Particularism, Idiots, and the Future of the State of Israel

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I have so little athletic ability, that I can’t be a good Monday morning quarterback – not even weeks later. Despite all that people have written – including most of my friends – I cannot fault the campaign that attempted to stop the execution of Martin Grossman. Moreover, I believe that the kernel idea behind it is absolutely essential to the survival of the State of Israel.

To be sure, readers have expressed valid concerns, especially with the advantage of hindsight.

Should the community ever work on behalf of a convicted murderer, or allow the secular courts to enforce the punishment that he deserves? This is a halachic question with an accompanying literature. R Yaakov Emden (Even Bochein 1:73), for example, finds within halacha a license for non-Jewish authorities to execute a Jewish criminal. Shut Chasam Sofer 6:14 strongly disagrees. I will leave the psak to others.

There were non-halachic concerns as well. Some were concerned with the perception by the family of the victim that our community was callous to their loss. Others were concerned with the idiot factor. Some of the messages sent to the Governor Crist present a strong case for substituting their authors for the perpetrator in the execution chamber. Calling them idiots is too generous.

While both of these concerns are valid, I find it hard to condemn the organizers of the campaign because of them. We should be faulted if we do not learn from this experience. But Jewish murderers are still a relative rarity. It should be understandable or at least excusable that people did not understand how the campaign would be perceived by others, or just how deeply idiotic are some of our chevra. We should note the mistakes, and act differently the next time – if chas v’shalom there ever is a next time.

Some have complained about a lack of consistency. Either we ought to support the death penalty in all cases, or oppose it. We should not pick and choose, based on how close we feel to the victim. We ought to act on principal, not on nepotism. I do not agree with this, as I will explain. But quite apart from this incident, I will argue that it might be time to rethink whether the Orthodox community should support the death penalty. I no longer do. The plain sense of the Rambam is that an eyewitness is required for a capital conviction in the Noachide Code. I recognize that some have argued that circumstantial evidence may be sufficient, on the basis of a passage in Moreh Nevuchim on the King’s Code. Additionally, Shut Maharam Shick, Orach Chaim #142 argues that wherever a single witness is dispositive, so is umdena (conclusion from circumstantial evidence). Further halachic consideration seems to be needed. But even if we could be convinced that circumstantial evidence would work halachically in some cases, the work of the Innocence Project has convinced enough people that we have set the bar too low on the evidence needed to take people’s lives. I am hoping that I will not be thrown out of shul for suggesting that the right course to take would be to oppose current death penalty laws.

I am most troubled by a different complaint. Many have commented that we should not have publicly acted to protect one of “our own” when it is likely that we would not or could not do the same for others. Too many Jews are embarrassed by one of our greatest assets – our sense of connection and caring for our own community first. Outside of the Orthodox community, shows of Jewish particularism are often anathematized. Some groups I have personally encountered show open contempt for agencies and campaigns that focus on Jews as Jews. There are Jews who will give generously to any need – except those that earmark other Jews as recipients.

These people detest Jewish particularism for two reasons, one ideological and one practical. They are wrong on both counts.

Ideologically, they argue, Jews should outgrow particularism. We may have needed it as a persecuted minority, but conditions are arguably better for us in the United States today. Having been scorned and shut out for centuries, we ought to shut out no one. We ought to make no distinctions, but embrace everyone.

This, however, simply does not work. The need for Jews to take care of each other is as strong today as it was at many other times in history, despite our remarkable privilege in this great country. The rebirth of open anti-Semitism in many places in the world should make that clear.

Even disregarding the practical need for Jews to take care of each other, universalism does not work as well as its proponents would like. Too many universalists are good at talking the talk, but few walk the walk, to translate their concern into devotion to the betterment of the lives of others. Loving everyone in general too often means loving no one in particular.

Concern for all people can be acquired, but it is a skill that must be learned. Part of our psycho-social development is a sense of our own selves, and its strength militates against sharing our little universe with others. The Torah has a realistic program to change that, to widen that universe so that our love includes ever more people. The Torah’s hashkafa, as best as I understand it, is to gradually draw a person out of the small world of a person’s own needs and experience. This is the first world known to all of us, and it takes training to expand that world to include others. We first enourage a person to practice ahavah on a mate that he or she has chosen freely. Next, children are added. We hope that the process continues, eventually encompassing community, nation, and all of mankind. (I believe I have seen this explicitly in the writings of Rav Kook, but cannot properly search at the moment.)

