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Rubashkin and Yom Kipur


You might have heard the name Sholom Rubashkin. He is a Lubavitcher Chasid and an entrepreneur who built up a series of apparently successful businesses which enabled him to become a very generous and high-profile benefactor of Orthodox charities in the USA. His best known business, Agriprocessors, based in Postville, Iowa, was, in its time, the biggest provider of kosher meat on the North American continent.

In 2008 it was the subject of a story by PETA undercover activists who photographed extremely disturbing practices of animal cruelty at its abattoir that not only contravened standards of human decency but also, according to most experts, Jewish law as well. It seemed that in the overweening desire for profit, corners were being cut and blind eyes turned. The ultra-Orthodox world was divided as always between the apologists and the condemners but assurances were given that under stricter rules the “lapses” would not recur. But soon after, a raid by Federal agents uncovered a scandal which, they said, involved underage Guatemalan immigrants, illegal papers, harsh working conditions, and financial corruption.

In 2010 Rubashkin was personally acquitted of 67 charges of child labor offences although his company was not. But he was convicted of 86 separate charges of fraud, money laundering, and other financial irregularities and was sentenced to 27 years in jail.

Judges everywhere are a mixed bunch with as many prejudices and failings as any other bunch of human beings. In the USA the interrelationship of law and politics adds a salacious ingredient into the mix. But there are ways to appeal. In recent years, because of so much scandalous abuse, fraud convictions have attracted stricter penalties. Even so some have been overturned and in other cases sentences reduced. And of course it is right and proper that any legal team will try to do its best for its client.

Rubashkin’s lawyers appealed to the Federal appeals court for a retrial on the grounds that the Judge was biased and exceeded her remit. Last week the appeal was turned down and his lawyers are now going to the Supreme Court.

This is set against a feeling in the Jewish community in the USA that Jonathan Pollard’s life sentence for giving restricted information to Israel, is not only vindictive and excessive but actually sadistic. They believe that only prejudice can explain why he has been singled out above all others and given a stricter sentence than men who actually caused the death of those they betrayed as well as their country.

But the sustained outcry over Rubashkin, claiming he is an innocent victim, the massive campaign to raise money and to use political muscle has become so distasteful it merits analysis. It is indeed the American way. Men like Al Sharpton complain about racism the minute any black man is convicted. But I am frankly scandalized by the way the Orthodox community is making such a public, self-righteous fuss. Here’s a typical email I have received asking me to sign a petition on his behalf:

“We now have a unique opportunity — for the sake of justice — to express our outrage for this sentence and actually make a difference. If it can happen to Sholom Rubashkin it can happen to anyone! Tell President Obama to stop ignoring47 members of Congress and many others in the Rubashkin case!Sign this petition today and join the fight for justice for Sholom Rubashkin.President Obama is facing elections next year, and he wants to know what is on people’s minds. By having thousands of people all across America express their outrage with the overzealousness and misconduct in the case of Sholom Rubashkin, it will send a powerful message that we really do care!”

This is crying wolf. If we use up political goodwill over this, what when we have a legitimate cause? By all means set before the courts his good deeds and his charitable record. But he is no innocent martyr. He brought this all upon himself by trying to swindle banks. Argue his sentence is stiff indeed. But to suggest as adverts have that he is a “captive”, for whose release one has a religious obligation to pay, is an abuse of the concept of “pidyon shevuyim” (redeeming captives). It was introduced as a halachic response to kidnapping for financial or political gain in the days of pirates, slavery, and victims of war. The way Jewish law is used, misused, and twisted is simply dishonest and a scandal.

There are thousands of poor and completely innocent families and children who have never done anything wrong, struggling to put food on their tables. If charity is asked for it should be for them.

A similar outcry went up over the teenage Chasidim ensnared into smuggling drugs into Japan. You can say they were naïve or stupid, but if someone offers you $1000 to take a suitcase halfway across the world when you could FedEx it for a tenth of the price, even a cloistered scholar would know that something is fishy. Yet once again the Orthodox world screams foul; they are saints and martyrs and the wicked non-Jews are the evil ones.

There is a Talmudic law against mesirah, giving information to non-Jews that would get Jews into trouble. It was initiated at a time when there was no fair judicial system, when Jews were being victimized and subject to constant oppression and prejudice. But every great Jewish expert has agreed that it does not apply where this one fair law that treats everyone equally. Yet this is being used as a reason not to tell the police about child abusers, wife beaters, and petty crooks who prey on credulous coreligionists.

According to the LA Times (Sept 7, 2011), Federal prosecutors are threatening an ultra-Orthodox man with jail unless he testifies before a grand jury regarding the federal government’s ongoing probe of tax evasion in his sect. His attorney says the man will refuse, citing “the ancient Jewish doctrine of mesira, a prohibition for Jews against informing on other Jews to secular authorities”.

Hardly a day goes by without another breach of civil law by outwardly Orthodox Jews. These are all examples of a chillul Hashem, of betraying Jewish law and twisting it to cover nefarious activities. According the Talmud, anything that brings God or the Jewish people into disrepute cannot be atoned for on Yom Kipur. May we all be forgiven our errors and sins even the holy ones! Meanwhile “thousands of people all across America ‘should’ express their outrage” at the way Judaism is being morally compromised.

23 thoughts on “Rubashkin and Yom Kipur

  1. Again. A self righteous liberal bashing the Orthodox community for something he knows nothing about.

    In Jewish law, Rubashkin is not guilty of anything.

    The court has not proved at all that Rubashkin had intent to cause a loss of money to the bank, all they proved was that he intended draw a greater LOAN than he was allowed to, but there is no proof at all that he intended for his plant to go bust and thus be unable to repay his loan.

    A man who gets a 27 year sentence for such actions absolutely deserves our support, and not bloggers attacking those who support him.

