Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rubashkin, Truth, and Mercy

Who is it going to be? Who is going to rise to the challenge and lead the Jewish people? Who will be great enough in Torah and respected by the majority of the Torah world to stand up with the courage to break away from the crowd and tell it like it is… and like it should be?

I do not see anyone at all right now that can fit that description. We have no one at all on that level.

The few elderly Gedolim in Israel may have the knowledge and respect, but their age prevents them from being independent enough to investigate on their own circumstances upon which they are asked to comment. They must rely on others for information and then react to that.

The people they rely on are far from trustworthy. They are people who think they know what’s right and manipulate these elderly Gedolim by skewing the information so as to achieve the desired response. I need not mention examples. They are numerous.

The rabbinic leaders who are younger and are accepted as Gedolim by the right wing may in fact be the ‘best we have’. But they do not fit the description either. Not if they are afraid of being called a fake Gadol if they challenge their zealots.

Non Charedi rabbinic leaders like Rav Hershel Shachter, and Rav Aharon Lichtenstien simply do not have a following outside of their own constituency. They have the knowledge and the midos. But they are not respected enough (if at all) by Charedim to be in any way considered Gedolim in the sense of Klal leadership.

There is an expression called Dor Yasom. That means we are a generations of orphans - that we have no Gedolim upon whom we can rely. There is however a concept that challenges the possibility of that ever occurring.

Every generation has leaders - some generations have better ones than others.

The story of one such leader, Yiftach, is in Tanach (Shoftim 11: 1-40). He was a leader of his generation. He went to war asking for God’s help and promised that if he was victorious he would sacrifice the first living thing he saw upon his return. He was victorious. Upon his return the first living thing he saw was his daughter. So he sacrificed her.

And yet he is still considered the leader of his generation – the same as the Navi Shmuel was the leader of his generation. In other words the greatest people of any generation no matter how weak, are still considered the leaders.

So technically I suppose we are not a Dor Yasom. But it sure feels like it.

I am not saying that the current rabbinic leaders in the Charedi world are the same as Yiftach. But neither are they on the level of Shmuel. In fact I do not see anyone at all even close to a level of the last person who had such universal recognition, Rav Moshe Feinstein, who died in the 1980s. Or any of his contemporaries.

Please understand, I am not trying to minimize their level of Torah knowledge, their sincerity, their level of commitment to Klal Yisroel, or their hard work in that vein. But I just don’t believe theirs is the kind of leadership that the times now require.

This brings me to a very upsetting sign on the door of a Shul I saw as I entered it this morning.

It was an announcement urging people to attend a Kinos Tehhilim which will include speeches by rabbinic leaders on behalf of Shalom Rubashkin, who is awaiting sentencing on a conviction of bank fraud. The prosecutors have asked for a life sentence for his crimes.

I am not going to dwell on this except to say that his crimes, those he was convicted of and those he was accused of - even if only some of them are true - have caused a tremendous Chilul HaShem and have brought shame upon the Jewish world- especially on the religious Jewish world. But at the same time the proposed life sentence does not fit the crime. Life in prison should be reserved for murderers or the like.

I am therefore not opposed to saying Tehilim on Rubashkin’s behalf. It’s a lot better than asking people with no clue about how to do it in an honorable way to sign petitions to the court, write the governor, or make phone calls to government officials on his behalf. Those people will make any Chilul HaShem caused by Rubashkin to be multiplied many times over. And it may even hurt his cause more than it will help.

Saying Tehilim in a shul won’t do that. Those who are inclined to attend, I am not here to discourage them.

But it does bother me that so much attention is being paid to those among us who are criminals.

Whether it is Sholom Rubashkin, or Martin Grossman who was convicted of murder, or the Spinka Rebbe who was convicted of laundering charity money, it seems that the preoccupation these days is with Jewish criminals. The pressing issues of the day seem to always get short shrift. I do not for instance recall a Kinus Tehilim on sex abuse and the ‘off the derech’ community that it has so mightily contributed to.

Instead of trying to get at the root of the problems that cause such behavior and re-educate the masses about what causes people like Rubashkin and the Spinka Rebbe to act this way, they are now forced to spend time trying to better their circumstances.

What makes matters worse is that the miscreants they fight for are often painted with glowing appellations! They are made out to be Tzadikim who at worst made a mistake and at best did nothing wrong and are being persecuted for being Jews!

I hope that doesn’t happen tonight. It is one thing to have mercy on a fellow Jew, even one guilty of the crimes Rubashkin is convicted of. But let him not in the process be built up to be something he isn’t. Let us not say that he is being persecuted for being a Jew. Let us not cry ‘anti-Semitism’ here.

Mr. Rubashkin is a criminal who was convicted in a court of law. The prosecutors were over-zealous but I doubt that the reason was because he was a Jew. They are simply doing the job any good prosecutor does. They want another ‘w’ in their ‘win’ column. And the more prominent the individual is - the more zealous they are in pursuing it. This has little if anything to do with any anti-Semitism, in my view.

Unfortunately there are far too many people characterizing it that way. And they further complicate matters by labeling the entire proceedings from the first raid in Postville to the current sentencing recommendations founded in anti Semitism. Calling the charges trumped up, unprovable, etc.

My hope is that tonight, some truth will be told. That Rubashkin is not painted as some sort of great humanitarian who was persecuted for being Jewish. My hope is that when they say Tehilim it is only with a mindset that although he is guilty of this crime and possibly guilty of others, that nonetheless we need to ask God to bestow mercy upon him and prevent a miscarriage of justice by the imposition of something even close to a life sentence.

I do respect those who are considered by many to be rabbinic leaders in our day. But they are falling short of true leadership in my view. When a personality of impeccable integrity and the Torah knowledge to match stands up to fear of public reaction and starts telling it like it is I may change my mind. Until then…

Update (1:48 PM CDT): There is new support for leniency in this case. Please see my other blog for details.