Skipping the intermediate steps, pushing for a love of everyone, leads to simplistic slogans, but little real action. The Torah expects us to first look out for those with whom we have the closest natural ties. (This is one of the explanations for the halachic rule that the needy of your own city come first. The Torah wishes to encourage the feelings of responsibility for those with whom we have some connection and affiliation.)

The world would be a better place (not a perfect one, but a better one) if all people acted upon this principle. We should not be completely dismissive of identity politics. African-Americans should identify with and take responsibility for other African-Americans. Similarly, Latinos should do the same for other Latinos, as should Korean-Americans in their communities.

Assigning pride of place to those closest to you does not mean that you need be uncaring of the other. You can devote most of your resources to your own, and still make your contribution to the general good. Those who have no room for anyone outside their own circles indeed do not understand the dynamic of the medinah she chesed that is the United States. We need not defend them.

Particularism does not contradict the urge to help the greater good. To the contrary. As stated above, the ability to love others is not present full-blown in most of us. It needs to be teased out and nurtured. When we teach ourselves to be helpful, concerned and generous to those closest to us, we gain the capacity to do the same to those a bit more distant. If we never practice the acts of kindness locally, we don’t get to the global applications.

My colleague Rabbi Abraham Cooper likes to point out that people like Paul Johnson and Thomas Cahill have inventoried the contributions that Jews have made to Western civilization. All of those contributions to the general good were made by particularistic Jews.

Some Jews oppose particularism on practical grounds. They feel that we are the only ones left who lavish privilege upon our own. Non-Jews, they argue, must certainly resent this, regarding it as clannish and primitive.

Apart from the hard-core anti-semites, my own experience is that fair-minded Americans don’t mind this closeness we have with our own, because they are busy practicing the same ethic. I have encountered individuals – particularly among serious Christians – who are impressive in addressing human need, regardless of where it is. Yet, these same people still feel an affinity for other Christians – and are not embarrassed by it. (One of the reasons that Israel is losing ground in some circles to Palestinians capitalizes on the tendency of church-goers to regard Palestinian Christians as “their own kind,” and offer them forums to tell their revisionist story that inevitably demonizes the Israel they do not know about – because they don’t think of offering equal time to the Jewish narrative!) (Some of what I’ve written in the past has been challenged by those who question whether I would say the same to a crowd of non-Jews. My answer always has been a loud “Yes!” This holds true here as well. Speaking at Pepperdine University a few weeks ago on the current state of interfaith activity – with the Los Angeles Times attending and taking notes – I declared for all to hear that one of the things I had learned through interaction with other faith communities is that Jews need not feel uncomfortable about particularism, since it was so widely practiced by others. The statement was not challenged by anyone in the audience.)

We pay for a reluctance to be seen as particularists in a number of important way. Many Jewish institutions are hurting not because Jewish giving is down, but because less and less of Jewish philanthropy is going to Jewish causes.

The worst manifestation of self-consciousness about loyalty to Jewish causes is J-Street, an organization that purports to support Israel, but never misses an opportunity to subvert Israel’s position in Congress and before the American people. J-Street has described itself as representing a different generation of Jews – proudly secular, rejecting traditional values, and very much in synch with general American concerns. At the core of J-Street’s malaise with overidentifying with Israel, I believe, is a reluctance to stand by other Jews qua Jews. (Organized American Muslims have absolutely no problem doing this for other Muslims.) They think of being seen as parochial as a horrible crime against humanity, on par with failing to exercise, or driving an SUV.

Israel will suffer for quite a while because of the sins of one turncoat named Goldstone. The errors and imbalance built into the Goldstone Report are legion. I cannot see how they could have been made had Goldstone possessed a stronger sense of responsibility for the impact of his words on fellow Jews around the world.

It is time for Jews to stop being sheepish and embarrassed about worrying about Jews as Jews. There is nothing wrong with it, and the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael demands it of us. This is especially true of those of us who have nothing to be embarrassed about in our contribution to the general welfare of the larger communities we live and work in, and American life as a whole.

I did not speak to those in charge of the campaign to save Grossman, neither before nor after. My guess, however, is that they saw it as an opportunity for Jews to identify with another Jew, and there is too little of that around these days.

They showed that there are still strong leanings towards it, which could be tapped into. In that sense, the campaign was a success.

