Sunday, January 31, 2010

Light Unto the Nations?

Martin Grossman, Jonathan Pollard, and Shalom Rubashkin. What do these three people have in common? Absolutely nothing! Except that they are Jews and have been convicted of crimes. Vastly different ones. But they have one other thing in common. They are the subject of intense lobbying by the Orthodox world for mercy.

Now I have no problem with the concept of tempering justice with mercy. In fact I completely understand the motivation and support it. I might even grant that these three individuals are worthy of the particular form of mercy being asked for each. But I must admit that it still bothers me. What does it say to the world about Jewish values when some of our most visible efforts are in the cause of getting mercy for convicted criminals?

Think about it.

Martin Grossman is a convicted murderer. He brutally murdered a Florida wildlife officer in 1984 using her own gun to shoot her in the back of her head. Mr. Grossman is scheduled to receive the death penalty in February. And yet I’m told that there are signs all over Lakewood rallying support for him in the form of calling the governor and begging for a commutation of his death sentence.

It seems that he is now remorseful and has begun the process of becoming a Baal Teshuva. That is a good thing for his soul. But that does not help the victim. Nor does it help her family. It is unseemly for the Jewish community to be asking for mercy for a brutal murderer- and with such a sense of urgency.

His victim had a family who probably still grieves for her. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a family to have a wife or sister or mother or daughter go off to her daily job one morning and then find out she was murdered by a drug crazed criminal – never to come home again.

That said, I nevertheless find it hard to not try and save someone from a death penalty that Jewish law would not have mandated - even if he had killed the Gadol HaDor. God forbid. Without 2 valid witnesses and the requisite warnings about the death penalty prior to the murder - no Jewish court could have issued the death penalty.

I suppose the a commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole might be a compromise that would take into account my ambiguity. I know its not the best solution, but I don’t know that there is a ‘best’ solution. However it still bothers me that there is such an outcry by the Orthodox world to save this man as though he were Albert Schweitzer. What does that say about us to the world?

Then there is Jonathan Pollard. He has now served over 20 years of his sentence for spying for a foreign country. It doesn’t matter that the country was Israel. It only matters that he broke the trust the United States placed in him. He betrayed his country. And he is now suffering the consequences. And yet Jonathan Pollard has become a national obsession for Orthodox Jews. There have been what seems like an infinite number of attempts to free him. As if he was unjustly convicted.

Now here too, I feel sorry for him. After 20 years I think he has paid for his crime and think the government ought to cut him a break. But it bothers me here too that there is such an obsession about him in the Frum community – as though he were some sort of hero because he spied for Israel. What does this say about us to the world?

And then there is Shalom Rubashkin. He was convicted of bank fraud. And there is the fact that he hired tons of illegal aliens and was accused of taking advantage of them for financial gain. This - among many other accusations and evidence of misdeeds, irregularities, and just plain violations of the law. The Agudah, the National Council of Young Israel, and other rabbinic organizations have joined forces in appealing to the highest levels of government for leniency. This man is not what I would call a paragon of virtue under any circumstances. And yet he is being painted that way by his defenders.

Now here too, I feel sorry for Mr. Rubashkin. He has suffered quite a lot- as has his family. He has lost his business, all his money, and his reputation. He went from being ‘king of the hill’ to being a convicted criminal. That alone seems like a just punishment. I couldn’t be happier that he is no longer involved with Agriprocessors, the company his family founded. I find his current circumstances to be overkill at this point.

But still he is yet another criminal that the Frum community is agitating for. What does this say about us to the world?

I’m not even saying they shouldn’t do it. They probably should. But it is so sad that it has come to this. And these three Jews are not the only ones who have been caught in crimes. Is this what our energies should be spent on? Is this the light we shed onto the world?