It’s common knowledge to those following the Abramoff lobbying scandal that Jack Abramoff’s rabbinic confidant was Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Lapin was the fellow how first introduced Abramoff to Tom Delay and we all know what beautiful music–and money–they made together.
A little of Lapin’s background is in order here. After leaving (or being booted out) as pulpit rabbi of the Pacific Jewish Center, a Modern Orthodox, celebrity-oriented shul near the Venice boardwalk, The New Republic reports in Torah Cover–Rabbis to the Right (June 20, 2005, no link unfortunately) that Lapin tossed around ideas of how he could earn a living:
“…On a previous road trip across the United States, he had noticed 19 towns named Salem. “I also started seeing all these Jerichos, Hebrons, and Zions, and a slew of other Hebrew names. I called home…and I said, ‘It’s amazing.'” He couldn’t believe the philo-Semitism of Middle America–evangelicals who didn’t just tolerate Jews, but actually adored them. (“The Bible Belt is the Jewish safety belt” is one of his mantras.) So why, he wondered, did Jews ungratefully persist in complaining about prayer in schools and crèches in public squares?
Around the time he left Los Angeles, he started a group called Toward Tradition–turning the title of Michael J. Fox’s Back to the Future on its head. Although he says it promotes “practical Torah solutions to modern American problems,” it really intends to broker an alliance between Jews and evangelical Christians over social issues. (Lapin, who considers Israel to be founded by “secular Bolsheviks,” has mostly steered Toward Tradition clear of foreign policy.) Toward Tradition emerged at a propitious moment, just as evangelicals carried the Republicans to their 1994 victory. And the group soon had as much cachet as his Venice Beach temple. Its inaugural conference drew Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and other luminaries. Many of them lent their names to an ad Lapin placed in The New York Times, offering Newt Gingrich a hearty “Mazel Tov” and saying of the Contract with America, “We know all about ten point contracts.”
But apparently, Lapin must’ve missed the part of his South African rabbinic training related to Jewish ethics. Because the New York Times reveals today that among the Abramoff transactions being investigated by the Justice Department is a $25,000 “donation” he directed the Magazine Publisher’s Association (this is the name the Times reporter uses but the group’s actual name is Magazine Publishers of America according to its website) to make to Toward Tradition. While the publishers no doubt thought they were supporting Abramoff’s favorite charity (in a sense they were because the money went to his “rov”), in reality the funds went directly to the wife of a former top Tom Delay staffer:
In 2000, the association made a $25,000 contribution to a nonprofit group called Toward Tradition, an alliance of Jews and evangelical Christians, based on what Mr. Rubenstein called a directive from Preston Gates. People involved in the investigation have said that Mr. Abramoff funneled money through Toward Tradition to the wife of his associate, Tony C. Rudy, a former top aide to Representative Tom Delay, Republican of Texas.
“They had absolutely no knowledge of how that money would be used, and if it turns out that it was used for an improper purpose, the M.P.A. would be, quite frankly, outraged,” Mr. Rubenstein said.
Genevieve Woodard, a spokeswoman for Preston Gates, said, “neither the firm nor the M.P.A. knew that Jack was diverting payments to the Congressional staffer’s wife.”
This of course begs the question…why would a lobbying client accept a “directive” to make such a large donation to their lobbyist’s charity? And why wouldn’t the client ask questions about the expenditure to ensure it was kosher?
But let’s go back to the good rabbi. He apparently allowed Abramoff to use Toward Tradition’s charitable status to launder contributions to his stable of lobbying cronies. By doing so, Lapin not only endangered his group’s 501c3 status, he threatened the very existence of the organization. Few non-profits can afford to engage in such ethically dubious shenanigans and retain their reputation intact. And a non-profit tainted by scandal may not BE a non-profit for long. Though with Lapin, all he has to do is persuade his evangelical patrons that he’s kosher. I don’t know whether he can do that or not, but I doubt it. Finally, Lapin’s actions violate a whole host of Jewish ethical laws.
There is little love lost between Lapin and most American rabbis. Lapin has chosen to make his bed with evangelical Christians so it’s their support he needs. But if there was a last shred of credibility for him within the Jewish and rabbinic community I certainly hope that was lost with this news.
I’d like to ask what Lapin and Toward Tradition gained from allowing Abramoff to launder such donations? Was Lapin just doing him a favor or were their pecuniary advantages from the transaction? Also, I wonder what Lapin is now saying to FBI investigators who must’ve been beating down his door? Is he singing a song? Or is he staying true to his true blue pal, Jack?