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Lakewood Rabbis Warn Community That Welfare Fraud Is ‘Not Justified’

(JTA) — The Orthodox rabbinical council in Lakewood, N.J. responded to the arrest of community members on charges of welfare fraud by declaring “[t]here is no such thing as ‘justified’ theft.”

The statement follows the arrests of at least seven couples in the community’s haredi Orthodox community on charges of illegally obtaining government benefits.

The four couples arrested Monday were charged with underreporting their incomes to receive government benefits. Some of the couples are alleged to have hidden millions of dollars in assets while collecting tens of thousands of dollars in Medicaid and other benefits.

“There is no such a thing as ‘justified’ theft,” according to the statement. “Federal and State social safety-net programs are meant for those in need, even those in need have rules and criteria that must be strictly followed. To deliberately bend a safety-net eligibility rule is stealing, no different than stealing from your friend or neighbor.”

The statement called on community rabbis, teachers and parents to “redouble and triple our efforts in our communities, reminding each and every one of us that there is never any excuse for dishonesty in any form.” The Vaad pledged to launch a series of “intensive educational programs” to address the issue.

Haredi Orthodox Jews are thought to make up 60 percent of Lakewood’s population of 100,000.

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