not read the emails. You can read them yourselves at the website of Senate Committee for Indian Affairs. http://indian.senate.gov/exhibitspart1.pdf
They are on pages 42 & 43 of Part I.
The point is that Rabbi Lapin has stated on several occasions that he took this as a humorous and silly request, and never followed up with an award. Yes he responded to the emails, but he never responded with any action to help Jack Abramoff. Don’t you think that if he had actually given Jack Abramoff an award, that this would have been documented by the investigators?
I thought I had included a link to a recent Washington Post article containing the Rabbi’s comments. It is http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/24/AR2005062401891.html
PS – I agree that Abramoff was out of line to ask for such an award, but why id this so different form all of the “honorary” PhD’s given out every year to celebrities and politicians who never earned them?
Richard Silverstein says
Hillel: Thanks for the link. I’ve quoted from the Lapin-Abramoff ” in the “Update” section above. You should take a careful look at Lapin’s replies to Abramoff. They simply don’t bear out his contention that he was merely in jest in dealing with Abramoff’s request.
I guess your reading of Rabbi Lapin’s reply as humorous strikes Charles and I as less than persuasive.
As for your questions about honorary PhDs–there’s a huge difference between Jack Abramoff and others who earn these degrees. First, the latter group are actually nominated by a legitimate institution of higher learning. The reason they are nominated is because they have earned some distinction in their field or they performed some great service for the institution or society. While those earning honorary degrees didn’t earn them in an academic sense, they did earn them in recognition of their service.
Jack Abramoff wasn’t nominated by anyone. In fact, he nominated himself. It’s pathetic really.
Shmilke Hayoreh says
This is ALL Loshen Horah.
NONE of you SAW or HEARD anything that is being said against him.
AND you are helping the gentiles schect him by feeding the witch hunt with these unfounded comments.
If you doubt me READ THE CHOFETZ CHAIM.
Richard Silverstein says
Shmilke, Shmilke (what a name btw–I assume made up)…your comment is ridiculous. Of course, it’s not lashon hara–the proof is in Abramoff’s own e mails that are there for you to read & which were read out to America during Congressional hearings. Abramoff is shooting himself in the foot (or should I say “digging his own grave”) through his own e mail correspondence. Read his interview in the NY Times if you think the world’s being too tough on him. And by the way, you might want to hestitate before you become a member of his fan club. He was never a participant in the organized Jewish community, even in the Orthodox community. He was a loner who pretty much went his own way. And he never created any lasting Jewish organizations to make the community a better place. Everything he created he’s dismantled including the Jewish day school.
The things I say about Abramoff are based on what he himself has said or acknowleged having done. Now it’s up to the government to prosecute him. The first step toward that end happened yesterday when he was arrested on a charge unrelated to the ones I discuss here. But I assure you that this first charge is but the tip of his legal troubles.
Shmilke, Jews can be bad people just like non-Jews. I think it’s a good thing to show the world that we Jews know the difference between a bad Jew & a good one. Otherwise, the only thing left for us would be to circle the wagon whenever any Jew is accused or convicted of a crime no matter what the severity or horror of it. That’s not something I’m prepared to do.
Some Jews have the same approach when it comes to Israel: don’t criticize because Israel already has so many enemies. That’s not a philosophy I subscribe to.
Dodd Harris says
I’ve been reading everything I could find on Jack Abramoff for a personal and sad reason: He was a Senior when my brother was a Junior and I was a Freshman in High School. My brother (deceased) worshipped him as the BMOC of Beverly Hills High. Jack suffers from elite deviancy (the idea that some powerful and wealthy people develop that the “rules” don’t apply to them) his entire career is a graveyard of shady dealings and misanthropy. His story is about low self esteem, chicanery, and greed. One thing about us Jews, when one brings shame upon themselves, we feel it as a group. Jack, unfortunately took nothing from his Judaism that allowed him to truly embrace a code of decency and righteousness.
Richard Silverstein says
Dodd: Yours is an illuminating comment especially considering that you, & especially your brother (my condolences on his loss), knew him.
I’ve always felt & written here that there must be some kind of deep insecurity & inferiority complex at work to make him so needy for love & attention & so grasping for affirmation & wealth at all costs. It’s almost like he’s a teenager in a man’s body with all the insecurities & immaturity that teenagers have. He’s a guy who never grew up. Seems a perfect fit for a Hollywood producer. Too bad he decided to come to DC.
He seems to be thinking of moving back to the film business. If you still live in LA I’m afraid he may be back your way if he doesn’t go to prison first.
Jay Rovins says
Jack Abramoff was my room-mate for 2 years at Brandeis University. We were both English majors, class of ’81, we were both originally from Southern New Jersey. Jack was not raised an orthodox Jew. Jack, in my estimation, was one who adhered to his own particular forms of discipline. He was also, in high school, a weightlifter. Orthodoxy and weightlifting, among many more of Jack’s habits of the time, required this strange form of self-imposed discipline. Our tiny campus apartment, really three rooms, was strictly kosher. Jack disliked drugs, and never would drink much beyond wine for Shabbat. His head was always covered.
