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In danger of conning ourselves

November 24, 2016 23:21

The story of fraudster Dan Jacobs is a miserable tale , made worse by the knowledge that his victims included his wife's parents and an elderly grandmother. Appearing at Harrow Crown Court two weeks ago, Jacobs admitted five counts of fraud, totalling £120, 573. Passing sentence on him (a well-earned five-year jail term), judge Ian Stern observed that Jacobs - a former yeshiva student and member of Elstree & Borehamwood Synagogue - had subjected his family to an "unbelievable" level of deceit to fund a gambling addiction. Jacobs (the judge explained) "completely controlled'' his relatives for four years while living with them after his own home had been repossessed. They had been left "decimated".

It is, as I say, a miserable tale. Could it have been prevented? I ask this because of the revelation that Jacobs allegedly stole £40,000 from the charitable trust established to oversee the construction of the Elstree & Borehamwood eruv. The frauds for which Jacobs was jailed occurred between 2010 and 2015. But in 2006 Jacobs had acted as secretary of the then newly incorporated trust, a post he held for three years. Jacobs relinquished this office in 2009. The eruv was established the following year. But in an astonishing statement issued by the trust following his conviction, the trustees disclosed that "around May 2009" they "were unable to obtain the management accounts which they had requested from Mr Jacobs." "Upon investigation… it became clear that Mr Jacobs had taken funds from the trust's account without authorisation."

But this theft was never reported to the police. Apparently, Jacobs's relatives repaid the money stolen. Various unspecified "sanctions" were imposed on Jacobs by local synagogues. The eruv was constructed. And that, so far as the trust was concerned, was that. Case closed.

Except, of course, that it wasn't closed. To fund his addiction, Jacobs then appears to have turned to members of his immediate family, with devastating consequences. Had the eruv trust called in the police, it is likely Jacobs would have been brought to trial earlier, and punished accordingly. The construction of the eruv might have been delayed but the sufferings of the family would have been much curtailed.

I can well understand the dilemmas that the eruv trustees faced. I can even sympathise with them - to some extent. There is a very long tradition of Jews not reporting other Jews to the secular authorities. There is a deeply held belief that where Jews do report other Jews to the secular authorities, any resulting scandal will be exploited by antisemites, and will thus bring public opprobrium (and perhaps worse) upon the entire community.

This is the mindset that informed the philosophy of the Russian rabbi Yisroel Kagan (1839-1933), whose celebrated monograph Chofetz Chaim warned against saying distasteful things about a person even though what is said is absolutely true. This is the mindset that drove the only witness to a Whitechapel "Ripper" murder to refuse to testify against the Ripper, a fellow Jew by the name of Aaron Kosminski. It's the mindset that persuaded those then in charge of the Federation of Synagogues not to report to the police the crimes of the Federation's late president Morris Lederman, who stole millions from the Federation's coffers. It's the mindset that explains why synagogal authorities in this country have historically declined to call in the police when faced with evidence of sexual abuse perpetrated by congregants.

It's a mindset which I've never accepted. In the first place, and as the Babylonian Talmud says, "the law of the land is the law"- especially in relation to monetary transactions. In the second, by attempting to deal with law-breakers "in-house," we are giving ammunition to those who claim that British Jews do indeed constitute ''a state within a state.'' And in the third, prevention is always better than cure.

It's easy to be wise after the event. But in not reporting the theft of funds, it seems to me the Elstree & Borehamwood trustees were derelict in their duty. They have a lot of explaining - and apologising - still to do.

November 24, 2016 23:21

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