The Mesira Mentality: Laws are Made to Be Broken

Kevin MacDonald


There’s another wrinkle in the Hasidic tax scam case (previously discussed here). The case involves wealthy Hasids giving millions of dollars in tax-deductible donations to a Jewish religious center and then getting almost all the money back after it was laundered through an international religious network. The LATimes reports that a rabbi, Moshe Zigelman, who went to jail for two years ago because he refused to testify against other Jews, is again threatened with jail if he does not testify (“U.S. threatens to send rabbi back to jail“).

This is another example of the Jewish law of  mesira which enjoins Jews not to testify against Jews: “‘No earthly sanction will ever make Rabbi Zigelman abandon his religious precepts,’ Michael Proctor, an attorney for Zigelman wrote in court papers.”

Mesira is thus alive and well in Orthodox communities—practiced, as in this case, by the leading figures of the community. The prosecution will argue that Jewish religious law is irrelevant to the laws of the United States—a blow for common sense. The article cites an expert in Jewish religious law who says that mesira does not apply in modern democratic societies, but “originates from a time of oppressive and brutal secular authorities.”

Whatever the disputes among religious authorities, the fact is that there are quite a few cases in the contemporary world among traditional Jews; as John Graham has noted, mesira is a likely reason why the Bernie Madoff fraud was not investigated properly given that the signs of fraud were so obvious.

It’s another indication of the effectiveness of ethnic networks with a strong ingroup/outgroup ethic. Prosecution will doubtless be difficult without Zigelman’s testimony.

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Given that this fraud is taking place among the most respected, high-status members of the community, and given that pretty much all traditional societies would be classified as “oppressive and brutal,” the suggestion is that traditional Jewish groups thought of laws of the surrounding society as little more than obstacles to be overcome.

Russia under the Czars would surely be considered by Jews to be a prime example of an “oppressive and brutal” regime. The following passage from Chapter 4 (available here) of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 200 Years Together gives a flavor of the cat and mouse game between authorities and Jews regarding the trade in alcohol:

Regarding the spirits trade in the villages, about one-third of the whole Jewish population of the Pale of Settlement lived in villages at the start of 1880s, with two or three families in each village, as remnants of the korchemstvo [from “tavern” — the state-regulated business of retail spirits sale]. An official government report of 1870 stated that “the drinking business in the Western Krai is almost exclusively concentrated in the hands of Jews, and the abuses encountered in these institutions exceed any bounds of tolerance.” Thus it was demanded of Jews to carry on the drinking business only from their own homes. The logic of this demand was explained by G. B. Sliozberg: in the villages of Little Russia [Ukraine], that is, outside of the legal limits of the Polish autonomy, the landowners did not have the right to carry on trade in spirits — and this meant that the Jews could not buy spirits from landowners for resale. Yet at the same time the Jews might not buy even a small plot of peasant land; therefore, the Jews rented peasant homes and conducted the drinking business from them. When such trade was also prohibited, the prohibition was often evaded by using a ‘front’ business: a dummy patent on a spirits business was issued to a Christian to which a Jew supposedly only served as an ‘attendant.’

Solzhenitsyn also discusses various subterfuges used by Jews to avoid military service:

For the 1860s, this was the picture: “When Jews manage to find out about the impending Imperial Manifest about recruit enrollment before it is officially published … all members of Jewish families fit for military service flee from their homes in all directions….” Because of the peculiarities of their faith and “lack of comradeship and the perpetual isolation of the Jewish soldier … the military service for the Jews was the most threatening, the most ruinous, and the most burdensome of duties.” …

I. G. Orshansky, a witness to the 1860s, certifies: “It is true, there is much data supporting the opinion that in the recent years the Jews in fact had not fulfilled their conscription obligations number-wise. They purchase old recruit discharges and present them to the authorities”; peasants sometimes keep them without knowing their value as far back as from 1812; so now Jewish resourcefulness puts them to use. Or, they “hire volunteers” in place of themselves and “pay a certain sum to the treasury.” “Also they try to divide their families into smaller units,” and by this each family claims the privilege of “the only son,” (the only son was exempt from the military service).

Solzhenitsyn notes that non-Jews also engaged in these practices, although rates of non-compliance among Jews were higher. (Solzhenitsyn: “Report on the Results of Conscription in 1880…. For all [of the Russian Empire] the shortfall of recruits was 3,309; out of this, the shortfall of Jews was 3,054, which amounts to 92%.”) He also clearly agrees that the authorities attempted to regulate Jewish economic behavior because they were trying to protect Russians from Jewish economic domination or, as in the above case,  from the the negative effects of alcohol. But in any case, one can easily see that a society can’t be built on people who are religiously bent on getting around laws.

This lack of civic responsibility has emerged as a problem in Israel. When a ceiling collapsed at a crowded wedding due to shoddy construction in 2001, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon condemned the Diaspora mentality of avoiding laws: “”It’s shocking to hear boastful and haughty words like: ‘Laws are meant to be circumvented.’ How many times have we heard people who’ve returned from trips abroad, who make fun of the citizens of the countries they visited, because they act like nerds: They stand in line, they make sure to pay.”

Similarly, Solzhenitsyn notes that Jews were often accused of providing shoddy materials to the Russian army during this period (1855-1881):

Yet during that war much irritation against Jews arose in the army, mainly because of dishonest contractor-quartermasters — and “such were almost exclusively Jews, starting with the main contractors of the Horovits, Greger, and Kagan Company.”The quartermasters supplied (undoubtedly under protection of higher circles) overpriced poor-quality equipment including the famous “cardboard soles”, due to which the feet of Russian soldiers fighting in the Shipka Pass were frostbitten.

For any society to work, there has to be a fairly high level of voluntary compliance. In the absence of high levels of voluntary compliance, things either break down or you have a police state where, for example, Zigelman and maybe his family would be tortured until he the lawbreakers were identified and properly punished.

I suspect that there is going to be less and less voluntary compliance for all citizens in the West, including Whites, as we identify less and less with the national government as the result of immigration and multiculturalism—where the people running the government are less and less likely to be people unlike themselves. It is well known that people are less willing to contribute to public goods in societies that are not-racially and culturally homogeneous. Right now, White anger is focused on two big issues related to public goods: health care and taxes. Both are rallying cries of the Tea Party movement, and the result is paralysis on the budget. People don’t want to contribute to programs mainly benefiting people who don’t look at all like them.

This is the reverse side of the coin from the behavior of these Hasidic Jews. As I noted elsewhere,

The social isolation, distrust of the political process, and lack of willingness to contribute to public goods means that as this process continues, Western societies will be increasingly unlivable for everyone. Civic mindedness and a strong concern about the society as a whole have been a hallmark of healthy Western societies.

On the other hand, one of the most striking aspects of the behavior of Orthodox Jews in Postville, Iowa was that they didn’t have any interest in developing social ties with their new neighbors or confrm to community norms — even seemingly trivial ones such as taking care of their lawns, shoveling their sidewalks, or raking their leaves. They had no concern about the community as a whole; they treated their neighbors like strangers.

The Hasidic tax evaders, like their brethren in Postville, are behaving like outsiders, with no interest in the long term viability of the society. It’s not a good prescription for a healthy society, especially when such behavior is engaged in by the elite members of the community.

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