Friday, December 17, 2010

Sholom Rubashkin - Captive or a Convicted Criminal?

Most people who read this blog know how condemning I have been of Mr. Rubashkin for his misdeeds. Most people are also aware that I felt the sentence he received for his crime was way out of proportion to his crime. The Jewish Star reports that there is going to be a rally in the 5 Towns area of New York City next Wednesday. It will be for the purpose of raising money to pay for an appeal of his sentence to a higher court. I support the appeal.

I'm not going to go into the details of why I feel this way. Been there and done that. So even though in the current economic climate money for important Jewish institutions is tighter than ever - justice demands that we not ignore an injustice.

But I must take issue with the characterization of this being a case of Pidyon Shvuyim. Pidyon Shvuyim is the Halacha requiring the Jewish people to rescue fellow Jews from captivity by those who seek to do the Jewish people harm - or demand money in exchange for a captive’s return.

Mr. Rubashkin was not unfairly captured Nor is he being held for ransom. That is the furthest thing from the truth. He was arrested for breaking the law and convicted of a crime. He was sentenced under the guidelines provided by law of the land.

We live in a land that has been eminently fair to the Jewish people since its very inception. Yes, there have been times where our government fell short. Most notably during the Holocaust where many people feel our government could have done more to save Jews.

Nonetheless - on the whole our welfare in this country of laws is unprecedented in the history of the Jewish people. We live under laws that apply equally to all Americans. And although there is an occasional miscarriage of justice - to declare an incarcerated Jewish criminal to be a case of Pidyon Shevuyim hardly enhances my sympathy for the cause. In fact it does the opposite.

It therefore actually surprises me that Rav Hershel Shachter has written a letter of support that contains the following statement:

“It is a mitzva to contribute to and engage in Pidyon Shvuyim on his behalf so that he can afford the legal fees to appeal his trial and sentence.”

Im not surprised that he supports the effort and agree with him about that. But I do not understand his characterization of it as Pidyon Shvuyim. For me - it is an insult to the American system of justice to call this Pidyon Shvuyim! And I protest it!

But as I said I would never protest the actual purpose of this fundraiser. There is almost universal agreement by Jews of all stripes and even many important non Jews that Mr. Rubashkin’s sentence was too harsh. The man deserves a lighter sentence than he got. We are therefore obligated to go the whole nine yards in our attempt to make that happen.

However there is another thing that bothers me here. There seems to be an appeal to modern Orthodox Jews. From the Jewish Star:

The rally also reflects an effort by the organization to appeal to the more modern spectrum of Orthodox Jewry. Five-thousand pamphlets about the case were mailed out to households in the area.

I of course have no problem with that. But wouldn’t it have been nice to see both Rabbi Perlow and Rav Shachter speak from the same podium on the same night, instead of just having him write a letter of support? If Charedim are looking for Achdus on this issue they have a strange way of trying to achieve it!