Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pidyon Shevuyim... or Nonsense?

How should a Jew see Pidyon Shevuyim? Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach gives us the answer. It is contained in an article on Mesirah by Rabbi Michael Broyde. The following story is in footnote 16 of the article. Rabbi Broyde quotes the following in the name of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in Ve’aleihu lo Yibol, volume 2:113–114, which recounts in the name of Rabbi Yehuda Goldreicht:

I asked Rabbi Auerbach about a particular Jew who stole a large sum of money and he was caught by the police in America. He was sentenced to a number of years in prison in America. Was it proper to assist in the collection of money for him [we were speaking about a large sum of $200,000] in order to fulfill the mitzvah of redeeming captives to have him released from prison?

When Rabbi Auerbach heard this he stated “Redeeming captives?! What is the mitzvah of redeeming captives here? The mitzvah of redeeming captives is only when the gentiles are grabbing Jews, irrationally, for no proper reason, and placing them in prison. According to what I [Rabbi Auerbach] know, in America they do not irrationally grab Jews in order to squeeze money from them. The Torah says ‘do not steal’ and he stole money — on the contrary, it is good that he serve a prison sentence, so that he learns not to steal!”

The more I learn about this Gadol of the last generation the more I see his greatness. Contrast that with an article in the Jewish Press by Rabbi GershonTennenbaum, Executive Vice President of the Iggud Harobanim.


Missing from Agudah's message was the observant community's high regard for Pidyon Shvuyim. We have all seen the great efforts exerted by the Chassidishe community worldwide on behalf of three naive young boys who were caught smuggling in Japan. We are also witness to the tremendous efforts being exerted on behalf of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. Rabbi Moshe Leib Erblich, zt"l (1745-1807), revered Sasover Rebbe, would go to tremendous lengths to help free Jews from prison, regardless of their level of Jewish observance or their alleged crimes.

Further, he would readily be Mechalel Shabbos on their behalf. Our Chassidishe sefarim are replete with the work of great Rebbes who exerted legendary efforts on behalf of Pidyon Shvuyim. Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky, zt"l (1730-1797) Chernobler Rebbe, and Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Derbaremdiker, zt"l (1740‑1809), Berditchever Rebbe and revered author of Kedushas Levi, are only two more on the endless list of holy names who acted for Pidyon Shvuyim.

Breaking from the past, Rabbi Zweibel included child molestation as one of the problems that must be dealt with at a community level. Dina D'Malchusa Dina would require us to report every incident to the proper authorities. However, Rabbi Zweibel did not say that. The recent attempt to pass the Markey Bill in the New York State Legislature would have opened a window to allow civil suits against child molesters for their crimes retroactively beyond the statue of limitations.

The Agudah issued its position as being against the Markey Bill. Was that the Agudah's application of Pidyon Shvuyim? The Agudah's message that the community must strive for absolute fidelity to all laws is admirable and commendable, but it must also be tempered with mercy and recognition of our Torah commitment to the mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim.

Is this really what passes for Daas Torah? If it is, then we indeed have lost our way. Rav Shlomo Zalman would not have approved. This is nothing short of a disgraceful attempt to twist the Halacha of Pidyon Shevuyim into something unrecognizable to Judaism. Rav Shlomo Zalman has taught us that Pidyon Shevuyim is not about getting guilty people off in a just society. “The Torah says ‘do not steal’ and he stole money — on the contrary, it is good that he serve a prison sentence, so that he learns not to steal!”

The Rabbanim in Europe who risked their lives to save Jews imprisoned by anti-Semitic governments were cases of Pidyon Shevuyim. But applying their example to justly convicted criminals in a just country is a gross distortion of the Torah. I’m not saying that one should not apply mercy in certain situations. Not all crimes are equal. Some deserve mercy. Some deserve to do the time. But to call any of it Pidyon Shevuyim is nonsense!

Hat Tip: Teaneck Jew