No Justice, Peace

Gilad Shalit. Jonathan Pollard. Shalom Rubashkin. Each imprisoned, and each the focus of exhaustive efforts to secure their release. Many in the Jewish community are quick to point to the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim (redeeming Jewish captives) as a call to action, but often no distinction is made between the three prisoners.

Few would argue the point with respect to Shalit — an innocent teenager ruthlessly abducted in a daring cross-border raid and held incommunicado for more than four years. Many, but certainly not all, would concede the argument with respect to Pollard, who has spent more than 20 years in jail for espionage when last month a group of putative Russian spies were deported after a few days in jail. But Rubashkin? He was convicted on 86 counts of financial fraud, including money-laundering and bank, mail, and wire fraud. During the course of the trial and sentencing, the trial judge found Rubashkin to be dishonest and deceptive — even in statements to the court. Earlier this summer, Eliyahu Ben Haim, a Lakewood “rabbi,” pleaded guilty to money-laundering after being caught on tape cautioning his partners that “this is illegal, what we are doing.” Austrian Rabbi Moshe Chaim Strulovics fled to Lakewood in 1998 after being charged with a massive $20 million fraud. He was caught and extradited back to Austria last year, and eventually pleaded guilty to masterminding the fraudulent scheme. Thanks in large part to the intervention of prominent rabbis, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison and was granted release after 10 months served. He was promptly returned to Lakewood and greeted as a hero. And let’s not forget Bernard Madoff and Solomon Dwek.

There are many, I among them, who cringe each time another financial scandal rocks the Jewish community. I take no solace in statistics that prove that instances of financial crimes are less common among Jews than any other group. The day after media reports of a new Jewish scandal, I instinctively want to take off my kippah in public. But, even without a kippah, I know that many non-Jews are shaking their heads at me in confirmation of every negative stereotype they ever heard about my people. Suddenly, I am critically aware of centuries of anti-Semitism, and I cannot help wondering to what degree these types of “Jewish” criminals contribute to the animus.

Put aside the absolute and fundamental commandment of “Dinah de’malchutah Dinah” [compliance with civil law carries the weight of Torah law]. Put aside the scores of mitzvot that prohibit theft, fraud, and deception. Put aside the devastation wrecked upon innocent victims who, more often than not, are fellow Jews. And that is precisely the problem. All too often we are quick to put those things aside. It is our willingness to overlook and subordinate these fundamental concepts that breeds the bad apples inherent in every culture. There is nothing that can be said about the criminals themselves; they will always exist. But there is much to be said about those who would excuse, condone, or ignore the perpetrators of these unconscionable acts.

If you search the Internet for stories relating to Rabbi Strulovics, you will find a wide array of coverage. Anti-Semites point to the story as evidence of the greed of the Jewish people. Secular media offer a cautionary tale and a humbling lesson. Many Orthodox outlets, and a majority of haredi blogs, consider Strulovics’ guilty plea the equivalent of an acquittal. They happily rejoice in his suspended sentence and fall over themselves praising as heroes those who sought and secured his release. The fact that Strulovics admitted to stealing tens of millions of dollars from scores of innocent people seems to be irrelevant.

It gets worse. In some communities, anyone who tries to stop a Jew from committing his crimes is quickly labeled a moser and viscously attacked. During talmudic times, civil authorities persecuted the Jewish people, often for no reason and usually to prevent the study of Torah. Reporting a fellow Jew to civilian authorities, for any reason, was a virtual death sentence and was prohibited. In an unabashed distortion of that halacha, many today cite the prohibition as an absolute ban on cooperating with modern civil authorities — even when such cooperation would prevent the destruction of lives. Because Jewish courts do not have the power to imprison, prosecute, or enforce judgments, they are mostly powerless to prevent or respond to crimes perpetrated by Jews. They do have the power of excommunication, but somehow I doubt the fear of not getting called up to the Torah would deter someone willing to steal millions from his fellow Jews.

Instinctively, most of us try to look away. We excuse such behavior as an aberration and quickly point out that the criminal is a deviant acting in violation of Jewish law. We are uncomfortable with the subject and refuse to extrapolate any broader message. But in doing so, whom are we helping? In a way, those who are silent are as guilty as those who defend the misconduct.