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29 Responses

  1. cholentluvr says:

    The Martin Grossman case was not an issue of Jews caring for each other. It was a classic issue of Lifnei Iver lo sitain michshol. I was very upset to be informed by the governor himself that M. Grossman’s crime was not a drunken idiot’s acts of rashness as the entire community was led to believe, but a cold, calculated murder. You want me to support him, to beg for pardon? Fine! but at least tell me the truth!!! This deliberate propaganda and deception is a blatant, embarrassing Chilul Hashem! Especially as we gave the governer the opportunity to see exactly how much we caring Jews knew about him and his welfare!

  2. another Nathan says:

    When I was a university undergraduate, I was very impressed with the “love and accept everyone” philosophy espoused to me by a member of the Bahai faith. We kept on talking, and eventually he clarified this belief, saying “kill the Jews, everything’s their fault.” So much for universalism.
    When minorities are being excluded, Jews are minorities. When majorities are being excluded (eg. affirmative action), Jews are considered part of the majority. We cannot look outside ourselves to figure out what we are. We need to learn it from our own tradition.
    Meir Soloveitchik states that R. Michael Wyschogrod, an unapologetic defender of Israel’s particularity and God’s special love for the Jewish people, often found a warmer reception among Christian thinkers than among traditional Jewish ones. The election of Israel is a foundational idea of Judaism, not a symbol of God’s love for mankind. We can’t abandon this concept because it isn’t PC.

  3. Raymond says:

    My disagreement with those trying to stop that murderous Jew from being executed, had nothing to do with Jewish particularism. On the contrary, I am a firm believer in the idea that we as Jews need to help Jews first, and worry about the rest of the world later. To be perfectly blunt about it, while a part of me was proud when Israel helped out the Haitian refugees, a stronger part of me wondered if the energy and resources that Israel used in that valiant effort, should have instead been used to help our fellow Jews. There are plenty of Jews who need our help, to keep us busy for a very long time. We Jews have so many more enemies than friends in the world, that it stands to reason that we need to help our own people first.

    However, to me that is not the issue at all. Nor are the particulars of how the evidence has been gathered the central point. To me, it seems obvious that the real issue here is, whether a murderer deserves to keep on living or not. And I seem to recall that the only commandment repeated in every book of the Torah, is the one that says, “If a man sheds blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” G-d Himself has thus come out very strongly in favor of capital punishment for murderers.

  4. L. Oberstein says:

    Bob miller, I agree that evidence shows a lot of things went wrong with the Great Society and a lot of things about ObamaCare won’t turn out exactly as he says they will. If we had a better democracy, where lobbiests and interest groups were not in control of much of our legislative process, we could follow through on the numerous studies for saving money and improving the operations of government. This being said, it disturbs me greatly when so many orthodox Jews idolize the right wing as if they were not as corrupted and compromised as the left wing. They nit pick on every decent thing that government wants to do and find no fault with the hypocrites of the right. These orthodox spokesmen are making a major error placing their faith in those who have clay feet and do not practice what they preach. Bill Clinton was not as big a moral tzadik as Bush Jr. but he did far more for America and left this country in far better shape. I wish we could bring him back.

  5. DF says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, one cannot regulate what goes on in meetings of affinity groups. And if you encourage blacks and koreans to meet and promote their culture, then it is blatantly hypocritical not to encourage white americans of anglo-saxon stock (the accursed WASP) to do the same. Soon or late, and we are already seeing signs of it, the patience “white America” has shown, while it has been ceaselessly villified these past few decades, will evaporate. In other words, the cause of Jewish particularism is all well and good, but some of us have an uneasy feeling in the pits of our stomachs that the natural progression of such ideas – however long it may take – does not bode well for Jewish interets.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding the comment by L. Oberstein March 9th, 2010 at 7:40 am :

    Social welfare programs can work opposite to their intent. Major social programs of the 60’s and 70’s at all levels of government were found to have laid waste to the African-American family by encouraging illegitimacy, single motherhood, welfare dependency, etc. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and others saw this process unfolding and wrote about it in depth, but to no avail.

