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Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Thursday, February 18, 2010

Life in Prison: The Torah Outlook to Criminal Justice By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

Ponzi Schemes

“If you purchase a Jewish slave, he shall work for six years and the seventh year he goes free” (Shemos 21:2)
Recently, Ponzi schemes and other similar business frauds have taken center stage in world news, and unfortunately Jews have been some of the key figures behind these frauds. Generally, after the masterminds behind these plans are convicted, the rest of their lives are spent in jail. Nobody benefits from this, as the victims are forced to swallow the losses, and the criminal is not in a situation where he will change.
In His infinite wisdom, Hashem designed a radically different penal system. Criminals are not allowed to run away from the loss they caused to the people they stole from. They must sell themselves as slaves and pay back the money they stole.
Instead of being locked up with other hardened criminals, the thief finds himself in an environment that gives him an opportunity to see healthy Jewish living. Even though he is a slave, we treat him like an equal and further, at times when there is not enough for everyone, we give him priority over other members of the household. The Talmud Yerushalmi, in fact, rules that if the master only has one pillow, he must give it to the slave to use and do without for himself.
If the thief is married and has children, the new master must provide for his family as well. We are so concerned with this robber’s welfare that we treat him like any other husband any money that his wife earns goes to him, in order not to belittle his honor more than necessary. The Torah hopes that during his stay with this family he will absorb what a proper home should look like and turn to other, more acceptable means to support himself.
The Torah chooses a punishment that is perfectly measured for this person’s crime. He chose a career in theft and deceit as it seemed like the easiest most fruitful way to support himself. For six years, we make him engage in honest labor to drive home the fact that there are, more elevated ways to earn a living.

A Thief in our Homes

While this setup is certainly superior to the secular penal system, at first glance there seems to be a catch. Having a felon as part of one’s household might not be the best situation for the rest of the members of one’s family. How can we make sure that the criminal’s influence will not cause negative repercussion in one’s own home?
The Torah brilliantly solves this problem by allowing the master to force his newly acquired slave to marry a non-Jewish maidservant. For a religious Jew, there could be no greater disgrace than living with a non-Jewish wife. This will inevitably cause the master’s family to look down at him and prevent them from learning from his actions.
For this reason, the Torah calls him an eved ivri. The word ivri comes from the root over, which means to transgress. During his six years living with this family, we do not let him forget that he is here because he transgressed the prohibition not to steal.
Thus, we see that on one hand, we give the slave equal treatment and boost his sense of self, hoping that this will change his criminal mentality. On the other hand, the degradation of living with a non-Jewish maidservant should make it clear to him that he did not act according to the elevated ways of the Torah. We hope that by the time his stay with this family ends, the slave will have internalized both of these outlooks and be able to reenter society as an honest person.
This outlook that the Torah reaches is crucial for those involved with bringing non-religious Jews closer to Torah observance. We have to elevate them so they can recognize their true greatness as Jews. At the same time, we have to help them see the baseness of a non-observant life and make sure that we do not learn from their ways.

Hard of Hearing

As clear as this message is, some slaves might not be able to internalize the message that the Torah is conveying to them. They might enjoy their stay with this family and the relationship with the non-Jewish maidservant. After his stay has concluded, an eved ivri may request to stay with his newfound family.
We dramatically show such a slave the error in his way of thinking. The Torah commands his master to put an awl through his ear to the doorpost – reminiscent of the very doorposts that acte4d as witness to the freedom of the Jewish people from their slavery in Mitzrayim. It should be clear to everyone that this Jew did not understand what the Torah was trying to teach him by this stay with this family.
Rashi tells us that the reason behind this practice is to punish the very same ear that heard on Har Sinai, “You should be slaves to Hashem.” Yet we only heard the first two of the Aseres Hadibros (Ten Commandments) on Har Sinai, and Hashem did not explicitly tell us not to be slaves. Furthermore, the mitzvah to be sold as a slave to pay for one’s crime applies to all generations, even those who did not stand at Har Sinai.
When the Jewish people said, “Na’aseh venishmah – We will hear and we will do”, they accepted for all generations that they would live the commandments of the Torah. The experience of hearing the4se words directly made a strong impact on their neshamos. Although they practically only heard the first two commandments directly from Hashem, it was as if they had heard everything directly from Him. This impression stayed imbedded in every Jewish neshama for all generations.

Justice Prevails

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos tells us that were it not for fear of the government, people would eat each other alive. Law and order is crucial, without it chaos would prevail. However, man-made secular law can never reach the infinite depths that the Torah touches in its mishpatim.
The parsha of eved ivri is just one example of the infinite wisdom that the Torah exhibits via its methods of jurisdiction. Instead of offering an arbitrary, man-made punishment, each one of the mishpatim penetrates deep into the human personality and identifies the root of what went wrong. The Torah cuts through to the cause of that problem and rectifies the issue on all sides.
At times, it seems as if the Torah law is not able to deal with a particular problem. Sometimes, we might be missing witnesses or sufficient proof to prosecute someone with a monetary or physical punishment. Seemingly, in these circumstances true justice cannot be carried out. Not so. On the verse, “These are the mishpatim,” The Zohar writes that “these are the laws of gilgul.” In a case where we lace sufficient proof to decide the case, Hashem will set up circumstances that cause justice to be achieved.
The appearance of new fraud cases every day is the clearest proof of the failure of the secular penal system. Only Hashem’s wisdom, as embodied by the mishpatim, can rectify these issues. May the day come quickly when the Torah law is the only deciding factor in all judicial issues of Klal Yisrael.


Desperate Heart said...

"On the other hand, the degradation of living with a non-Jewish maidservant should make it clear to him that he did not act according to the elevated ways of the Torah. We hope that by the time his stay with this family ends, the slave will have internalized both of these outlooks and be able to reenter society as an honest person."

This part brings up some confusing issues to me. What happens after the slave is freed? Is he still married to the non-Jewish maidservant? If so, and he successfully was rehabilitated during his time as a slave, then being married to a non-Jew seems counter productive.