Friday, December 10, 2010

Yair Hoffman rides to the wig couple's rescue... gallantly, but unsuccessfully

VIN has posted a defense of Heidi and Mendy of the People's Court, written by Yair Hoffman. The defense is clumsily written and clumsily argued; still I think Hoffman did something commendable. Heidi and Mendy, likely, are on the verge of ruin. They desperately need a champion, someone dashing in a black cape (or hat) to ride in and save the day. I'm glad RYH tried to be that champion. The tragedy is he had so little to work with.

>> More after the jump.

What Yair Hoffman did last night was categorically different from his disreputable defense of an animated bear's misunderstanding of a minority opinion among the rishonim. Hiedi and Mendy, two clod-hopping Jews, stand accused in the court of public opinion not just of attempting to scam a dry cleaner but of bringing disgrace and disapprobation to the community and to the Name. They've been crucified on every blog, at every water cooler, in every driveway where carpools are collected. They've been the subject of shiurim and the cause of countless gasps and angry explanations of disbelief.

Are these condemnations justified? Yes, but only to an extent. Most of us know Jews who have done far worse than attempt a $3000 scam, but I can't think of anyone who's ever been subjected to the sort of public-flogging these two have received. And I don't mean a flogging at the hands of gentiles, but at the hands of ostensibly frum Jews, the kind, ironically, most likely to moan about krum hashkofot. Where is their decency? Where is their sense of mercy? How do they permit themselves to wreck two people over a failed $3000 scam?

And, was it really an attempted scam?  On the evidence of the YouTube video alone, I'd say it was, but as Yair Hoffman and anyone fair minded has already noted, that evidence is incomplete absent a response from the accused.

Their explanation is as follows:
  • The ruined wig was a long wig
  • The judge erroneously assumed it was a short wig
  • When the judge called the first Georgie's (there are two unrelated wig stores with the same name) the employee was only able to confirm the purchase of a long wig.
  • Thinking the ruined wig was short, the judge concluded that the confirmed purchase was for the long wig Heidi wore to court.
  • The second Georgie's denied knowledge of any purchase
All of this led the judge to the conclusion she announced on TV to the chagrin and embarrassment of us all: Hedi had ruined a cheap wig and was attempting to force the cleaner to pay for the more expensive one she wore on her head.

Is this a reasonable explanation? Of course. Does it deserve to be considered together with the YouTube evidence? Definitely.

However, none of this has been supported with concrete, actual evidence. We haven't been given anything but second-hand assertions. Just because Heidi says the ruined wig was a long wig doesn't make it so. We all saw a short wig on the YouTube video. If we're being asked to believe that it was actually a long wing, something more substantial than a promise from Heidi is required. 

Additionally, the unanswered questions remain:
  1. Why didn't Heidi and Mendy rush to the dry-cleaner to reclaim their extremely valuable wig the moment the laundry-lady told them it was in her possession?
  2. Why didn't they bring the ruined wig to an expert for an opinion? As the judge certainly realized, their failure to do this is suspicious.
  3. Why didn't they produce any proof of the ruined wig's value?
  4. What about the tags on the ruined wig As CFF (comment#7) says: I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that the judge was mistaken in her deduction as to which wig was which on the receipt, but then there was the matter of the tag inside the wig presented as evidence.  If the tag in the wig really is for an inexpensive wig, and one that neither Georgie's sells, at that, then whether the wig was, prior to ruin, long or short  is irrelevant.
  5. Why did Heidi and Mendy react to the judge's accusation in shell-shocked disbelief? Why didn't they immediately challenge her interpretation of the events and their behavior? Why did they look guilty?
  6. When the reporter asked for an explanation, why didn't they insist that they were telling the truth? Why didn't they claim that the receipt they had submitted was for the ruined wig? Instead of arguing for her own honesty Heidi called the judge a liar, suggesting (ridiculously) that the judge couldn't be telling the truth about her conversation with a wig store employee because the owner was overseas. That's also guilty behavior. [Or as a YouTube comment puts it: If it was true that the [ruined] wig cost $3000 they would have protested their inocence to the interviewer outside the court, not just stood there and refuse to answer the questions properly. If it was me I would be screaming that the judge was a bloody idiot and that I did pay $3000 for the wig.]
Also, its fair to wonder why Heidi and Mendy are using VIN and Hoffman to argue their case, instead of defending themselves in a straightforward manner. If they are innocent, why haven't they posted the proof, which might include statements from the wig stores, copies of the receipts, and "before" photographs of the ruined wig. All of this can be added to a web site quite easily. The fact that it hasn't been done suggests it doesn't exist, which is suspicious. [Note: Hoffman says he's seen some of it. That's fine, and I believe he's seen something, but I still wonder why he and the couple remain reluctant to show it to us.]

Bottom line: I admire and respect what Rabbi Hoffman has tried to do, and not merely because I often use this blog to stand against the considered opinions of the entire Orthodox Jewish community and argue for alternative interpretations  My contrarian values aside, I admire the simple humanity of RYH's gesture. The Jewish clodhoppers likely think their lives are over. The wolves of Jewish gossip are nipping at their heels, circling for the kill. Will their children get married? Will they be expelled from school? These are real worries in our community, and for charedim such as them escape and fresh starts are next to impossible. Their lives are at stake. They deserve every benefit we can reasonably extend, and every ounce of compassion that can honestly be offered; however, until something more concrete then assertions and denials is provided, I'm afraid, not much in the way of generosity is available. Still, let's remember: They stand accused of petty thievery. Not murder. Not adultery. Let's mitigate our reactions, and let the couple know that in time their community will forgive them fully. 

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