Jews & Cheating

In the aftermath of reading The Israeli Mind by Alon Gratch, I watch the 2015 movie True Story. Twenty three minutes in, the protagonist, disgraced New York Times journalist Mike Finkel, says he doesn’t know why he invented stuff.

Watching the movie, I get a shameful feeling about why his values allowed him to cheat. The name “Finkel” sounds Jewish to me and some Jews I know are willing to cut corners to get ahead (no more so than billions of other people).

I Google “Mike Finkel Jewish” without the quotes and find this article about him on

“I always fancied myself an outdoorsman, even though I’m a Jewish guy from the East Coast,” he said.

So without knowing much, I suspect that the reasons Mike Finkel cut corners to get ahead are the same reason many crooks on Wall Street cut corners to get ahead — because it’s easy, the payoffs are big, and the odds are good that they can get away with it.

About 80% of American Jews are descendants of Eastern European Jews, who for centuries lived in an atmosphere of mutual loathing with the goyim. These Jews survived by their wits and their superior brains often outfoxed their competitors (increasing hatred of Jews). Such Jews did not always honor the gentile’s rules. They simply wanted to do what was best for them and for their group and they felt little kinship with the goyim who hated them.

I grew up a Protestant and while some Protestants cheat, none I knew boasted about it. When I converted to Judaism, however, I met Jews who took pride in their cheating and that shocked me.

Here are some relevant selections from The Israeli Mind:

* [My father] started out working in an uncle’s appliance store, but business was so slow that pretty soon the uncle needed an out. He set the store on fire, collected insurance, and used that money to open an insurance agency himself.

* Israelis don’t particularly value general norms of conduct. They have a basic disrespect for plans, rules and procedures.

* Judaism has always had two competing trends: a loving, forgiving one, and a separatist, combative one; one seeking to please the gentiles and one hostile to them. (Hugo Bergman)

* An Israeli driver was arrested for driving while talking on two cell phones…

* Israel’s attitude towards its Arab minority and the Palestinians in the territories reveals another facet of Israeli narcissism, namely the Israeli mind’s paucity of empathy…

* Though most times it doesn’t come to blows, this clash of narcissistic entitlements is omnipresent in Israeli daily life. …During their training in El Al, flight attendants are told that when Israelis purchase an airline ticket, they believe they buy not only the ticket but also the plane, the pilot and the flight attendants.

* The Israeli mind’s failures at empathy, its lack of regard for reality, and its relentless drive for success, all produce a predilection for cutting corners, bluffing, and lying.

* A New York-based Israeli locksmith describes how he makes his living. When called at night by a customer who had locked himself out, he fiddles with the lock as if to gain entry. He then “inadvertently” breaks it, which leaves the customer with the options of spending the night in an unlocked home or having a new lock installed on the spot for double the normal cost.

* European associates perceive the Israelis they work with…as liars, thieves, and untrustworthy manipulators.

* The second pattern related to the Israeli proclivity to push the envelope, by hook or by crook, is the culture’s permeable attitude toward boundaries.

* David Grossman’s To the End of the Land: Suddenly he starts crying that he doesn’t want to be Jewish anymore, because they always kill us and always hate us, and he knows this because all the holidays are about it. And the adults look at one another, and a brother-in-law mumbles that it is kind of difficult to argue with that, and his wife says, “Don’t be paranoid,” and he quotes “that in every generation, they rise up against us to destroy us” and she replies that it’s not exactly scientific fact, and that maybe we should examine our own role in the whole “rising up against us business…”

* Israeli psychologist Ofer Grosbard likens Israel, the country, to the psychotherapy patient who insists in the initial consultation that nothing is wrong with him. The problem, he tells the therapist, is that he is so talented, so exceptional and so successful that everyone else is simply envious and hateful toward him.

In 2011, I interviewed Reuven Blau, an Orthodox Jew who was a reporter for the New York Post tabloid:

Luke: “I haven’t spent much time in Brooklyn. What are the characteristics of people [Orthodox Jews] who grow up in Brooklyn and Flatbush that you don’t care for?”

