All communities have miscreants. There is no group of human beings where no one ever does wrong, even, at times, grievous wrong.
A community's moral character is put to the test when it is called upon to deal with the evil in its midst. It befalls those who hold moral authority in the community to isolate the contagion in order to protect the good name of the community and its members.
They do it by shaming those whose evil threatens the community's moral fiber.
If they ignore the evil, defend the evildoer, or denounce the outsiders who are condemning him, they fail at the task. They are asserting that they find his actions acceptable or understandable and that he still represents their values.
This immediately throws the community into disrepute. The disrepute stains the character of all its members. Not through any fault of their own, but because they belong to a community that has failed to separate itself from the evil in its midst.
This, to introduce a fine op-ed by Rabbi Marc Gellman about Bernard Madoff. Coming from someone who holds a position of moral authority within the Jewish community it condemns Madoff and banishes him from that community.
Rabbi Gellman's action is morally exemplary. It is a gift that befits the season, and that should serve to recall other leaders in other communities to their moral duty.
And I would add a comment by Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. In comments that are similar to my blog post a few days ago Rabbi Wolpe told the New York Times that he did not believe that Madoff could ever make amends: "It is not possible for him to atone for the damage he did, and I don't even think there is a punishment that is commensurate with the crime, for the wreckage of lives he's left behind. The only thing he could do, for the rest of his life, is work for a redemption he could never achieve."
Link to NY Times article here.