Is The Rubashkin Commutation a Cause for Celebration?

I have watched carefully the different responses to the case at hand. Many of course were dancing with jubilation. Others were quick to condemn such a reaction.

When Jonathan Pollard was convicted of spying for Israel and then had the book thrown at him with a disproportionate and unprecedented sentence, the Jewish world rallied together. Alas this went on for many decades as President after President refused to release him. We decried the injustice of it all. In the event, when he was finally set free this made international headlines and was celebrated by Jews the world over. What they were celebrating was not the man himself but that fact that what was perceived as an injustice in the circumstances had finally ended. Had he had his sentence commuted early on this would have been a cause for great celebration. I am doubtful the liberals would have spoken out. Even as Jews did celebrate his ultimate release, and some were dancing in the streets – there were no liberals who did dare speak out.

To be sure, the Rubashkin celebration is unprecedented. There have been numerous Jews sadly, who will have been convicted of crimes and fellow Jews didn’t go celebrating afterwards upon their release, even if they earned early freedom.

There is a reason Trump commuted the sentence of Rabbi Rubashkin. An unprecedented letter, signed by 107 – that’s right 107 former high level Department of Justice officials, FBI directors, federal judges and prestigious law professors attests to the extraordinary prosecutorial misconduct which exacted the most possible punitive sentence for Rubashkin. Several former attorneys general, were among the signatories of the letter. Charles B. Renfrew, a former U.S. District Court judge in the Northern District of California and U.S. deputy attorney general and James H. Reynolds, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Iowa both argued that there was false testimony and wilful manipulation in the case.

Renowned human rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz laid bare the case for why there were flaws in the whole trial with some quite apparent bias. He stopped short of labeling anyone Anti-Semitic but did question the basic motives of the judge, including why she chose to throw in two extra years over and above the sentence the prosecution requested.

Congressman from across the American political spectrum were rallying for Rubashkin’s cause, and most recently, Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic Leader, wrote to the President in which she expressed concern about the injustice of the sentence, but also mentioned “questions arising from the conviction…”

So when a man has the book thrown at him, and seemed to be beyond any hope – what with the Supreme Court refusing to hear the case – is finally set free, that sparked joy in the many who watched with despair at what was perceived as a failure of the justice system.

But there is something else, and altogether fundamental that lies at the core of this jubilation. I don’t need to point out how there is invariable disparity amongst the different movements and varied sects within Orthodoxy. In an unprecedented show of unity, they all rallied, each in their own way, to offer support for Rabbi Rubashkin and his family. Many worked tirelessly for the past eight years. Not because they don’t respect the justice system. But because there was a blatant wrong committed against a brother and us Jews, for all our faults, will always rally in defence of a maltreated brother.

Whenever there is terrible conflict in Israel Jewish people band together is a most compelling demonstration of unity proving how we are essentially connected at the core. Each time a rocket is fired we feel the pain wherever we were. Each time a soldier is killed we shed a tear around the world. When US lone soldier Max Steinberg was killed in combat thirty thousand people turned out for his funeral. How many of them even knew he existed beforehand?

It’s not like we are Americans who are also Jewish, and Canadians who are also Jewish and British who are also Jewish. We are, first and foremost Jewish, and then, based on our geographical locations – we are either British Jews or American Jews or Canadian Jews etc. The relevance of this is that when something happens in any one place we feel it someplace else. Like a family member – however far away – if something happens to my brother or sister – on the other side of the world, it doesn’t lessen the impact – it doesn’t diminish the tragedy.

Last week, a travesty of justice was averted, a fellow Jew – a brother was spared, and that triggered a justifiable joy and celebration, commensurate with the efforts that went into righting the wrong. It was a unity the likes of which one rarely sees. The challenge now – for all those same many different Jewish sects, indeed Jews the world over – is to maintain that unity in all dimensions going forward.