Reuven: “There’s a cookie-cutter element where there’s not a lot of personality. They go to school. They’re taught one thing. They have a specific mentality about what they want to do and who they want to associate with. There seems to be a serious lack of character, of interests. They seem to like the same things, to dress the same way. There’s this bizarre attitude where if you talk to them socially or you are friendly to them in any way, they feel like you’re proposing to them and they’re very off-put. They’re offended almost when people reach out to them socially, which is a common trait and makes almost any conversation awkward. They’re looking for very specific things and they’re comfortable in a very specific world and anything that’s slightly askew from that, they’re confused by.

“I had one instance that is legendary. We took summer classes. At Brooklyn College, because it is so insular, a lot of the teachers we took, we’d have their old tests. Masorah is what it is called.

“There were a bunch of Jews in the class. They were a little bit friendly. It was super competitive. One of the Jewish girls had a lot of the old tests. We had some but we didn’t have all of them. We approached her casually, ‘Hey, can you help us out?’ And she totally jerked us around.

“We went all out. We wanted to make sure we got this to cover our asses and she blew us off. It turned out that there was another guy in the class who wasn’t Jewish at all who heard us talking and he totally bailed us out. He gave us the stuff that we had. I was really upset. I was really pissed off. I think it taught me a lesson. Frankly, I gave it to her afterwards. I’ve always been of the mind that you help each other out if you’re Jewish and religious. I was shocked. I was taken aback that somebody who was not Jewish would go above and beyond to help someone.”

Luke: “Does a yeshiva education make a person any less likely to cheat in college?”

Reuven: “Absolutely [more likely to cheat]. There’s a lot of pressure. I grew up with a lot of pressure. There’s this, ‘You know you have to succeed whatever it takes.’ If it takes cutting some corners, you’re going to do it. It’s expected that you are going to do well. You’ve got to answer the bell.”

Luke: “So a yeshiva education makes you more likely to cheat?”

Reuven: “I think so.”

In an essay published in his personal journal Ultimate Issues (Winter issue, 1986-1987), Dennis Prager wrote: “When I taught at Brooklyn College it was privately acknowledged by faculty members that students coming from Jewish schools were more likely to cheat on exams.”

Luke: “What do you think your yeshiva teachers would say if they were given evidence that this was true?”

Reuven: “The more religious you get, the more likely you are to cut corners. That’s the way they’re taught. The mentality is you do what you can, this is the secular world, the rules don’t count.”

Luke: “Do you think someone with a yeshiva education is more or less likely to be ethical in business?”

Reuven: “That’s a tough call.”

Dennis Prager wrote in 2013:

One of the most prominent Orthodox rabbis of our time, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, related the following story in the July 12-18 issue of the International Jerusalem Post:
“Let me tell you a true incident which for me is a metaphor of our times. A young man attended a yeshiva in Safed.
“The first morning, he arrived a bit late for breakfast and there was no milk left for his coffee. He went to the grocery, purchased a container of milk and placed the container in the yeshiva refrigerator with a sign, ‘Private property.’
“The next morning, the container was gone.
“He bought another container, on which he added to the previous sign, ‘Do not steal.’
“The next morning, that container, too, was missing.
“He purchased a new container, adding to the sign, ‘Questionable gentile milk’ (halav akum). This time no one took his container; he left the yeshiva.”
A year and a half ago in this column, I recounted a similar story that Rabbi Riskin had told me many years ago. It was about 10 candidates — handpicked talmudic scholars — he interviewed for the position of rosh yeshiva (head of yeshiva). Nine of them said that they would not return an extra electric shaver accidentally sent to them by a non-Jewish-owned department store. They contended that the halachah — one does not return a lost item to an idol worshipper — forbade them from doing so…

Nevertheless, the ethics problem within Orthodoxy is real.
I first confronted this dilemma when I was a student at a prominent yeshiva high school.
My classmate Joseph Telushkin and I conducted a survey and found fewer than five students among the 120 students in our grade whom we could identify as not cheating on tests.
When I later taught at Brooklyn College, I was told by Jewish and non-Jewish faculty that graduates of yeshiva high schools were the students most likely to cheat on tests.
A non-Jewish listener once called my radio show to ask me if Orthodox Jews are permitted to speak on the Sabbath. I asked him why he asked such a question. He told me that he lives in an Orthodox Jewish area of Los Angeles and that on Saturday mornings, when walking his dog, he would say “Good morning” to Jews wearing black hats walking to synagogue. They just don’t respond, he told me, and that’s why he wondered if speaking on the Sabbath is forbidden to Orthodox Jews.
In Israel, the ultra-Orthodox Charedi community comprises about 9 percent of Israel’s population and receives about half of the country’s welfare payments — despite the fact that the recipients are nearly all healthy and young.
Charedi men who serve in Israel’s armed forces are increasingly humiliated, ostracized and even beaten when they return to their Charedi communities (see the Jerusalem Post, for example).