  7. Joel Rosenbaum says:

    “The didturbing issue here is which life the frum community prefers to defend,….Something is seriously wrong when we prefer the Jewish cop-killer over our righteous gentile defender” Shunamit

    No one is suggesting an equation between the lives of Mr. Grossman and Ms. Park, the murderer and the victim; but Ms. Park has been dead for over 20 years. The issue was only the justice involved in sparing the life of Mr. Grossman, who has shown remorse and regret for his actions (although tragically that message was not successfully conveyed to the victim’s family until his final moments). Mr. Grossman, in becoming a baal tshuva, could have contributed immeasurably to the world had his life been spared. And even if he had shown no remorse or had not become a baal tshuva our tradition teaches that the gates to repentance are always open.

    “while Grossman was legally executed…”

    Are you really suggesting that because the execution was “legal” that it was just? How many poor African-Americans were “legally” executed in the south in the early part of the 20th century?

  8. L. Oberstein says:

    The level of this discussion is very high and I appreciate that. Some intelligent people have taken the time to add their thoughts. Unfortunately, many comments on some sites show such a low level of sophisticatiton that they repulse thinking people. As an Agudist for 40 years, I still don’t understand how the Agudah got involved in the Grossman affair. It was so unusual that something is missing from the story. As a human being with a social consiousness who grew up in the Civil Rights Era, I find the right wing nature of many promininent orthodox commentators to be a reaction to some of the excesses of liberalism. But, they make a big mstake when they throw in their lot with the right. Jews have benefited greatly from Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and I still think that Judaism requires us to not harden our heart and closd our ears to the plight of those who don’t have the benefits of an orthodox, tight knit, caring community. As far as Goldstone, he doesn’t need my criticism, I never met the man. Israel is facing a campaign of illegitimacy and has to be much more savy in dealing with the forces that are rying to deny Israel’s basic right to exist. It reallyl doesn’t matter if the Mohamed Al Dura film was faked, of course it was. What matters is that Israel needs to be internally self confidenet that it is morally correct, and this is not always so clear.

  9. DF says:

    Two additional thoughts:

    1) You (Rabbi Adlerstein) say you no longer support the death penalty. You say the bar has been set too low to take away people’s lives. I can understand that. But life imprisonment in a cell is better?? If the penal system should be reformed – and I agree with you, it should be – the modern-day notion of animalizing long sentences should be the first thing to go.

    2) You advocate for the cause of Jewish particularism, or as we say in the labor law world, “affinity groups.” You likeise encourage the same type of affinity groups for blacks and Koreans. I am curious to know, because it is the logical extension – what do you say about WASP affinity groups?

    [YA – 1) I have no problem with life sentences, both as providing the moral desert of the crime, and to protect society. Of course, any sloppiness in arriving at verdicts has to be resisted, whether criminal or civil. 2) Good question. I only know of WASP affinity groups that stress what they are not, rather than what they are. The ones I am aware of are all racist, seeing themselves as embattled not because they are being discriminated against, but because too much is being given the accursed others. A WASP affinity group that stressed some common part of the culture of the members – say, a Lutheran church group in the Midwest – I have no problem with.]

  10. Shunamit says:

    “What could be more important and good than trying to save a human life? “–Joel Rosenbaum

    The didturbing issue here is which life the frum community prefers to defend, Martin Grossman or Peggy Park. H’Y”D? Park was murdered in the act of defending a Noachide law–that of establishing a justice system, while Grossman was legally executed, after a process of year sof appeals, due to violating of one of the commandments.

    Something is seriously wrong when we prefer the Jewish cop-killer over our righteous gentile defender.

  11. Shlomo says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, can you clarify the reference to R. Yaakov Emden, Even Bochen? I don’t know of any such sefer written by R. Emden. Thanks

    [YA – Even Bochen is a subsection of Migdal Oz. If you download it from HebrewBooks http://www.hebrewbooks.org/30778, you will find the passage on page 40 of the pdf.]

  12. Charlie Hall says:

    I am not aware of a single particularist appeal for clemency against a death sentence during my lifetime that has resulted in sparing the life of the person on death row when the person’s guilt was not in question. And I was born in 1957. What were our leaders thinking? The only times I’m aware of when persons were spared were (1) they won an appeal on the merits of the case (lack of fair trial, etc.), (2) they convinced a court that the death penalty as administered did not meet a constitutional standard, or (3) they convinced a governor who was not sympathetic to the death penalty to grant a universal clemency to everyone on death row (Winthrop Rockefeller and George Ryan).

    If anyone knows of a case comparable to the Grossman case that resulted in clemency, please cite.

  13. Andrew says:

    I must disagree with Rabbi Adlerstein, whom i think missed the bigger picture involved with the response to the Grossman execution.

