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Protestor at a Prayer Rally

June 20, 2011 – 10:52 pm114 Comments

This is the poster advertising the event

The following is a personal account sent to us by someone who attended the prayer event held last week for Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. The author supplied their name and address to us but wanted to write anonymously on this issue, due to the whistle-blowing nature of the piece.

A prayer event and fundraising rally was held in Melbourne for Sholom Morderchai Rubashkin. It is extremely embarrassing that the COSV (Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria) publicized this event and advocated that people attend the event.

Who is Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin?

SMR is a convicted criminal who has been sentenced to 27 years in federal prison for various forms of fraud. While this may sound like an excessive punishment to us in Victoria, it is actually within the lower end of the sentencing guidelines for the crimes of which he was convicted. He received 25 years for the counts of fraud; sentencing guidelines call for 22-30 years. He additionally received another two years for lying under oath in court. He can still be tried for many other crimes, but the federal government and the state of Iowa do not want to allocate resources to more trials when it is impossible for SMR to reoffend from behind bars. Sholom was the CEO of Agriprocessors, the largest glatt kosher abattoir in America.

What was wrong with Agriprocessors?

Agriprocessors was mired in scandal from 2004 when animal cruelty became public, where even strong defenders of kosher slaughter such as Temple Grandin were sickened. Agriprocessors was routinely fined for polluting and for unsafe handling of meat and was involved in helping illegal aliens get fake papers to work at the plant. The undocumented workers, including young children, worked long days in dangerous conditions, and were paid under the minimum wage with no overtime. The dangerous conditions for children in the meatpacking plant are reminiscent of Uptain Sinclair’s The Jungle which was the impetus for child labour and food safety laws. When workers tried to unionize, the company tried to claim that the votes didn’t count because the workers were illegal aliens. Agriprocessors was the target of the largest immigration raid in American history.

This is only the tip of the iceberg in the legal, moral and ethical and halakhic lapses of SMR and the running of the company under his tenure.

Is Rubashkin sorry for his crimes?

No! Rubashkin turned down a plea deal and has to the best of my knowledge never said he is sorry for the harm he caused hundreds of victims of his crimes. His courtroom apology was an apology to his family and the [Jewish/Chabad] community for embarrassing them and dragging them through his ordeal, not an apology to the victims of his various crimes. He aids and abets the attempts to make him into a holy man without having to admit guilt and he writes spiritual letters from prison to school children.

So why are we supposed to be praying for him and giving money?

In reality I am not sure but let me give a few reasons that the rabbis who talked gave:

Rubashkin is the victim of an “alilas dam” a blood libel. In other words he did nothing wrong and is merely the victim of an antisemetic prosecutor, judge, jury etc. without attempting to refute the mounds of publicly available evidence of guilt.

Rubashkin is a holy saint. It is true that Rubashkin gave much money to charities and to political campaigns and did help some Jews in need. However he did that by swindling others and mistreating them. Would the organizers of this prayer rally also defend Hamas’s human rights record on the basis of the terrortists’ building of hospitals and other charities?

Rubashkin is a Jew. Plain and simple as that: “When a sheep is feeling pain in one part of its body the whole body feels the pain, so too is bnei yisroel.” The irony of using an image of animal cruelty to enlist help for somebody who grossly violated prohibitions of “tz’a’ar ba’alei chayim” (cruelty to animals) flew right over the head of this rabbi.

I would probably have heard more, but was too sickened by the goings-on to stay and listen.

The “pidyon shuvim” fund which is the name of the fund to help SMR is a term usually used to describe the redemption of those captured for being Jewish and imprisoned for no good reason except to extract a ransom from the Jewish community.

What is wrong with us supporting Rubashkin publicly?

The most obvious fact is that supporting an unrepentant criminal unconditionally sends a message to our community and children that it is ok to commit fraud and other crimes as long as you still keep external signs of piety and donate to the community.

It is a chilul hashem and embarrassment to the Jewish community that we look like we support criminals. It looks especially bad that the Jewish community is trying to deny crimes by screaming antisemitism and that, considering that currently SMR has “only” been convicted of white collar crimes, we are playing into the nexus of Jews supporting white collar criminals.

Rubashkin is never going to be repentant when he feels that he has the communal backing, financially and spiritually, even while he denies wrongdoing.

One last important reason which only was shown fully after the event is how it assists Rubashkin’s legal case. The lawyers in SMR’s oral appeal before a tribunal of judges stated:” the Jewish religiously observant community would never have supported Sholom Rubashkin during his trial and his appeal if Rubashkin was a real criminal”

This is why I decided I must protest and show that the Orthodox community in Melbourne as a whole is not behind an unrepentant criminal. I felt that I must at least try based on the gemara that if one can prevent others in the community from doing wrong and doesn’t then one is just as guilty as the perpetrators. (Shabbat 54b כל מי שאפשר למחות לאנשי ביתו ולא מיחה נתפס על אנשי ביתו באנשי עירו נתפס על אנשי עירו בכל העולם כולו נתפס על כל העולם כולו)

I printed fliers with information about the Rubashkin case and I was handing them out to some people while listening. When I could take no more of the words coming from the stage I waited for a pause between speakers and shouted: “Let it not be said that in Melbourne the Jewish community made a criminal into a saint without protest” and by the time that was out of my mouth a man grabbed me so I just threw the leaflets in the air in the way I am sure you have seen protestors do.

The few responses I got from those who talked to me outside were:

That he is a Jew and he only harmed non-Jews but was good to Jews.

That we have to be “dan lkaf zchus”(judge him favourably) and that child labour on a dangerous meat packing plant is not so bad.

Twenty-seven years is too long. Which I agree with, but it is a problem with the American justice system and is not related to how guilty SMR is. Also when you take into account that SMR was only found tried and found guilty of a portion of the alleged crimes, he can be thankful he has only received 27 years.

I personally know someone that when he was under 18 threatened someone with a fake gun with a friend stole a bike from someone that way. No one was hurt in the incident, the gun was fake and the bike was recovered.  He has no prior offenses of any kind and was under 18. The DA is pushing strongly for a 15 year sentence. I do think sentencing does need to be looked at, but it doesn’t make SMR a victim of antisemitism or make him more innocent.

Through writing this and protesting at the event I am less embarrassed to be an Orthodox Jew in Melbourne and hope that others have the courage to protest things they don’t agree with done in their name.

This article has been cross-posted at Failed Messiah

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