Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Jewish Justice for Sholom Rubashkin
As with many people in the Orthodox community, I have recently been getting inundated with emails asking for aid for Sholom Rubashkin. For those of you unfamiliar with the case, Rubashkin is the former head of the infamous Rubashkin slaughtering plant in Postville Iowa. Last year it was subject to a major federal raid over the use of illegal immigrants. Now Rubashkin is up on charges of fraud and apparently the prosecution is trying to put him away for life. Rubashkin certainly makes for a funny cause célèbre for the Orthodox community to get behind, particularly as there does not seem to be much question that he is guilty of at least some of the charges. The response to this seems to boil down to saying "what Rubashkin did was wrong, but the punishment he faces does not fit the crime." Added to this are the insinuations that Rubashkin is the victim of an anti-Semitic legal system willing to go to any lengths to discredit the practice of kosher food. Thus Rubashkin enters the company of that other great Jewish "hero," Jonathan Pollard.
Not that I understand the full details of the case, but life does sound extreme to me. The thing is that I have a hard time getting worked up about or feeling sorry for Rubashkin. For years now Rubashkin has been a running disgrace of God's name and to Orthodox Jews. I lost any sympathy for him once the scandal of the video of the cow getting its lungs ripped out hit the web. By the time the government decided to raid the plant, I could only wonder why this did not happen sooner. There is no law in American jurisprudence against making Jews look bad. Judaism itself, while it exhorts its members to sanctify God's name, does not have any specific punishment for desecrating it. That being said there are Jewish sources, such as the biblical case of Phineas, that support the extra-judicial execution of those who bring disgrace to God's name. Furthermore there are sources, such as the biblical case of King Saul, to justify suicide in order to avoid the desecration of God's name.
I am not suggesting that anyone harm Rubashkin. As American citizens we are bound to respect American law and do our utmost to ensure that he receives American justice. Rubashkin's crimes are against the United States and the United States government's right to punish him comes before any theoretical Jewish justice. Furthermore, as a committed law and order person, I fear the prospect of vigilante justice as a path toward chaos. But if I had Rubashkin to myself in a place in a place where no government authority applied (say in certain parts of Africa or Antarctica), I would take a leaf from Japanese honor culture, hand him a knife and ask him to do the right thing. If he refused then I would take out a gun and pull the trigger.
While I will have to hold off on any Jewish justice fantasies with Rubashkin, I am free not to feel bad for Rubashkin. Furthermore, I am free to actively rejoice at the prospect that he will get at least a fraction of what he deserves. We Jews should not be berating the prosecution for their supposed anti-Semitism. On the contrary, we should be thanking them for carrying out God's will and saving us from the legal and moral quagmire of Jewish justice.