As a community, we have limited resources. Free Gilad. He is still alive and his suffering is a consequence of nothing more than his being an Israeli and offering his life for the Jewish people. Free Rubashkin? Maybe his sentence was harsh. Maybe he was mistreated. But his suffering is a direct consequence of his own actions and his own transgressions of the Torah. Anyone who puts Gilad Shalit and Rubashkin in the same sentence, anyone who celebrates the guilty plea of a criminal, anyone who would excuse a flagrant violation of civil law/halacha, just because the criminal is a Jew, should carefully reflect this High Holiday season and consider whether some of our exile is not self-imposed.

About aweisbrot

Ari is a prominent litigator in New York and New Jersey. He has been featured on CBS Radio’s Wall Street Journal Report, quoted in legal and non-legal periodicals, and has been recognized as a “SuperLawyer” in New Jersey and a "Top Ten Lawyer to Watch" in New York. Mr. Weisbrot is a true “client’s lawyer,” representing a diverse range of clients from among the largest retailers in the United States to smaller local businesses to religious and charitable organizations. Ari was appointed by Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey to a three-year term of service on the Committee on Character. The Committee determines the fitness to practice law of each candidate for admission to the Bar of the State. Mr. Weisbrot also continues to serve on the District Ethics Committee (IIB - Bergen County), which operates under the auspices of the New Jersey State Office of Attorney Ethics. Mr. Weisbrot has been awarded an 'AV' rating for his professionalism and the quality of his legal work from Martindale-Hubbell, the premier directory of legal professionals, and has been selected by his peers as a Super Lawyer. In addition, Mr. Weisbrot has written several articles on commercial litigation, which have been published in the New Jersey Law Journal and the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel. A Former New York City prosecutor, Mr. Weisbrot is a graduate of Fordham University School of Law, where he was a member of the Urban Law Journal and a featured columnist in the Law School newspaper
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1 Response to No Justice, Peace

  1. Arye Sachs says:

    I would expect from someone like you (a Jewish attorney) to check your facts before firing such letter as you did here.
    I do agree 100% that you cannot place Gilad Shalit. Jonathan Pollard. Shalom Rubashkin at the same level.
    As a former Israeli Intelligent officer I do my due diligent before expressing my opinions:
    1. Shalit is a soldier. By entering the IDF you clearly know the dangers and the chance you will have to get hurt. It is the Israeli government and the military responsibility to his safety – none of your (and at this time mine as well) business when and how will he be released.
    2. Pollard: Not much is known about this case and why so many administrations refused to release him but from what is known – you can’t even start to compare it to the Russian exchange of spies. Now, if you search the details you will see that he was abounded / sold to the FBI by his Israeli handler on the day he felt the heat and entered the Israeli embassy in Washington DC – He was actually kicked out to the FBI sharks that where waiting for him outside. He was sacrifices so the skin on the high level officers Ass and the Israeli – American relationship will be saved. There is much that can be debated as to what the Israeli did in this case but we cannot get involved in something we do not have all the info about. What I can tell you is that what complicated the issue is the fact that Pollard accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for the information.
    3. Now we have got to Shalom Rubashkin. – I was born and raised in Bnei-Brack and went to Yeshiva Tichonit many years ago but did not followed the trend and instead went to the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) and no one is more willing and ready to crucify any cheating Jew than me – may the victim be a Jew or not. It is well settled, that a person may violate any or all of God rules, but if he asks for forgiveness and does not repeat his sins, God will forgive all his sins. However, there is one and only one sin God never forgives, nor can he forgive, a sin committed against another person. It is only the person who the sin was committed against that can forgive the person who committed it. Often this concept is forgotten by many – not just criminals and therefore I agree with your GENERAL opinion. Having said that – you are very wrong and actually committing a sin and a crime by not checking the actual details and performing a due diligent. Shalom Rubashkin may not be Talit Shecula Tchelet (flawless saint) but he got 20 years more than he should have got as the charges where outrages and so is the punishment. As an attorney, and specially a Jewish one you should have followed the entire case!! Again – I will hang any Jew who deserves it with my own hands as I agree that each case of a criminal accusation against a Jew hurt us all but I make sure I know the details and spend the time and effort to get to the bottom of the issue but you have criminally neglected to do so. Shame on you!
    Arye Sachs
    Chief Fun Officer

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