Peter Novick writes in his 1999 book The Holocaust in American Life:

Emissaries from the Yishuv deliberately concentrated Jewish survivors in the American Occupation Zone of Germany so that the United States would be led to demand that the British allow them into Palestine. Recruitment for illegal immigration was shifted to relatively intact Jewish communities so that the Yishuv could be reinforced while the DP camps would keep up the pressure. Overall, illegal immigration was only secondarily meant to help survivors. In the words of the Israeli historian Anita shapira, it was “first and foremost a theater in the battle for the Jewish state.” And it was to a great extent a public relations battle. The voyage of the Exodus, loaded with survivors who eventually were returned to Germany, was the greatest triumph of this battle. The captain of the ship believed it would be possible to land the passengers of the shores of Palestine, but he was overruled by the senior Mossad representative on board: the goal was to “show how poor and weak and helpless we were, and how cruel the British were.”

…Inside the DP camps, emissaries from the Yishuv organized survivor activity — crucially, the testimony the DPs gave to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry and the UN Special Committee on Palestine about where they wished to go. The results were gratifying to the proponents of a Jewish state. In response to a UN survey, more than 97 percent said that Palestine was their goal. Many wrote down, “First choice, Palestine. Second choice, crematorium.” …The Jewish Agency envoys reported home that they had been successful in preventing the appearance of “undesirable” witnesses at the hearings. One wrote to his girlfriend in Palestine that “we have to change our style and handwriting constantly so that they will think that the questionnaires were filled in by the refugees.”

Psychologist Byron M. Roth reviewed Richard Lynn’s 2011 book The Chosen People: A Study of Jewish Intelligence and Achievement:

In general, Jews do not differ in any appreciable way from Gentiles in the things they value, with one exception: They have a greater desire to achieve economic and social success, that is to say, they are high in “achievement motivation.” Professor Lynn suggests that, like many personality variables, this may have a partly genetic basis “brought about through having been selected by eugenic customs, persecution, and discrimination.”

Richard Lynn writes in his 2011 book The Chosen People: A Study of Jewish Intelligence and Achievement: “There are only two values in which Jews are significantly different from others. These are honesty, which Jews desire in their children less than do others, and judgment, which Jews desire in their children more than do others.”

Later in the book, Lynn writes: “There are eight values in which Jews are significantly different from others. Jews attach less importance to cleanliness, honesty, manners and obedience, but they attach more importance to considerateness, interest in how and why things happen, judgment and responsibility.”

In 2008, I watched a documentary on Jews in basketball:

Paul Gallico from the New York Daily News argued that Jews made good basketball players because Jews are basically sneaky, conniving people.

Gallico wrote: “Curiously, above all others, [basketball] appeals to the temperament of the Jews. While a good Jewish football player is a rarity. . . Jews flock to basketball by the thousands, because it places a premium on an alert, scheming mind. . . flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness.”

A Jewish sports editor wrote: “No other sport so required the characteristics inherent in the Jew; mental agility, perception, imagination and subtlety.”

And as the Reverend Reggie White would say, “Whites are good at making money and Indians are good at sneaking up on people.”

Later, the documentary discusses the role of Jewish players accepting bribes to manipulate college basketball scores vis-a-vis the point spread (such as at City College of New York). This practice was widespread in the Catskills aka the Jewish Alps.

Teams “with Jews and negroes” were regarded as particularly susceptible to bribery.

When he was at Brooklyn College, Dennis Prager reports in his essay on “Jews and Cheating” that Jewish students were regarded as more likely to cheat.

The Jewish drive to succeed has a dark side.

Naomi Pfefferman writes in the Jewish Journal in 2003:

In May 1998, Lane — then editor of The New Republic — had made the same trip with Stephen Glass, a young rising star at the magazine. At 25, the Jewish Glass was drawing attention with juicy stories such as the “First Church of George Herbert Walker Christ.” But Lane had begun to worry that the writer’s outrageously colorful pieces were too good to be true…

The filmmaker — an avid newspaper reader from age 8 — understands something about his subject. Both he and Glass grew up in affluent, heavily-Jewish suburbs (Ray in Encino; Glass in Highland Park, Ill.) where parents expected children to succeed.

