How Not To Write a Petition

I received a few emails asking me to sign a petition asking for the release of Sholom Rubashkin for the first days of Pesach. Mr. Rubashkin has not yet been sentenced, and there are definite grounds for leniency. A well-written petition would be deserving of our support; Agudah has also called on the community to ask for leniency, listing points that are reasonable and fair.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the text that I received by email. If anything, it is an object lesson in how not to address a court. It would appear to hurt Mr. Rubashkin’s chances, rather than help them. Moreover, by impugning the court that found Mr. Rubashkin guilty, it damages the interests of Orthodox Jews who might find themselves in front of similar courts in the future.

It is hard to believe that anyone could put together a petition like this, knowing that it will be read by the judge and prosecutors that presided over the trial. The petition sees the conviction born of “embellished and distorted charges.” The case was tried because of “a smear campaign orchestrated by PETA, the UFCW, anti-Semitic groups, and sensationalist media.” So we have the familiar situation of Jews unable to believe they may have done something wrong, and blaming the attention on anti-Semitism.

It gets worse. Rather than deal with what the court certainly regards as a fair conviction on multiple charges after a fair trial (whether or not this is true, it is certainly the case that the court sees it that way), the petition asks for the court to let Mr. Rubashkin go because the forces of evil resulted in “the almost universal vilification of an innocent man and a conviction in the courtroom of public opinion long before he had his day in court.” Furthermore, the authorities are asked to understand on the basis of the signatories to the petition that the convicted felon in their custody is anything but. “Sholom Rubashkin…is an exemplar of ethical behavior and upstanding
character traits.”

We should be supportive of any reasonable attempt to show flexibility to Mr. Rubashkin before his sentence begins. (Unfortunately, there is an unwritten rule that works against him. Courts rarely if ever show leniency to convicted felons who do not admit to any guilt.) The petition from which the quotes were taken is not an example of a reasonable attempt. To the contrary, it supports the view of some people that too many frum Jews regard themselves as above the law, contemptuous of others, and perpetually see themselves as victims.

It is not good to be viewed as privileged primitives.

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8 Responses

  1. I was struck by the closing phrase “privileged primitives.” It reminds me of the efforts of responsible Negro/Black/African-American leaders in the past to restrain irresponsible political activism in their own community.

    History has a way of repeating itself. If so we should start worrying about the backlash that may follow.

  2. tzippi says:

    Thanks for the reminder to exercise caution instead of impetuously following one’s heart. Have you seen any acceptable petitions?

  3. E. Fink says:

    Excellent post.

    I could not agree more.

  4. dovid says:

    While Rabbi Adlerstein certainly doesn’t need my haskamah, I do applaud him for his courage in veering away from politically correct statements and not making statements of unconditional support for Shalom Rubashkin when the court has proven, and his attorneys could not rebuff that he commit bank fraud. R’ B. Ginsberg in the March 12 issue of Yated Neeman describes R’ Shalom as “a remarkable tzaddik”, “ehrliche Yid”, and “an innocent man”. Rabbosai, these epithets are as much a travesty of the emmes as the unduly harsh sentence the prosecutors are seeking. Shalom Rubashkin most likely is good-hearted person, but he was not ehrlich or innocent. While Rabbi Adlerstein didn’t have Shalom Rubashkin in mind when writing his closing statements (“too many frum Jews regard themselves as above the law, contemptuous of others, and perpetually see themselves as victims.”) this description applies to R’ Shalom to a great degree. He violated the Shulchan Aruch and the law of the land. His attorneys’ argument that since the bank was aware that the submitted financial statements were fraudulent and as such, ti would not constitute fraud was correctly rejected by the jury and it would not hold much water in beis din. Had Shalom Rubashkin pleaded guilty on this account, his attorneys should have had an easier job rebuffing the rest of the charges of which R’ Shalom was innocent. This attitude that Rabbi Adlerstein decries in the closing of his writeup (“too many frum Jews regard themselves as above the law, contemptuous of others, and perpetually see themselves as victims.”) is unfortunately perpetuated by the unqualified approval both by hammon ha’am and by articles in publications that should know better.

    There is an issue that Rabbi Adlerstein did not address and I haven’t seen raised anywhere when discussing R’ Shalom’s plight. R’ Shalom is paying the price of the past misconduct of other Jews (many of them Orthodox). There have been Jews who committed crimes on American soil and ran to Israel or Europe to escape justice. Even though is unfair, R’ Shalom is being denied bail because the justice system remembers those bad apples.

    [At the risk of seeming ungracious in accepting a compliment, I must nonetheless disagree. The petition in front of us does not touch the issue of guilt. It asks the US Attorney to consider a number of factors that should be important in the sentencing phase. The memo attached to the petition shows that Mr Rubashkin was dealt with at several stages with zeal and severity that should be seen as excessive. All that the petition asks is that he be treated no differently than others. This will make a difference of many years in his sentence. If the crimes of other otherwise observant Jews contributed to his treatment so far, you are only supporting the point of the petition. Extrapolating from the behavior of others in the same national/religious/ethnic community is prejudicial and illegal. If the US Attorney will agree with you, she should have little choice but to intervene and correct a miscarriage of justice the way it is conceived of in this great country.]

  5. L. Oberstein says:

    My question is why Rubashkin was chosen for prosecution. Is it true that he was singled out because of PETA and because of the Hechsher Tzedek people drew attention to his slaughter house. if he has such good lawyers, why did he not receive more compassion from the judge? not knowing the facts on the ground, I am concerned that there was a lot of damage because one particular place was subjected to intense scrutiny. Is it because he is Chassidic, because it is kosher, or is there more to the story.I just have a hard time believing that he is the worst malfactor in that line of business.
    Regarding the petition, in this era of blogs, anyone can become a self appointed spokesman and make whatever statements he feels like. I would have more confidence if Rabbi Zweibel of the Agudah wrote the petition. I also wonder if quiet diplomacy mightwork better than petitions. These are all questions, I honestly have no idea of the real facts.

    [YA – I have some idea of the facts, having heard them after I wrote my first, negative piece about the earlier petition. I would also have instant confidence in any wording prepared by Rabbi Zwiebe. In this case, however, the wording was worked on by a few people, including those with even greater specialty in such matters. And, yes, quiet diplomacy does go on in the background as well.]

  6. YM says:

    Unfortunately, the prosecution of Mr. Rubashkin was motivated by anti-semitism, which is all around us but we don’t want to see it.

  7. dovid says:

    L. Oberstein, I suggest you check this link: It will answer some of the questions and doubts you have.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    Normally, we shouldn’t and don’t want to do illegal things in managing a business, even if no legal authority will catch on. If we are operating where antisemitism exists, that should make us all the more eager to stay on the right side of the law. Let’s say some bias will be demonstrated in this case. That does not excuse any illegal activities that might actually have occurred.

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