    The real blame lays at the feet of Jewish leaders and leadership. The Grossman case had lingered for over 25 years, yet they decided to ram it down our throats at the eleventh hour. They wanted us to accept all of their “facts”. And time was too short to even check things out and then debate how else to handle it.

    Did he have an IQ of 75? What was the source of that “fact”? (His writings and public statements were pretty sophisticated.) Had he shown remorse to the family before the day of the execution? Was he drunk and on drugs at the time of the murder? There is actually no way of knowing that “fact”.

    These Jewish groups and our so-called leaders are to blame. They took advantage of the natural compassion we have for others — especially our brothers and sisters and misused it. And, again, we did come out looking stupid and backward.

    Why? Because our chareidi population prides itself on not reading newspapers. We have become a Know-Nothing group which prides itself on ignorance. Therefore, we throw all sorts of “facts” which appear totally ridiculous to the educated greater population. And we seem to relish in this misinformation and reinventing history and events.

    The SSSJ movement was born out of an education sophisticated population of young Jews who did not have to bend the facts to fit their cause.

    As to Goldstone, Rabbi Adlerstein again misses the point. His Jewishness should be irrelavent. I am disappointed (to say the least) that the report is filled with lies and exaggerations — not that it was authored by a Jew.

    I am looking for emes (truth). I expect our leaders and laypeople to profess it, at all times.

  14. DF says:

    I agree 100% with your remarks about Jewish particularism. In fact, Rabbi Jack Wertheimer just wrote an outstanding article on this very topic. The article, available in Commentary magazine, is entitled “the High Cost of Living Jewish”. Rabbi Wertheimer observes that so much of Jewish philanthropy is directed to multitudes of causes, all BUT our own Jewish needs. I’s a must-read, I think.

    Having said that, there is indeed such a thing as our mission of “a light unto the nations”. I know that phrase sounds hackneyed and cliched, but it is a fact that the prophets envisioned our role in that way. So, while I agree there is nothing wrong with Jewish particularism, somehow this must be balanced against our need to be a part of the larger world as well.

  15. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Thank you once again for a deeply thought provoking article. As a result of this episode, I too have begun to rethink the wisdom of the death penalty as currently administered in the U.S., and my guess is that others were likewise affected in this way. That could be a positive outcome. However, in spite of your very strong arguments I still retain my discomfort at the the way this was handled.

    This discomfort does not arise out of lack of particularism. After all I chose to move to Israel to cast my lot with the Jewish nation, that’s quite particular. I agree that fair minded Americans see our particularism as something to be envied. Who wouldn’t marvel at the rallies we used to attend in the 70’s in support of Soviet Jewry for example? I don’t, however, think this is an issue of particularism vs. universalism. I think it’s an issue of conflicting particularisms. Yes as Jews we are expected to look after our own, but as Americans we are also expected to look after our own. As a law enforcement officer Peggy Park, even to we Jews, earned a place as one of our own. Americans feel very particular about those who put their lives on the line to protect us: policemen, firemen, soldiers, etc. So internally, within the Jewish community in the Jewish ethos, we should feel conflicted in this case. Externally, as we are viewed by others, it’s not simply a case of we Jews admirably standing up for our brethren suffering in a far off land, it’s us standing for a brother who murdered one of their sisters. Much more complicated.

    Throw in the very real hypocrisy of the orthodox attitude toward the death penalty in general vs. this case in particular and you can see where my discomfort comes from. And just to be clear, I’m not just talking about a general disparity in how we view the death penalty vs. this case. I firmly believe that if everything were exactly the same about this case except if Grossman wasn’t Jewish a huge number, if not a vast majority, of those 50,000 people who supported Grossman would have at best been indifferent and more likely would have been supportive of execution.

    Further, as to the idiot factor, I don’t believe these were just random idiots. I think that many segments of our community suffer from hyper-particularism. These sub-groups are so parochial in their thinking that they are unable to view their words and actions through the lens of those outside their small orbit. To the extent that this behavior is not unique and certainly not unknown, the orthodox leadership should have been aware of it and bears some culpability for unleashing it.

