Collective Responsibility

Emanuel Rackman - The Jewish Week (NY) - March 15-21, 1991

Our task is to fight tyrants, free Pollard in the pursuit of justice.

J4JP 2002 Prefacing Note - November 18, 2002

As America again prepares to go to war against Iraq, Jonathan Pollard, who warned Israel of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's plan to scorch the Jewish State, prepares to mark the start of his 18th year of incarceration this week, November 21, 2002. The following op-ed written by the Chancellor of Bar-Ilan University more than a decade ago underscores how, unfortunately, nothing at all has changed in all the time that has intervened since. Iraq again threatens the world with weapons of mass destruction ; the US again stands up to Iraq without acknowledging that it is directly responsible for creating the Iraqi threat; and Jewish leaders continue to ignore and abandon Jonathan Pollard as he languishes in prison.


THERE ARE MANY commandments Jews are expected to observe, and there are many ways to classify them. Some commandments are only incumbent upon an individual; others, only on a group; and others apply to both individuals and the group as a corporate entity.

One commandment that obligates both individuals and the group as a whole is the commandment to establish a legal order. The pursuit of justice is the obligation of every one of us as well as the obligation of the polity--the state or the community that Jews create or in which they live.

Indeed, many of our scholars tell us on the basis of sources in our Biblical and Talmudic literature that one might conclude that for sins against God, only the actual, individual offenders are penalized. God punishes people as a group only for sins committed against fellow humans--even those who did not participate in the wrongful behavior. They share in the guilt because they tolerated the group's sins. Thus, failure to resist tyranny is almost as heinous as supporting it.

In this way our sages explained why God punished cities for the corruption and violence of their leaders. Righteous people may not reconcile themselves to the evil that exists. They must act for change. Otherwise, they perish with those whom they wrongfully permitted to remain in power.

I submit this thought in connection with the war in the Persian Gulf.

Does even the most bitter anti-Semite who is angry with Jews for wanting President Bush to follow through until Saddam Hussein is crushed not know that our hearts bled for the tragedy that befell countless innocent? There is no more peace-loving people than ours, and no more peace-loving state than Israel. Was it not Golda Meir who said, with our admiration, that we may one day forgive the enemy for killing our sons but we cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their sons? This is a fact. Many an Israeli soldier fell in Lebanon rather than kill the young lads that were being sent to the front by Israel's enemies. Our aversion for blood is almost congenital. Blood has been a forbidden food for us for millennia.

Yet, I, too, with most of our people implored President bush not to heed the ploy of the Soviet Union to retain its client, Iraq, for its own future purposes. Was I unaware of what an all-out war meant in terms of the loss of human life?

But a society that even tolerates, not to mention supports, a tyrant sins. It fails in its duty to curb him, and even destroy him.

Needless to say, that was not the only calculation. It was not only to save Israel that we sought the end of Saddam Hussein. It was to prevent a war a few years hence which would be even more disastrous. The losses would be infinitely greater than even substantial losses in the present. Fortunately, the madman was stopped before he destroyed not only most of humanity but mother nature. He would not have stopped before destroying not only precious oil but the total environment.

One more thought. Even as we are succeeding against the villain we are guilty of permitting a fellow Jew, Jonathan Pollard, to languish in jail, in what is virtually solitary confinement. We are guilty of tolerating the nefarious deed of a judge and a former member of the cabinet.

The guilt for that which was done to him is not only Caspar Weinberger's but the sin of all of us. We are permitting the incarceration to continue. Instead of protesting the injustice we are inert.

I am sure that if the judiciary does not do justice in this case President bush will pardon Pollard. He risked his life and his career to prevent a wrong which his and our government was committing. What he did prevented Saddam Hussein from killing many more tens of thousands of people with nuclear weapons. For that he deserves a pardon and millions of Americans should plead for his pardon. But Jews especially must act. He is suffering because the ideal of "equal justice" was ignored in his case.

And why are the Jews inert?

I can accuse at least one Jewish organization for its role in this matter. Its position has been that the Jewish community is indifferent to this issue. Who authorized it to make this claim? And if it is true, then the American Jewish community is guilty of the sin I have described. The sufferance of an evil by a group indicts the entire group and not only the actual perpetrators of the evil.

Rabbi Emanuel Rackman is the Chancellor of Bar-Ilan University, Israel.

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