What Can We Learn?

Obviously, the Paterno/Sandusky news from the Freeh report today was terrible.  The victims can almost feel doubly hurt by the knowledge now that the sicko Sandusky was abetted and helped for so many years.  I’m sure there are many people who will make the connection to the Ultra Orthodox communities and the systemic secrecy at PSU, and hope for a similar type of exposure to the harsh light of day of the many secrets and pedophiles we’ve harbored and helped over the years.

But my particular focus in this post is a little different.  It seems that Nike, the same day as the report was made public, began to remove Joe Paterno’s name from one of it’s buildings (a child development center).  For more, see SB Nation or Deadspin.

Paterno wasn’t tried or convicted, he was just exposed.  And yet, his name is an embarrassment to Nike, so they removed it.

And yet…the names of criminals (tried and convicted and in jail) remain on countless buildings and institutions in our communities.  A criminal is an embarrassment to the entire community, and shames the institutions that bear his or her name, regardless of the crime.  And while people may make a moral relativism argument that Paterno’s crime is worse than some of the financial ones  we are so well known for, I say that’s irrelevant.  The financial crimes had victims, too, and are still a black eye on the community.

Our institutions should have the conviction of action that Nike does, and remove the names of convicted felons from their institutions and buildings.  In an ideal world, our institutions could return the money that was ill-gotten, but that not really a possibility.  But the basic step of disassociation from criminals is, and should be taken.


29 responses to “What Can We Learn?

  1. Rob suggested that Nike acted out of business concerns and not principle in disassociating from Paterno. While that likely is true (though, in this case, they aren’t mutually exclusive), I don’t think it detracts from the message of their action and that they acted swiftly and decisively. And that lesson (on both ends: doing the right thing and acting swiftly about it) is lost on many Jewish institutions.

  2. I absolutely agree. Like I said on Twitter Jewish institutions are hypocritical if they name their institutions after convicted criminals. I have no beef with the individuals (they should be allowed to correct their ways and move on w/ life) but the institutions are sending the wrong message.

  3. General R. Blie

    The Nike decision was pure marketing. They are not doing it to “punish” Paterno or because of the institutions embarrassment. They are concerned that the negative association will hurt their image and their sales.

    For many institutions, this is not an issue. For charitable organizations in the Jewish community, there are often people who committed crimes that donated significant money and have their name on buildings. Yet, it is rare that in light of their crimes, it would be viewed as so abhorrent to keep their name on the building such that it would cause a loss of membership or donations.

    There are two Actions you mention:
    1. I don’t get the argument for returning the money. Presumably, if the “criminal” was convicted in court – criminal courts will institute monetary penalty that includes some restitution, and civil courts will do the rest. This means if an institution “returns the money that was ill-gotten,” it ends up back in the pocket of the criminal. Personally, I would rather it stay with the charity.

    2. You also seem to advocate removing his name from any institution or building. You say above “A criminal is an embarrassment to the entire community….regardless of the crime” and that institutions should disassociate from criminals. This view is a little to black and white for me. People (and sometimes institutions) should be embarrassed when they commit crimes. But not all crimes call for excommunication and an expunging of the person’s name. All people (present company excluded) do some things they are embarrassed about. Some are worse than others, but no one is perfect. There are cases where such actions may be warranted (and child abuse is probably one), but I think in many cases, we can make a more complex calculation on the extent to wish we disassociate from people who commit a crime.

    And like all good lawyers – the slippery slope argument. Why stop at people who commit crimes? What about people who break any halacha? Should a Jewish institution accept a donation from someone who is machalel shabbos? Doesn’t keep kosher? What about someone who doesn’t go to minyan 3 times a day? I think anyone who talks in shul should not be allowed to have their name on a building and the shul should return their donations.

    The point is that it is better to evaluate these decisions on a case by case basis with the understanding that these are individuals and you cannot just automatically lump them in the general category of criminal. In some cases (murderers, rapists, people who like the Star Wars prequels) institutions should disassociate, but in many cases, that may be more drastic an outcome than warranted.

    • Your first point makes no sense. Yes, it’s marketing. Because they would be embarrassed to be negatively associated. You said the same thing as me, except said it’s not and in too many words.

      And “too many words” applies to the rest of your comment, too. Public crimes that require the offender to go to jail make that person’s name a poor public reflection. It’s a chillul hashem. And a jewish institution should not want to associate itself with that. “Inside, we teach our students that stealing is bad; outside, they learn the opposite.”

      As for giving the money back, that’s a tougher question, as I said in my post. You’re right, if it’s between the offender having it or the school, better the school. OTOH, funding a school with stolen money gives the school a negative stamp from its outset.

    • People who are gay are not welcomed in shul, but the person who cheats in business and gives it to the shul will get chasson breishis.