“My family talked a lot about how Jews have always used education as their ticket,” the director said. “The mindset is that you have a responsibility to yourself, to your family and to the Jewish community at large to achieve, to bring pride and certainly not to fail.”

…Despite Ray’s reportorial technique, the film veers in some ways from real-life. There are composite characters, and “Star Wars'” Hayden Christensen plays Glass, prompting one columnist to note, “Only in Hollywood can Jewish nebbishes get played by WASP hotties.”
But Lane, who is Jewish, feels the onscreen Christensen eerily resembles Glass.

Naomi Pfefferman writes Oct. 30, 2003:

One place the real Glass found comfort was the Jewish community; several months after his disgrace, he anxiously ventured to High Holiday services at his childhood Conservative synagogue. “People knew all about the horrible sins that I had done, and here I was and what would they think of me?” he said. “[But] no one said a negative word.”

Glass said he began reading Torah commentary and met with rabbis who described how a transgressor can rebuild his life. In “The Fabulist,” the main character also seeks solace from a rabbi and reconnects with his religion. But observers such as Charles Lane, Glass’ former editor, believe the novel isn’t so apologetic.

Hanna Rosin writes in the New Republic in 2014 about fabulist Stephen Glass:

Steve is a Jewish boy from the posh Chicago suburb of Highland Park with pushy Jewish parents who insisted on the usual (doctor, lawyer). When they urged him to go to law school, they probably had Supreme Court appearances in mind, not, as the firm boasts, a $2.1 million settlement for a homeless man hit by a garbage truck. But Paul Zuckerman, the partner who hired Steve and has become his mentor, considers this development to be a sign of grace. “You were on track to be an asshole,” he told Steve when I was there. “The best thing that ever happened to you in your life is that you fell flat on your face.”

Jewish white collar crooks play the lead role in the 1992 book “Den of Thieves” by James Stewart.

According to Wikipedia:

[Ivan] Boesky never recovered his reputation after doing a stint in prison, and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and compensation for his Guinness share-trading fraud role and a number of separate insider dealing scams. Later, Boesky, who is Jewish, embraced his Judaism and even took classes at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he had been a major donor; however, in 1987, following the fallout from his financial scandal, The New York Times reported that “after Ivan F. Boesky had been fined $100 million in the insider-trading scandal, the Jewish Theological Seminary, acting at his request, took his name off its $20 million library.”

From Newsweek Oct. 13, 1991:

Alan Dershowitz, one of Milken’s lawyers, has mounted a campaign to discredit “Den of Thieves” as “a vicious anti-Semitic diatribe”–in part because the four “thieves” are Jewish. Stewart calls the charge “totally spurious,” and he’s right; there’s no evidence of bias in the book.

Ron Guhname writes:

WASPs rule! I wrote in a recent post that I was getting the sense that Americans with Protestant European backgrounds were the best behaved. So I decided to sum all my prior post numbers that dealt with ethnicity and moral behavior to assess this idea systematically. I followed the simple strategy of assigning a rank for each behavior for each of the 8 ethnic groups with sufficiently large sample sizes. Jews were often ignored in previous posts since one must turn to the religion rather than the ethnicity variable to get estimates, but I wanted to include them, so I calculated numbers and then ranks for them.

I included all variables that I have posted on–here’s a list of them: okay to cheat on taxes; drinks too much; ethnocentric; dirty house; frequents prostitutes; promiscuous men over 30; feel that infidelity is not wrong; gay; lesbian; husbands and wives who cheat; fathers divorcing mom; women arrested; and promiscuity for men and women and under. I realized that I had not posted on drug abuse so I added that to the rest. I ranked group so high numbers indicate more bad behavior, then I simply summed the 16 rankings for each ethnic group. Here are the totals:

Bad Behavior Index

Blacks 106
Mexicans 85
American Indians 85
Italians 70
Irish 67
Jews 64
Germans 56
English/Welsh 47

My hunch was correct. This pattern coincides with that feeling that goes way back among nativists that the moral quality of the country was slipping with the mass immigration from Catholic, southern and eastern European countries, and more recently in concern over immigration from Mexico.

About Luke Ford

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