    As to the issue of lack of particularism hurting Israel, I agree that it is an issue in the U.S. Unaffiliated Jews are drifting away from support of Israel and you’ve hit the nail on the head as to why. The idiocy of J-Street and the evil of Goldstone are just manifestations of an attitude that’s been seeping into the Jewish community for some time now. However, as severe as these issues are, and we’ll be reeling of the affects of Goldstone for years to come, they do not represent Israel’s biggest problem. Nor do the Arab enemies. I think the biggest problem we face is the disunity specifically caused by hyper-particularism, The very particularism you wish to encourage in the U.S. is ripping Israel, and the Jewish people, apart. It’s what allows one Jew to call another a “Nazi” or makes a group of Jews indifferent to the ramifications of burning down a mosque. In general it’s preventing us from acting in the best interest of the nation as a whole, from being universal when it’s desperately needed.

    I’m still not convinced that the benefits accrued to our community from the Grossman episode, in terms of Ahavas Yisrael and increased sensitivity to the death penalty issues, outweighed the costs. I’m further unconvinced that we should be encouraging greater particularism at a time when we don’t have the wisdom to properly throttle it.

  16. Shades of Gray says:

    “We first enourage a person to practice ahavah on a mate that he or she has chosen freely. Next, children are added. We hope that the process continues, eventually encompassing community, nation, and all of mankind”

    Jonathan Rosenblum also discussed this in “Jews and Nationhood”(11/20/07) in connection with R. Meir Soloveitchik’s Commentary article. The following is from R. Shimon Shkop(“Introduction to Shaarei Yosher”, available on the Aishdos website):

    “Although at first glance it seems that feelings of love for oneself and feelings of love for others are like competing co-wives one to the other, we have the duty to try to delve into it, to find the means to unite them, since Hashem expects both from us…

    The entire “I” of a coarse and lowly person is restricted only to his substance and body. Above him is someone who feels that his “I” is a synthesis of body and soul. And above him is someone who can include in his “I” all of his household and family. Someone who walks according to the way of the Torah, his “I” includes the whole Jewish people, since in truth every Jewish person is only like a limb of the body of the nation of Israel. And there are more levels in this of a person who is whole, who can connect his soul to feel that all of the world and worlds are his “I”, and he himself is only one small limb in all of creation. Then, his self-love helps him love all of the Jewish people and [even] all of creation.”

  17. dovid says:

    “I had learned through interaction with other faith communities that Jews need not feel uncomfortable about particularism”

    The Torah commands us explicitly to come to the aid of our fellow Jew. I remember Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb explaining some 25 yrs. ago to the uninitiated the reasons behind the issur of charging ribbis another Yehudi, while there is a heter or chiuv to charge ribbis an aino-Yehudi. It’s normal to expect a price to letting someone else use your money. But the Yehudi is your brother, and one is commanded to go the extra mile for his brother.

  18. Joel Rosenbaum says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein again proves that he is at least a great verbal athlete with his insightful analysis of the effort to save Martin Grossman. What could be more important and good than trying to save a human life? This was indeed a painful and, thankfully, rare event in our community. And perhaps because it is rare there were many mistakes made both tactically and strategically. Perhaps foremost among them was the reluctance (and perhaps even refusal) of the Mr. Grossman and his supporters to reach out to the family of the victim. This is inexcusable. Mr. Grossman’s expression of remorse moments before the lethal injection should have been made months, if not years, earlier. Seeking reconciliation with the victim’s family would have been a powerful act on his part which certainly would have had a positive effect on the public perception of the claim that he had become a changed man. Shame on his advisors and supporters for not encouraging this. Additionally, it was clearly a mistake was to assume that a massive program of signatures on petitions, e-mails and phone calls to the governor of Florida would have a persuasive effect. Appealing to the sense of justice and mercy from a politician (a republican, no less, in a state where Jews vote overwhelmingly democrat) was arguably an exercise in futility. Better to have enlisted the support of a few wealthy Jewish republicans (there must be some) who could have privately talked to the governor (the support of high profile names such as prof. Dershowitz and Elie Weisel was a positive but it would have far more effective had they not been perceived as outsiders).
    Which brings us full circle back to the Monday morning quarterback and lessons learned: that our knee jerk support for the death penalty should be fully and openly debated. How can we reconcile the Noachide requirement to set up courts of Justice with the fact that there are no rich people on death row (Nathan Leopold and Dickie Loeb had Clarence Darrow as their attorney); that the innocence project has shown time after time that our criminal justice system just doesn’t get it; and most importantly that criminals are human beings that can turn their lives around and become productive members of society.
    Rabbi Adlerstein argues persuasively that we should not be ashamed to come to the support of a fellow Jew; and I wholeheartedly agree. As he points out, placing our brother first both enables and empowers us to reach out to the wider community of non Jews. Perhaps that’s why the possuk: “If I am not for myself who will be for me? But if I am only for myself what am I? is in the order in which it is written. We forget the second part of the possuk at our peril. About twelve years ago there was a case which bore a remarkable similarity to that of Martin Grossman. Karla Tucker was executed for a crime which she committed as a young woman. Like Mr. Grossman, Karla was under the influence of drugs when she killed; and like Mr Grossman, Karla suffered physical and emotional abuse as a child. And like Mr. Grossman, Karla turned her life around in prison. The evangelical community rallied to her support. But to no avail. The governor of Texas, a fellow by the name of George W. Bush, signed her death warrant. Mr. Bush executed a saint. Large sections of the evangelical community learned an important lesson from the execution of Karla Tucker. Pat Robertson turned against the death penalty as did many other prominent Christian clergymen who were formally death penalty supporters. The road from Karla Tucker led directly to Martin Grossman. The orthodox community was AWOL when the appeal went out to help Karla (I know because I was trying to elicit Jewish support at the time). Tuesday February 16 we had our Pat Robertson moment; the bell tolled for our community. It is refreshing to know that Rabbi Adlerstein was listening.

