Throwing the book at Bernard Madoff, Judge Denny Chin pronounced his crimes as “extraordinarily evil.” Indeed, one of his victims noted that Dante defined fraud as the worst of all sins, reserving the lowest circle of Hell for those who betray those with whom they share particular bonds of love and trust. That certainly works for Madoff.
His victims included many who trusted him as a member of their religious community, a fellow Jew who was, they believed, in business to look out for his people. But more than the individuals, he defrauded the community’s institutional core–Hadassah, Yeshiva University, the American Jewish Congress, and many other educational and philanthropic entities. As Jerome Chanes points out in his cover story in the current issue of Religion in the News,
The issue was not that Bernard Madoff had bilked Jewish investors–and some non-Jewish ones–out of $50. It was that he had stolen directly, knowingly, and uncaringly from Jewish communal charity. Jews were enraged by his cynical use of his Jewishness to bilk Jewish communal funds. It was the worst kind of betrayal.
Judge Chin noted that he had received not a single letter testifying to Madoff’s strength of character or good deeds. Yesterday, his own wife denounced him. In the Divine Comedy, the punishment for the worst betrayers is to be frozen near Satan in a lake called Cocytus, unable to move or to emit a sound for all eternity. Madoff seems well on his way to that place.