Pollard and the People
New Release: May 9, 1999

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 personalities?

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 in prison.

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 psychotic.

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 name.


    1. "THE JONATHAN POLLARD CASE" by Rabbi Meir Kahane
      New release May 9, 1999 [originally published 1987]
    2. "PLEA FOR MERCY" by Rabbi Emanuel Rackman
      New release May 9, 1999 [originally published 1992]

  2. See the Jewish Unity Page:

    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.