Aish Hatorah vs Yaakov Fetman - Good Causes Also Need Vigilance

Aish Hatorah World Center, Jerusalem
The list of Jewish good causes, which provided cover for crimes, just got longer.

When Bernie Madoff made off with billions of dollar of Jewish charitable funds, via a too-good-to-be-true investment scam, almost every Jewish good cause was forced to examine its assumptions of trust.

Madoff was an insider, who even sat on boards and investment committees of the same organizations he scammed.

He was also known for his personal philanthropy and generosity.

Madoff's scam victims included Yeshiva University, Hadassah (The Women's Zionist Group of America), Ellie Weisel Foundation, The Wunderkinderen Foundation (of Steven Spielberg), The Chaiss Family Foundation and numerous other leading Jewish non-profit and charitable organizations.  

Although Madoff was the largest defrauder of Jewish causes, by a long haul, indeed the largest scam by gentile standards also, he was not the first, nor the last person to take cynical advantage of Jewish good causes.

In the latest example, Yaakov Fetman has been accused by Aish Hatorah of stealing an estimated $20m from the yeshiva, during his 17 years as their trusted CFO. This was also the finding of a Beit Din/Arbitrator, headed by Rabbi Dovid Cohen.

In a court ruling of the Supreme Court, Kings County, issued on 29th September 2014, the arbitration was largely upheld, including the estimate arrived at by Rabbi Cohen of the amounts allegedly pilfered from Aish, by Fetman using various secret bank accounts, scams and illegally taking possession of seven properties allegedly belonging to Aish located in Brooklyn, NY.

Rabbi Greenman of Aish explained to the court:

"The final Award amount of $20,000,000 was based on the limited information we had in our possession which was presented at the Arbitration, which showed at least $2.4 million being stolen or diverted from Aish accounts, over the last six years, between 2007 and 2013, together with approximately $2.5 million in unauthorized and unverified credit card expenditures over the same period. The Arbitrator drew negative inferences against Respondent for his failure to produce documents as directed by the Rabbi's interim psak rulings, together with his failure, under Jewish Law, to account for the legal means with which he claims to have amassed his unexplained net worth, as presented to the Arbitrator, and extrapolated that amount over Fetman's full 17 years of employment at Aish." 
The court documents do not explain how Aish Hatorah, an organization with a vintage reputation for good works, professionalism and acting in the Jewish community's interest, took 17 years to catch on to the problem of the missing tens of millions and the ever-increasing net-worth of their CFO.

It is inevitable that senior executives, whether of commercial or non-profit enterprises, are in privileged and entrusted positions, and that they can therefore take advantage and abuse their authority.

Furthermore, practically, it can be extremely awkward for those around these entrusted figures to challenge them, by insisting upon oversight and supervision mechanisms which should avoid abuses of privilege.

The balance of power is invariably in the favour of the senior executive - and whistleblowing is often a high-risk option for those who may be aware of irregularities.

It is just this awkwardness that the unscrupulous can take cynical advantage of.

I have often had occasion to insist that gentlemanly understandings are nevertheless clearly and formally documented, and then been accused of not trusting the person involved. "Don't you trust me?".

This issue can be especially acute in a not-for-profit context, where people are naturally involved in a cause for altruistic reasons, and may even be perceived as saintly. What Rabbi Yanky Horowitz has termed "The Halo Effect".

In such an environment, cutting corners or crossing boundaries, may be considered as good-for-the-cause, and so excused or overlooked.

On the other hand, the resources in question are public - and therefore the need for accountability, transparency and oversight entirely trumps the trust-me card.

The need for rigorous oversight and systematic documentation does not carry with it a specific distrust of anyone.

As the expression goes "Trust AND Validate".


  1. properties in question were never owned by the organization. Check your sources. Otherwise you might be held for lible!!

  2. Hi Anonymous - thanks for the feedback. My sole source is the court documents, for which I have provided a link. These documents quote Rabbi Cohen's psak thus:
    "It has been determined that Jacob Fetman and Merkaz - The [*5]Center [FN6] are obligated to return to Aish HaTorah NY Inc. ("Aish") assets and fungibles valued at $20,000,000.00. Among the properties taken from Aish are:

    "4305 10th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11219
    4301 10th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11219
    1723 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11230
    1739 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11230
    1743 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11230
    750 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238
    1677 President St., Brooklyn, NY 11213

    "Aish has an ownership interest in and is awarded title to those properties"

    Anonymous, if you have additional or conflicting information, you are invited to send this to me. I will correct whatever I find requires correcting.

    1. David,
      6/7 properties were purchased well before the 17 year time period that is in question here...(check and search prop records...)
      The award of $20,000,000.00 is beyond the bounds of rav cohen to have issued "based upon the limited info available"...
      I would suggest looking into yitz greenman more vs. the cfo that people are vilifying...
      1)going to rav cohen as a conflict of interest via his prev relationship with aish, via renting out space from his shul for years for events well as yitz davning @ his sons shul in passaic..
      2) Take a look @ aish form 990 and you will see an addtional up to $90,000-$100,000 per year in added salaries for yitz on top of his base salary...Yitz lives on the HIGHEST taxed block in passiac with a house right across the street from him being sold for $2.1 miiion in septemebr (see zillow)..the average property taxes of his neighbors are well over $25,000 per year..i wonder how much disclosure he does to his financial backers to where there donation $$$ is going!!! Never mind his always brand new car lease payments, kids tuiton payments, :"expense accounts" , fully covered by aish as well etc
      3.) Speak to anyone in town who has worked for aish In the past and beleive me they have nothing good to say about him...

  3. To Anonymous (or Fetman or Fetmans mishpacha or whoever you are,)

    most of yoour ridiculous points are addressed in the court decision as being without any merit. Your personal attacks on Rabbi Greenman's paying tuition for his kids as all good Jewish parents do, or his car lease expose you as being defensive petty mean-spirited and if you are fetman, as I suspect you are, guilty as all heck.

  4. Hey DY,
    How much di yitz pay you for those comments?
    oops sorry , it would be beneath him to do those things..sorry
    Read my reposonse to the intial article and you will see how foolish and ignorant you really are, nice try @ a comeback..

  5. Hah, Hah !!
    I especially like: "paying tuition for his kids as all good Jewish parents do," yep with good ol tzedakah funds that his donators have no clue about...He's making well over several hundred thousand a year and he is the one to be believed, right?
    --Again look @ the form 990's and yes if your brain allows you to be able to research and have any good investigative skills, look through the property records search as well to see how incorrect and corrupt this process has become!!! No guilt here, just righting a wrong and stating the facts, you wonderful family member of yitz!!
    $20 million stolen :?" my ass

  6. Hey , h'es right check out the nyc site , before your'e ignorance is truly evident!

  7. Unbelievable!!!
    I actually did do some research how the hell can someone give a ruling like this.
    The buildings were bought before Aish. This whole thing is ludicrous.
    What a chilul hashem. What a way to destroy someones reputation. If this thing isn't true and Mr. Fetman didn't steal this money I hope you all go to jail, including the "Rabbi".


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