Pollard and the People
by EMANUEL RACKMAN - The NY Jewish Week September 12, 1991
A consensus exists among Jews that an injustice was committed
THE CASE OF Jonathan Pollard is evoking one of the most bitter
controversies in recent American Jewish history. So bitter has the
debate become that venomous attacks on the integrity of the persons
involved have reached a new low. Can anything be done to restore the
focus on the facts and circumstances involved rather than the
The American Jewish Congress has taken the position that there is
no issue of anti-Semitism in this case. Its leaders, Phillip Baum and
Henry Siegman, have thus argued in the Jewish media.
In reply, Rabbi Avi Weiss and Alan Dershowitz have claimed that
there is unmistakable evidence of anti-Semitism in the prosecution,
sentence and subsequent treatment of Pollard in the years he has served
I know all four of them well and will vouch for the sincerity and
integrity of each. Yet, a decision must be made. I am being asked about
my position not only by American and Israeli Jews, but most recently, by
leaders in British Jewry.
It is no secret that I have lent my name to the amicus brief
submitted to the court on behalf of Pollard. Why did I choose to side
with one pair of friends rather than the other?
First, when the overwhelming majority of Jews represented by their
rabbinic and congregational bodies favor a position, I believe a modicum
of respect for what the majority has approved requires that the tiny
minority of dissenters yield.
I know too well that sometimes a minority must resist the tyranny
of the majority. But in this case it is not a majority for a lynching
but rather for compassion for a man who, albeit an offender, has
suffered the wrath of the law in an unprecedented manner.
Can the minority claim this is a misstatement of fact? Can it claim
that unequal justice has not been meted out? Indeed, that, does not
matter. In certain cases it is not the fact that counts but the
perception of the fact. And the perception of the majority, when it
feels that anti-Semitism is involved, should be heeded.
Jews have good reason to fear the earliest manifestation of cancer
even if it appears to some not serious or even imaginary. One halachic
illustration may be relevant: A sick man who must eat on Yom Kippur is
not allowed to fast. This is the law. Yet, what if the doctors claim
that the fast will do him no harm and it is only he that is certain it
will? The view of the patient prevails, unless he is a confirmed
Similarly, with regard to anti-Semitism, the perception of the
Jewish majority is to be respected against the judgment of the
professionals and experts - the "doctors" in the Pollard case.
And certainly if Caspar Weinberger was at all involved - it is
common knowledge that he was - Jews have good reason to rely on their
visceral feelings, their gut reactions. His record on Israel as
secretary of defense gives them a sound basis for their conclusion.
Still another reason prompts me to decide as I did. It is well
known that the current head of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith
agrees with the leadership of the American Jewish Congress. But his
older and more experienced predecessor holds the opposite opinion.
I do not claim that those who are older and more experienced are,
of necessity, wiser. But when it is the fate of a human being that is
involved, that human being is entitled to the benefit of the doubt, and
that is another reason why I hold with those who favor action on behalf
of the prisoner.
Perhaps we can all agree - in the spirit of mutual respect and
without rancor or the compromise of convictions - that it is the
consensus of a great number of Jews, including highly respected leaders,
that an injustice has been committed and measures should be sought
either to reopen the plea or the sentence, or if the situation warrants
to seek a presidential commutation.
To unite on such a program will evoke no incrimination or
recriminations. No one will "eat crow." And a bitter controversy will
have been resolved without a chilul Hashem - the desecration of G-d's
Rabbi Emanuel Rackman is the Chancellor of Bar-Ilan University, Israel.
- "THE JONATHAN POLLARD CASE" by Rabbi Meir Kahane
New release May 9, 1999 [originally published 1987]
- "PLEA FOR MERCY" by Rabbi Emanuel Rackman
New release May 9, 1999 [originally published 1992]
The Pollard case was judged by the leading rabbis of the generation as a mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim (the redemption of a captive) devolving upon all. Their judgement, 14 years later continues to be all but ignored.