  19. Aaron Tuck says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    I agree with your sentiment. However, the question remains. Did anyone with knowledge of the legal and political realities behind this case really believe that this effort would work? Martin Grossman was in effect a “cop killer” and had no sympathy from the public at large. In a state like Florida, which strongly favors the death penalty, and with a governor (Charlie Crist) in the midst of a very heated primary campaign against a challenger on his right (Marco rubio), there never was any real chance that Mr. Grossman would receive clemency. It seemed like the suggestion that this might work was completely based on creating a marketing campaign to frum people that Mr. Grossman was essentially a tzaddik being oppressed by the goyim. That directly led to the idiotic messages you refer to.

    Perhaps, we could have created the same sense of care and concern in klal yisrael complete with tehillim and a organized petition to the governor that made our concerns felt but did not rely on turning Mr. Grossman into a martyr. By making a more organized and professional effort that recognized the improbability of success we could have avoided the waste of political capital and possible chillul Hashem that indirectly emanated from the campaign.
    There was an opportunity to turn the entire effort into a kiddush hashem of the proper way to act as the am segulah that was wasted. Instead we resorted to identity politics and jingoism. That is unfortunate.

  20. S. says:

    I think a lot of people just felt that all it was was a calculate-spontaenous show of emotion, short on facts and fact-checking, kind of like a burst of email spam that gullible people just forward without thinking. No one heard of Martin Grossman for 25 years, and then in the space of about a week and a half he was on everyone’s mind. While that may seem like rachmanus, it’s also the herd mentality. Furthermore, there are other Jews on death row in the United States and likely no one will hear about them, even when their dates are almost near. This raises the question of the tefillin factor. Some people’s sense of klal Yisrael feel that it must include Jews who don’t wear tefillin too, that is, most of them.

    Secondly, the specifics of the argument raises the question of hypocrisy. It may be fine to be particularist and not speak up about another convicted killer who is reputed to have had a bad childhood, a drug addiction, low IQ and the other mitigating factors ours leaders told us matters here, but it’s not also fine to not only not speak out, but to hold that the other guy is a dreg who will get what’s coming to him.

    And whatever happened to shtadlanus? It is ironic indeed that the Agudah, who has long advocated that the traditional Jewish response to advocacy is shtadlanus, quiet, diplomatic and stealthily. What they called for and produced is that opposite of that. It’s certainly interesting to see that without explanation the Agudah went 180 degrees in the other directions and were publicly proud of it after the fact.

    finally, I think this piece was calculated to tug at American Jewish hearts by invoking the holy name of Israel. The Martin Grossman campaign does not equal support for Israel. Frankly I’m surprised this piece didn’t invoke the Damascus Libel of 1840.

    However, in general I agree that there’s nothing wrong with being interested in your own, so long as it’s not simultaneously ill-informed, naive, hypocritical and vulgar, because anything which is ill-informed, naive, hypocritical and vulgar is nothing to be proud of.

