Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rubashkin - What Would the Steipler Say?

There are a lot of people who are upset at those of us who refuse to defend a religious Jew who was convicted of financial wrong doing. Sholom Rubashkin is being seen by many as a victim of anti-Semitism. The justifications for this attitude are varied and many. Among them:

*He was piled on by splitting hairs in each count -one act was divided into multiple violations of the law.
*He was only guilty of technical violations.
*He didn’t realize what he was doing was illegal.
*He is an honest businessman who was a bit disorganized - just trying to keep his business afloat.
*What he did was not really a crime because the bank knew what he was doing and went ahead with it.
*He is a great humanitarian - A real Baal Chesed and Baal Tzedaka. Not the monster he was portrayed as by the prosecution.

At the very least we should beg for mercy for a fellow Jew who is basically a good man with a family to consider. He does not deserve the kind of punishment he will surely get. And on and on.

The question remains, what should our attitude be? Should we be actively seeking to reduce his sentence or seek leniency? Should we continue to characterize this as a miscarriage of justice? Or even the act of an anti-Semitic government out to get the Jews - especially bearded ones?

Do we scream at the top of our lungs: ‘Blood Libel? And try and re-establish his good name while calling those who say otherwise ‘self hating Jews’? Do we accuse those who see justice done here of the worst possible motives and call them the worst kinds of names?

Perhaps we can all use some help here. A good place to go for help in answering these questions is to the Gedolim of the past and see just what they think ought to be done in cases like this one.

Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn sent an excerpt from one of his blogposts to an e-mail list in which we both belong. He has graciously allowed me to quote it. For those who don’t know who this man is he has authored two monumental works found in Jewish homes and Baatei Midrash across the globe: Yad Moshe and Yad Yisroel. These volumes are indexes to the Teshuvos of both the Chafetz Chaim’s Mishna Beruruah and Rav Moshe Feinstein’s Igros Moshe.

Rabbi Eidensohn quotes from the memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorenz who wrote about his intersection with the great Gedolim of the past. One segment deals with precisely the issue at hand. Here is what it said:

Steipler Rav (Within the Domain of Gedolei Torah Vol 2 page 557-560): The rav of Komemiyus, Rav Binyamin Mendelson approached Rav Shlomo Lorenz concerning someone who had committed a crime in the past.

Then he had been sentenced to a number of years of jail – but had been placed on probation and wasn’t imprisoned. However the person eventually committed the crime again and now was being tried a second time.

Rav Mendelson said that he knew this person and felt he deserved mercy - especially for his wife and children. Therefore he said there was an obligation to try to keep him out of jail - not only for the sake of his family - but because it was obvious that being in jail with hardened criminals would not serve to rehabilitate him. Therefore Rav Mendelson asked me to testify as a character witness at the trial to try and stop the jail sentence.

Rav Lorenz told him that while normally he would readily agree to whatever he asked. However in this case he knew that his testifying in court to aid a criminal would become public knowledge. This would cause a chilul HaShem because it would create the impression that the representative of the Torah world not only identified with the criminal but also offered him assistance. Therefore he told Rav Mendelson that he wanted to consult with the Steipler Rav before he did anything. Rav Mendelson agreed but requested that the Vishnitzer Rebbe also be consulted.

When Rav Lorenz told the story to the Steipler Rav, the Steipler screamed, “A Jew who sins and repeats that sin, it is better that he be punished in this world and not – G‑d forbid – in the World to Come.” He explained, “The punishment in this world is minor compared to what happens in the World to Come.

Furthermore if you succeed in stopping the jail sentence he will continue to repeatedly commit this crime. It is better that he receive his punishment and perhaps learn self‑restraint… In addition if I give you permission and you testify for his benefit it is obvious that every newspaper and all the public media will publicize the matter and it will also be a chilul HaShem when he sins again…”

Yes… those were true Gedolim. I don’t hear anyone saying these kinds of things today. The opposite is true. The more Charedi they are, the more sympathetic they are to Mr. Rubashkin. And by default less the less sympathetic they are to the Chilul HaShem that supporting him will cause.

There are those who say that we need to have sympathy for this man and his family and do whatever we can to help him avoid jail. I can fully understand that. But is that right? Not according to the Steipler.