Monday, January 31, 2011

Judaism and its Peter Popoff problem

Last night, while flipping through the channels, I was astounded to see Peter Popoff, the famous faith fraudster on BET selling magic water and supernatural cures. It wasn't a show, but an infomercial, but the contours of the program were identical to the performances that made Popoff infamous in the 70s.

In clipped sentences, punctuated by inappropriate uses of the word "Amen", Popoff hawked his magic water and  told viewers of his supernatural faith-healing abilities. Through the magic use of Jesus's name [amen] tumors had been made to disappear [amen] sight had been reeeee-stored to the blind, and the lame had cah-limbbed out of their wheelchairs [amen!] Dramatic footage from Poppoff's revival meetings reinforced the claims. We saw Popoff throw canes and crutches on the alter, as their owners danced. As the cameras rolled, and the organ played, one person after another approached the microphone to praise Popoff and to testify about the miracles he had brought about.

Those of us sitting at home,were invited to share in the glory by calling the special prayer line. All free, of course, though callers to the prayer line were likely to receive a letter like this describing secret rituals, magical prophecies, and promises of yeshuos and nechamos  in exchange for a mere 17 dollars (1 being for God, and 7 being His secret magic number)

Its all flim-flam, of course. Popoff is a notorious bunko artist who was exposed as a cheat in the early 80s by James "The Amazing" Randi." Why BET is permitting him to run his informercials and prey on a new generation of suckers is anyone's guess.

What I find deeply troubling, however, is how similar the Popoff routine is to the workings of various Orthodox Jewish charities. We've all seen the notorious Kupat Hair letters promising blessings in exchange for money, and as cruelly deceptive as they are, that's really just the tip of the iceberg.

In advance of every Jewish holiday, I receive RoboCalls in which a thickly accented man promises me riches, cures, shidduchim, and blessings if I send him a check. His clipped sentences are punctuated by inappropriate uses of the words "Baruch Hashem" and the Gedolim, rather than Jesus, are the conduits for the miracle; otherwise the RoboCaller's routine is a dead-ringer for Popoff's.

And even that's not all: I've also heard stories about various Rebbes who have allegedly taken 5 and 6 figure sums in exchange for blessings and promises. In one story, a second tier Hasidic Rebbe whose name you know is alleged to have taken $10,000 from a distraught father in exchange for "removing the ayin hara" from his OTD daughter. In another story, a different second tier Hasidic Rebbe whose name you know is said to have taken $25,000 from a couple that desperately wanted a child. If you sit at the right sholishudis table, or frequent the right mikvaot, you will hear stories like this all the time. [The daughter is now very successful, happy, content and shacked up with a non-Jew; the couple had a child.]

These are all scams that prey on the desperate and separate the stupid from their money. Its an outrage and a failure of Orthodox Jewish leadership that they are allowed to continue. Those rabbis, and community organizations like Aguddah, or journalists like Pinny Horowitz Lipshutz of the Yated, who sit silently while Kupait Hair and noted Hasidic Rebbes  take advantage of the gullible masses are nothing but cowards and collaborators. All of their inveighing against blogs, and short skirts are smoke and vapor until they show themselves capable of standing up to the thieves with fancy names, and prominent letterheads. All of their whining about the respect due to Jewish leaders are as nothing until the Jewish leaders who use religion to steal from us are exposed as frauds and cast out.

Its really as simple as that.

Search for more information about Peter Popoff at

1 comment:

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