  21. Jeremy Simon says:

    William Proxmire gave out the Golden Fleece award for wasting money, not for stupidity per se, and not once a week

  22. Just a guest says:

    The “Idiot Factor” is apparent to anyone who reads the comments on Vos Iz Neis, Matzav or Yeshiva World News. I bet that the Rabbonim who suggested we all get involved do not read those web sites ot the commetns; they don’t know about the “Idiot Factor”. If so, we now have to discuss what to do about leadership that is unaware of the situation of those who folow…much like the gemorah discusses the nasi’s lack of knowledge of the living situation the tanaim.

  23. Ahron says:

    “I would start by giving a life time achievement award to the editors of yishua v’segulah press over at Kupat ha-Ir who manage to outdo themselves with each publicity release. Never has one organization been so responsible for as much leitzanut while doing necessary and important tzedaka work.”

    I have never seen a more shameless, embarrassing or exploitative advertising campaign than that perpetrated by Kupat Ha’ir. Their materials have crossed every red line of decency, intellect and hashkofo one can imagine. I refuse to give so much as a nickel of assistance to a group whose fundraising efforts both rival and surpass, in greasy unctuousness, those of some of the most notorious American televangelists of the 1980s and ’90s. There are, however, many other tzedakos in Israel doing fine and important work who are worthy recipients.

    [YA – The problem is that Kupat Ha’ir in fact does extremely fine and important work, at least according to my (multiple) sources. I can’t see penalizing the poor, nor even denying myself the opportunity to assist in a well-run tzedaka. I will admit that it takes fortitude on my part to write the check, despite my distaste for the way they have presented Yiddishkeit and talmidei chachamim. I just consider it part of the nisayon.]

    As for the campaign seeking commutation of Grossman’s sentence to life imprisonment: the emergence and volume of the idiots from the woodwork was predictable, and the certainty of their arrival should have motivated the leading organizations to pursue a very different strategy.

    [YA – I’m still trying to figure out what that strategy should have been. In the extreme, factoring in the idiot effect in a world of instant and easy communication would mean putting a muzzle on all the non-idiots! That just cannot be the way to go. I have always believed that the frum community should davka not hide from all public reports of impropriety in our circles, but forecefully distance ourselves from those activities. Perhaps we need to ask our spokespeople – whoever they may be – to anticipate the idiots by including language that loudly proclaims the opposite of what we know they will say.]

  24. aron feldman says:

    Chaim Fisher,

    While it is convenient and trendy to blame all the troubles in the world on the RW and accuse them a saber rattling,why is it so bad for any sane human being to take Hamas and the Iranian madman at their word? You seem to think that a guy like Goldstone is not so bad,please tell me the last time the UN was able to effectively stop bloodshed of innocent people,and for the good guys to prevail in any capacity?

  25. Charles B. Hall says:

    I’ve had two different Orthodox rabbis tell me that a Jew should not serve on a jury in the US for a capital case because the standards of jurisprudence fall far below what is required even for Noachide courts.

  26. aron feldman says:

    RYA- great piece,RDL -great comment, I am happy to see that other like minded people thought it was unsettling at best,to see the salutation H”YD attached to Grossman’s name.As far as Kupat Ha”ir they stench coming from them is almost as rotten as that from the EJF!

  27. dovid landesman says:

    Just remembered – it was Senator William Proxmire.

  28. Chaim Fisher says:

    I Suggest Buying a Cave in Idaho

    This article unintentionally reveals every single thing that’s wrong with the pro-Israel right wing today.

    Together with other commentators on this site the writer is coming closer and closer to sounding like one of those Armageddon-niks stoking his cave in Idaho with tuna fish and radiation antidotes.

    The finger of blame for the successful resonance of J Street and Goldstone today points irrevocably and firmly right in the face of our Adlerstiens, Netanyahus, and so on.

    One is reminded of Karl Rove’s recent pathetic boast that if only he had ‘pushed back faster’ against charges that there really were no WMD in Iraq everything would have been okay. How sad that he’s stuck in the same old vinyl groove.

    It is davka because the hard right wing has cried wolf far too many times, has pushed us into far to many military adventures that actually failed to win decisively, has acted insultingly and childishly to our good allies far too many times, that the neutral middle ground gravitates as it does. To the left, who have been adorned with all the material they need to attack. By our own right wing.

  29. dovid landesman says:

    [Editor’s note: Rabbi Landesman’s comment that originally appeared in this place has been expanded, and now appears as a full essay in the main section]