by Staff Report
The halachic adviser to Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, which receives millions of dollars in state and federal money, told a Bergenfield, N.J., synagogue audience in 2007 that tax evasion is permissible under Jewish law as long as one doesn’t get caught, according to people in attendance.
The adviser, Rabbi Dovid Cohen, a Brooklyn-based, highly respected halachic expert who also serves as one of three rabbinic guides to Nefesh International, a network of Orthodox mental health professionals, is said to have made the comments about tax evasion during a Shabbat talk at Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield in February 2007.
Now, more than two years later, the repercussions may be taking a toll on Rabbi Cohen and his reputation.
Several in attendance at the talk said that Rabbi Cohen gave an extended response to a question from the audience, asserting that tax evasion is permissible under Jewish law, as long as there is no realistic possibility of being caught, thus causing a chillul hashem, or desecration of God’s name.
The justification was based on the rabbi’s apparent belief that the reason the rabbis of the Talmud forbade stealing from a non-Jew was only out of fear of anti-Semitism.
Virtually every halachic source agrees that tax evasion, as well as theft from non-Jews, is categorically forbidden.
Rabbi Cohen allegedly told his audience that he was making his controversial remarks on Shabbat — he is also said to have asserted that, like the biblical Esau, non-Jews still hate Jews — knowing he was not being recorded, and that if subsequently questioned about his statement, he would deny it.
The rabbi told The Jewish Week on Monday that the statements attributed to him were “totally misunderstood” and that he “repudiated” them.
Based on letters obtained by The Jewish Week, it appears that at least seven people in attendance at the lecture wrote to or called the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest group of Orthodox rabbis, where Rabbi Cohen, though not a member of the RCA, served on its prestigious Va’ad HaPoskim, a group of halachic authorities. Some of the letter writers sought to have Rabbi Cohen removed from the panel; others simply attested to their having heard the rabbi make the remarks, which he denied to the RCA.
The RCA appointed a committee to look into the matter, and concluded that, based on Rabbi Cohen’s assurance that he opposes tax evasion and affirms treating non-Jews with full respect, the matter was closed.
But last week, without fanfare or notice, the RCA disbanded the Va’ad HaPoskim.
Some speculate that it may have come about in light of recent reports in the Jewish press regarding Ohel, with which Rabbi Cohen is affiliated. Others note that the RCA passed a resolution at its annual convention last month calling on congregations not to give honors to those who engage in unethical conduct.
Josh Cliff Frankel emails: “The reason for emailing you, is as it pertains to Rabbi Dovid Cohen [affiliated with Ohel]—you had a write-up about him in one of your previous blogs. You wrote about some derogatory information as it pertained to him. I passed that information onto a local rabbi, and he seemed quite upset! Because he thought he was a very good rabbi and beyond reproach. He called the information that you wrote about as, “loshan hora”. Could you please tell me two things? Was what you wrote about him, something that you still stand by? And is what you wrote, considered “loshon hora”?”
Luke replies: “I did not write it. It is clearly attributed to someone else, initials A.B.. I have no opinion.”
Josh Cliff Frankel responds: The moment after I send this out to you, I will permanently close this account out!!! If you should still happen to email a reply to the letter below, before I close this account out, I will not open it and I will “trash” it
REGARDING, the attached letter I sent to you yesterday: You have not replied to my inquiry—-when you in the past you have always replied to me (within two hours or less, each time). What’s going on mister??? My opinion is that you have NO contact information for an alleged “ab”. I am sure there is no “ab”!!!! You are a bull shitter!! PLUS you have no opinion on “loshon hara” WHAT A CROCK!!!You are responsible for the information that came directly from your blog/website!!!!! Your reputation in the Los Angeles Jewish area, before this link, was BAD. Now it is even worse!! You are a trouble maker and a liar!! Talk to the rabbi’s at Aish on West Pico Blvd, and Young Israel of Century City (also on West Pico) ABOUT YOUR REPUTATION!! Maybe it is time to put “MISINFORMATION” on the web about you, Mr. Porno!!!!