Rabbis’ talk to probe why ‘bad people’ prosper

(L-R) Rabbis Yossie Shemtov, Robert Eisen and Thomas Louchheim

Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging will present a three-rabbi panel lecture next month, “Why good things happen to bad people,” presenting the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jewish perspectives with Rabbi Yossie Shemtov of Congregation Young Israel, Rabbi Robert Eisen of Congregation Anshei Israel, and Rabbi Thomas Louchheim of Congregation Or Chadash.

“First of all, from G-d there is nothing bad that happens,” says Shemtov. “What do we know about good people or bad?” In other words, only G-d can judge.

“When bad things happen to good people I get very upset and sad. When good things happen to bad people I get very angry. These things happen,” says Eisen. “However, in lieu of those reactions, might there be a better way to respond?”

Louchheim analyzes the topic word by word. “Just looking at the adjective defining the noun — bad people — one wonders if this is truly descriptive of a human being. That requires greater explanation, doesn’t it?” he asks.

“Secondly, the phrase (good things happen to bad people) leads some to assume that we exist in a reality that is controlled by casuistry; the rationale that good behavior will result in a divine reward and that bad behavior will result in punishment. The view that there exists in our reality people who express an evil intent in their actions and nevertheless find themselves faring better in a material sense than their God-fearing neighbors, have led some sages of Judaism to argue that the ultimate rewards and punishments are found elsewhere than in this world.

“Humans have a need to call out to the cosmos for ‘explanation,’” Louchheim continues. “If God is benevolent and all powerful, God can prevent evil. If evil exists then either God’s love or power is limited. If we allow for our definition of God to be true, then perhaps ‘evil’ is not a creation of God and thereby not in God’s control. That being true, then perhaps ‘evil’ is a human corruption, misuse, and perversion of the ‘good’ God has created. Then the only conclusion is that the reason ‘bad people’ succeed is because we are unwilling to stop them.”

The free lecture will be held Sunday, April 7 from 3:30-5 p.m. There will be time for audience questions, and light refreshments will be served. Handmaker is located at 2221 N. Rosemont Blvd. For more information, contact Nanci Levy at 322-3632 or nlevy@handmaker.org.