Jack and I would often discuss politics, arts, history, the poetry of Wallace Stevens, and more. Being friends at the time, we agreed to disagree. He was driven even then to go beyond the limits that most of us acknowledged. He pushed too far, then, back when no one got hurt.
I attended my first orthodox Yom Kippur services with Jack at the Jewish chapel on the Brandeis campus. It was the first time I had ever witnessed prayers accompanied by the repetitive beating of one’s breast, as if the sins of the previous year required such self-punishment. I saw Jack beat his own breast. I hope that he meant it then. And I hope, somehow, he might find that meaning again.
Richard Silverstein says
It’s always interesting to learn about the origins of someone who turns out so badly. What kernel of that evil was in them back then & which turns were made subsequently that brought him to his current predicament?
I know Brandeis quite well. My brother is Brandeis ’76 & I’ve known many Brandeis alumni & spent a good deal of time on campus. I find it terribly hard to believe anyone who attended the school could turn out so ‘bad to the bone.’ It’s really a shocker because the school is generally thought of as producing a fairly thoughtful, altruistic student & graduate.
Your observations are quite illuminating & thanks for sharing them.
Bruce Ehrlich says
I also graduated from Brandeis, class of 1981. It was an interesting time politically in the US as well as at Brandeis. Reagan had just been elected. Coincidentally (or not) that same year Brandeis hired a visiting professor of politics, who I studied with, who had come directly from the American Enterprise Institute — which might today seem like a moderate Republican think tank but back then was a vanguard of the right. My most vivid memory involving Jack Abramoff and the newly-formed Brandeis Young Republicans occurred during a rally we holding to oppose US interention in El Salvador. Suddenly we were surround on all sides by his band of Young Repubs, who were waving American flags and singing God Bless America in an attempt to drown out our speakers. I kid you not. Right-wing flag wavers had finally arrived at Brandeis. It was certainly the beginning of a new era in politics.
Gentile Joe says
I’m surprised that Shmilke Hayoreh’s comments are tolerated in this forum. So, the gentiles are out to schect Abramoff? That’s a kind of sweeping racial generalization that would get a gentile labeled an Anti-Semite if the shoe were on the other foot.
You went to great lengths to correct him, but you were way too soft on him and he should have been labelled a racist by you and others. And in fact, you did not take issue with the generalization.
Is this kind of quiet enmity harbored in the Jewish community?
Everyone is an individual and should be judged on the content of their character. The day herd mentality can be put to bed the better.
Richard Silverstein says
No, unfortunately due to genuine anti-Semitism that exists in this world, Shmilke’s narrow-mindedness has a certain validity I’m sorry to say. Sad to say, but there are many who hate Jews and jump for joy at train wrecks like Jack Abramoff. In fact, an anti-Semitic website links to this post (again I’m sorry to say).
Oh, about as much as it’s tolerated in the non-Jewish community. And what’s your point? That Jews hate goyim? Some probably do. More likely they fear non-Jews for the power they have to do damage to Jews. And comments like yours don’t encourage them.
I certainly agree with you. But people run in herds because there are so many predators out there waiting to get them. If we could stop religious hatreds of all stripes & varieties the herd mentality would go the way of the dodo bird.
Gentile Joe says
“If we could stop religious hatreds of all stripes & varieties the herd mentality would go the way of the dodo bird.”
Thank you for the prompt reply. I’m impressed and agree with the statement above.
I spent some time on your website and believe that’s what you are working toward. Will that day ever come? Let’s hope so.
But I must say, there is no excuse to hate Goyim or any other race as a whole. I can hate idealogies. I can hate political movements. I can hate opinions and I can hate actions. But an idea is not exclusive to any one race and exceptions must be allowed for the individual.
Example, not all Zionists are Jews, not all Jews are Zionists.
One of my best friends is a gentile and rabbid zionist…blindly passionate. We are at odds on this issue and it has put a strain on the relationship at times. That he is Jew or Gentile in my mind is beside the point. It’s the idea I take issue with, regardless of the race.
I enjoy your website, your opinions and you blogs. But I would like to see you take the likes of Schmilke to task when they make sweeping generalizations like that. After all, I would say most Goyim are oblivious and completely indifferent to the Jewish question. Most go about their day in their trivial pusuits, completely unaware. Is there Anti-Semetism out there? I’m sure there is, but I can’t imagine the ratio is wide enough to justify a generalization like that. Hardly.
I may be ignorant and naive on the matter though. Can you give me an example of anti-semitism demonstrated amongst the majority of gentiles? If not, and it is indeed a minority, then my point is validated.
I eagerly await your reply.