Jews, Non-Jews And Bribes

I better tiptoe around the roses here.

When I grew up, I never knew any Seventh-Day Adventist who took a bribe or gave a bribe. I’m sure it happened. It just wasn’t discussed.

Sex and money were generally not matters for public conversation.

Then I became a Jew in 1993 and encountered a world of frankness hitherto unknown to me. Even among Orthodox Jews at a Shabbat table, I found earthy talk.

One Orthodox family told me about giving their 13-year old son a jar of vaseline and a Penthouse magazine for his Bar Mitzvah. No orthodox Adventist family would ever say such a thing.

Seventh-Day Adventists are Protestants and Protestantism is all about faith. When you have faith in God, it transforms your heart so that you no longer live for money, sex, power, fame and the like.

Judaism is all about works so you can be much more open about what is going on in your heart.

A good Seventh-Day Adventist was not supposed to live for money. And you didn’t think of money as a way of solving inconvenient problems that did not on the face of it have a price tag.

As I grew up, I came to learn that everybody had their price and almost everything had a monetary solution.

When I converted to Judaism, I found Jews were much more real than what I was used to. They were more gritty in how they talked about life. They were down to earth. Less pretentious. More passionate about this life than the next. Eager to succeed in the here and now. Devoted to minimizing suffering (including adjusting the thermostat if it was two degrees too high or low).

Jewish girls told me about giving their dates various forms of release so that they could end things without doing the deed. This form of bribery for just leaving a girl’s apartment was unknown in my Adventist world.

When the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles commissioned a front-page profile of me in 2001, an Orthodox woman who got a sneak peak called me in a panic and suggested I bribe the Journal $10,000 to not publish the piece. This was not a way of thinking I was used to.

It never occurred to me to offer a bribe, despite this suggestion, and the piece was never published.

Most Jews have lived in the diaspora for the past 2600 years and have frequently been persecuted. They learned to survive in part by paying bribes to people to not hurt them.

When the Holocaust came along, Jews were shocked that they could not bribe their way out of trouble. Committed corruption-free Nazis would not take bribes.

Sex and money are important parts of life and Judaism gives them their due. It does not deny their power. Therefore, Jews tend to be more pragmatic and less airy-fairy about such matters. Using money to solve problems comes much more easily to the Jews I know than to the Adventists I know (who have WASP reserve). You could call many of these transactions “bribes” just as you could call women who exchange sex for money “hookers”. I guess I don’t cast aspersions on many of these transactions. I see people doing the best they can do. Sometimes the most honorable thing is not the most polite thing.

If the payment of money will solve a problem, and the payment is not illegal, then by all means pay the money so all sides to a dispute can be happy.

I’ve come to love Jewish honesty about money, sex, fame and power and what they can do. This has helped me to see life and myself more clearly..

I could’ve stayed an Adventist and pretended to be so full of faith that I was above these worldly matters. I didn’t. I chose Jewish and I chose real. And my education in overcoming my goyisha heritage continues every day.

When the Jewish part of me looks at the Adventist world I came from, it sometimes seems overly nice and largely fake. When the Adventist part of me looks at the Jewish world I’m in, it sometimes appears crude and unspiritual.

Judaism and Jewish families expect an awful lot from kids. They’re usually in Jewish schools for more than 40 hours a week. In exchange for living up to demands, Jewish kids are often bribed. They get enormous amounts of love and favors and material gifts. Just think of the bar mitzvah. The Jewish kid learns his Torah portion and on his special day, he gets hundreds of dollars.

As a news reporter, information is currency. When I go easy on one party in exchange for the information they give me, I’m taking a bribe. Journalists do this all the time.

The New York Times reports on the scandalous use of bribes to navigate corrupt bureaucracies:

The going rate to get a child who has already passed the entrance requirements into high school in Nairobi, Kenya? 20,000 shillings.

The expense of obtaining a driver’s license after having passed the test in Karachi, Pakistan? 3,000 rupees.

Such is the price of what Swati Ramanathan calls “retail corruption,” the sort of nickel-and-dime bribery, as opposed to large-scale graft, that infects everyday life in so many parts of the world.

Ms. Ramanathan and her husband, Ramesh, along with Sridar Iyengar, set out to change all that in August 2010 when they started, a site that collects anonymous reports of bribes paid, bribes requested but not paid and requests that were expected but not forthcoming.

About 80 percent of the more than 400,000 reports to the site tell stories like the ones above of officials and bureaucrats seeking illicit payments to provide routine services or process paperwork and forms.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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