    Stop the self-righteouisness! Do more research!

  2. Oh, and you link Sholom Rubashkin's name to a blog dedicated for a decade to bashing Rubashkin (long before any financial crimes).

  3. The idea (above) that someone can break the Civil Law is this way, yet be not guilty of breaking Jewish Law seems very odd. Indeed, to make this claim brings Jewish Law into disrepute – an example of 'chillul Hashem"

    This time of year is for seeking forgiveness. But forgiveness begins with admitting wrong-doing.

    Justice, justice shall you pursue

  4. Failed Messiah blog began in 2004. Sholom Rubashkin was arrested for the financial crimes in 2008. So they could not have been reporting on the various other scandals for a decade.

  5. The "experts" you quote are completely in the minority, not the majority.

    All major Kashrus organizations said, right after the PETA video came out, that there was no Kashrus violatoin whatsoever.

    Mesira applies today just as then. there is no reason, or major authorities that indicate otherwise.

    And Rabbi Moshe Feinstein clearly ruled that Pidyon Shevuim applies now just as always.

    Please quote your experts!!

  6. Rubashkin is guilty of offending against Dinah DeMalchuta and unless you can show the Malchuta is biased against Jews specifically, that is an offence against Jewish Law.

  7. You totally missed the point!

    I am not arguing whether Rubashkin has to do Teshuvah on Yom Kippur or not.

    What I am saying is that Rubashkin's "villainous crimes" which appall you so much, are not even a punishable by a monetary fine(!) in Jewish law!

  8. I think Anonymous is missing the point.

    If a person is convicted of fraud in Civil Law, this is also a contravention of Jewish Law.

    To suggets a person can be guilty of these things in Civil Law, but not be guilty of anything under Jewish Law shows a misunderstanding. But much worse than that, to make this claim brings Jewish Law into disrepute. Jewish Law does not permit fraud. To suggest otherwise is 'chillul Hashem'.

  9. Wasn't Rubashkin charged and possibly convicted of perjury? I'm pretty sure there's some sort of prohibition about false oaths. Could someone remind me, please?

    Re Pollard: much has been said about the government not upholding up its end of the plea agreement. Much, much less is said about Pollard failing to live up to his. There have been suggestions that Israel was not the first country he offered the material he was revealing. He was not acting out of some high principle, but was a mercenary.

    You are correct about the abuse of pidyon shevuyim. Rubashkin is not. Pollard is not. The drug smugglers in Japan are not. Shalit is.

    What's interesting in looking at the reactions to Rubashkin is the moral and ethical confusion in assessing the his actions. It appears that WHO performed the actions is much more than the actions themselves.

  10. No its not the degree of 'appalling crimes' that I am writing about. For certainly there are far far more heinous crimes than his and it is indeed crazy that murderes sometimes get less. No, it is simply what I see as a sort of beatification that offends me because it does indeed tar the wider Jewish community.

  11. This is typical of blind apologists.
    Rav Feinstein did not rule that Pidyon Shvuim applies in a case of criminal conviction. How about you quoting your source? And some of the 'major' Kashrus organizations while saying there might have not necessarily have been an infraction of the letter of halacha, still agreed that seeing animals wandering around after shechita needed addressing and the methods needed stricter supervision. Others like the OU were not so charitable.

  12. For the record, several correspondents have told me I am wrong about Pollard and in fact his betrayal did indeed lead to agents losing their lives.

  13. Regardless, of whether Reb Moshe's ruling applies here or not, at this time and at this state that Rubashkin is in, he needs and deserves our full support, because he really did receive a mouth-dropping draconian sentence that should trouble all Americans, additionally, there were some very troubling anti-semitic elemnts to his case (e.g. not receiving bail because of the law of return), so now, around the time of Yom Kippur, it is not time the time to criticize such efforts.

  14. Certainly, "He brought this all upon himself by trying to swindle banks", is completely out of place, Rubashkin absolutely did not bring it upon himself in any way, he did not try to swindle the bank! The evil prosecutors brought it upon him.

  15. Jeremy,

    Thanks for a really nice blog post, thoroughly enjoyed it and agree with every word!

    If it helps anyone concerned about dates, and who said what, when, Stephen Bloom's "Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America" was published in 2001 by Harvest Book Harcourt Inc. Bloom detailed plenty of blood, gore and decidedly dodgy employment practices at Agriprocessors.

  16. To all those who believe that Rubashkin is a paragon of virtue: would you buy a second hand car from the man?

  17. I would absolutely buy a second hand car from the man. In fact, he is of the few that I would trust. He is an extremely G-d fearing individual and would never screw someone over.

  18. It is utterly unbelievable how you people who care so much about Africans in Darfur… would so easily and self-righteously screw over a Jew who is suffering perhaps one of the worst injustices in America's history.

  19. Bochur,

    At the very least, don't you think you should begin a hunger strike to protest "one of the worst injustices in America's history." While at the same time chaining yourself to railings, and only unchaining yourself for the purposes of throwing yourself under a horse, or some similar act proportionate to the enormity of the crime of seeking to prosecute Rubashkin.

  20. 27 years in jail does seem extremely harsh for a financial crime – particularly when some murderers are given far shorter sentences.

    If people want to campaign about the harshness of the sentence, that is up to them.

    However, it is the comment at the top which causes concern – the suggestion that in Jewish law "he is not guilty of anything". That is totally wrong and whoever posted that comment is bringing Jewish Law and Judaism into disrepute.

  21. Anon:
    Of course every criminal deserves help, support and the right to appeal and draconian sentences should be revisited (in my opinion anyway sitting in Jail does no one any good unless you are a physical threat to society). But I strongly object to trying to portray him as an innocent victim and the fact that people like you pretend he broke no laws.

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