  4. Slippery Slope argument is weak here b/c in this instance the crime is financial and the money granted is therefore tainted and possibly ill-gotten. Not sure how to handle the case where after donation/naming the donor is convicted but certainly post conviction it is odd to name an institution after a convicted felon. It definitely appears hypocritical in terms of the message it is sending to the community.

  5. There is a machloket shach and taz whether you can ever put your name on something that was donated. We paskan you can because it may inspire others to donate. There are no other ethical considerations. If 1) the institution legally can keep funds and 2) if it will inspire others to give then great. Otherwise, take the name down. Interesting debate would be if you take the name down is charity obligated to return funds.

    • No other ethical considerations? Are you nuts? A school that teaches its students that stealing is wrong, halachically and morally; yet bears the name of a thief? That’s not an ethical quandry?

      • Yes he is. He often pretends to see the world as an excel spreadsheet when he knows that is not the case. I’m working on it.

  6. Also, slippery slope goes both ways. Should we name our institutions after convicted murderers. “The Jeffrey Dahmer School” would be an interesting name. A more apt comparison would be the “Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold High School”

  7. “There are no other ethical considerations.” Why not? Would we take money from Charles Manson and name our shul after him?

  8. Convicted of speeding, how about convicted of spying on behalf of Israel, convicted of trespassing and protesting on behalf of Russian Jewry… the cases are endless. Let’s say convicted of shoplifitng when you are 18 and you invent an elixir…

    • Not sure what you’re suggesting…that some crimes are worse than others? That we should choose our role models and building names carefully? Or that since there are minor crimes that might be excusable in certain situations, then any crime is excused?

    • Yes. In all those cases judgment calls should be made. No brightline rule required. Speeding – OK. Unless you’re naming a driving academy.

  9. If naming our kiddush after Jeffrey Dahmer will inspire folks to give and the kiddush to be more tasty great. Not sure why there is ever an implication that naming confers some ethical standard. Do I care who Soshtein was?

    • Yes. Naming something after someone is an explicit approval of that persons actions.

      • So you won’t take money from Gates who violated anti trust laws, or anyone who is a Republican for that matter…

      • If that were truly the case, than honestly non shomer shabbat (capital crime) is far worse than financial impropriety.

      • I know being republican is a character flaw, but illegal?

      • Are charities not even allowed to issue a press release of receipt of donations. There is no ethical difference between a scroll of honor and a building.

      • “There is no ethical difference between a scroll of honor and a building.” Yes there is. Very silly.

      • By your logic (or perhaps either the shach or the taz): Names on buildings inspire others to give because people like the public recognition. So too, publicity about how that named earned his money can also inspire because the person is being honored (despite his wrongdoing). Therefore, institutions that teach morality are hypocritical to put those names on buildings.

  10. Before the advent of sponsorships, institutions were named after laudatory figures (think of anything from Edward R. Murrow high school to Yeshivat Rav Yitchak Elchanan). We have a history of naming institutions and people after those to whom we aspire to emulate. When the name of a cheat or a criminal is on the top of our buildings, it sends a conflicting message. Noyam is absolutely right, and our institutions are both hypocritical and gutless for allowing it. Unfortunately, it ties in to the tuition crisis — the institutions need the money more than they need their values.

    • You are factually wrong, names on buildings have been found in antiquity to modern times and everywhere in between. Some are laudatory others are pragmatic. The pragmatic ones are often lost and just exist as faceless names.

    • OK. In antiquity they put names on buildings. I’m referring (as should be obvious) to how we today regard these honors.

  11. General R. Blie

    All I am saying is that we should judge on a case-by-case basis. On a case-by-case basis I would likely have issues with “The Jeffrey Dahmer School.” Some others are more grey. I don’t know where I would come out on a Rubashkin Building. He didn’t “steal” from anyone, but he did break the law. He is a criminal.

    If someone was convicted of tax fraud or hiring illegal workers because they have a Dominican housekeeper off the books, I would probably not have a problem even though it is clearly a crime. (I also wouldn’t have issue with train-crossing jaywalkers – even though I believe it is a felony.)

    Convicted of stealing – I may have a problem with a school or a shul. Maybe less so for a hospital.

    Noyam and Chip are too black and white. I think we have to judge 1) is the crime so repugnant that any association is inherently immoral or unethical? 2) if not, does it send a hypocritical message?

    Noyam and Chip seem to feel that in the case of every single crime, the answer to 2 would be yes regardless of the institution. I think it depends on the individual, the crime and the institution.

    • General — I mostly agree with you. My issue is that institutions that teach or preach morality should not be named after people who are convicted of morality or ethics crimes. You would not name a hospital or a research institution after Josef Mengele. Also, I think there is a big difference on whether the donor gives the money after conviction (and after restitution is paid) as part of his repentance. I think that would be better as long as it is made clear that he is doing it to right his wrongs.

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