Thursday, October 22, 2009

World Wide Prayers?

There is something unsettling about this. The following is a post in its entirety from YWN:

Worldwide tefillos are expected on Sunday and Sunday night as the trial of one of the bochrim imprisoned in Japan gets underway. A number of months ago, one of the three was sentenced and next week, the trial of yet another defendant is scheduled to begin.

The trial begins on Monday in Japan, Sunday night in Eretz Yisrael and Sunday evening in the United States. The trial is expected to continue for three consecutive days. The justices will hear the case against suspect Yosef ben Reizal.

The Eida Chareidis on Wednesday night called for an increased adherence to acts between man and fellow man and to increase tefillos as the trial take place. Tefilla gatherings are reportedly going to take place in New York and London as well.

The tzibur is requested to continue including Yosef ben Ita Rivka, Yoel Zev ben Mirel Reesa Chava and Yaakov Yosef ben Raizel in tefillos.

I’ve addressed this issue in the past. To review - three adolescent Chasidim were caught as drug mules in Japan. A drug mule is someone who is used to transport drugs from one location to another. In this case it was from Israel to Japan. The boys were caught by Japanese customs officials and have been detained for trial. One has already been sentenced.

They have cried innocence and claim to have been duped into taking a suitcase with some ‘harmless materials’ to Japan in exchange for a fully paid excursion to visit some ancestral gravesites in Europe. It was offered by a ‘Heimishe’ Chasid who happened to be a major drug dealer. The boys apparently did not know this.

My own inclination is to believe that these boys didn’t know they were carrying drugs. But that they had to know they were breaking the law by trying to smuggle something past customs. This makes them criminals – albeit not serious ones.

Long story short - There has been a major effort to get these boys back to Israel. There have been extraordinary efforts on their behalf by various dedicated individuals who seem to have dropped everything else in order to accomplish that. These efforts were detailed not long ago in a Mishpacha Magazine article - which I wrote about. I support their efforts.

So why does this world wide prayer service bother me?

Because it makes the entire episode seem like a total injustice to innocent young boys who were just minding their own business. Pidyan Shevuyim. It makes it seem like they have been captured by an anti-Semtic enemy out to do the Jewish people harm …that these boys were arrested only because they were Jewish.

I don’t think any of that is true. As have said many times, I believe they knew they were doing something wrong. But they had no clue how serious it was. To call this Pidyan Shevuyim is in my mind a questionable appellation. Nor are their lives in any real danger. If found guilty they will be sentenced to hard labor as are all Japanese prisoners convicted of crimes like this. Eventually they will be released.

In my view the punishment for what they actually did – or believed they did – is excessive. Based on descriptions by former inmates it sounds really horrible. These boys made a mistake and will pay a huge price for it. Too huge – unless it can be proven they actually knew they were carrying drugs.

So we should try and get them back. But please let us not make virtual heroes out of them. Let us not treat them as victims of an unjust anti-Semtic government. Let us not call for a world-wide prayer service as though they will die if we don’t. Yes we should perhaps pray for justice in this case and work towards getting them back in our jurisdiction. But not in some sort of world wide prayer spectacle!

To make it seem like they were the purest of souls- innocent victims of a harsh anti-Semitic government - is just plain stupid. That is what this worldwide prayer service seems to imply. It is the nature of such events to make those we pray about seem pure as the driven snow. I don’t think they are. Claiming that on a worldwide stage makes Jews seem self-centered and tolerant of crime. And in the current climate of public attention on Jews and financial wrong doing - we ought to be doing the opposite. At the very least we ought not to be drawing attention to ourselves.

In an interesting footnote - the Edah HaCharedis has called for an increase in positive behavior towards their fellow man– Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chavero. Perhaps they should look in the mirror first.