March 26, 2007

Why is Johnathan Pollard Still in Prison?

If the Jewish people needed to be taught a lesson, these two decades of solitary confinement for Pollard have surely been sufficient to teach it.

Rabbi Moshe Grylak -Point of View, Mishpacha Magazine - March 14, 2007

Two weeks ago, the news broke that two of the greatest leaders of Torah Jewry, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita, and Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita , had written a letter to President George W. Bush, requesting the release of Jonathan Pollard, who has been rotting in prison for the past twenty-two years.

The publicity surrounding the letter was cause enough to focus our attention once again on the continuing outrage being perpetrated by the United States government. Once again, we tried to fathom something that seems virtually unfathomable: why, after so many years, has Pollard still not been released? Why does he repeatedly come up against such extraordinary and incomprehensible callousness on the part of the American authorities, and why does the Israeli government persistently ignore the cries of this unfortunate man, a man who performed a great service for them by passing on the information he had at his disposal? And why hasn't American Jewry risen up and fought tooth and nail for his freedom?

We ponder this riddle and try to find an explanation, even a partially satisfying one that will at least reveal some rhyme or reason to the unforgiving behavior of all parties in this painful saga. How can one make peace with such a great wrong that flies in the face of all of the rules of justice and common sense? The mind rebels at the fact that a man should be made to pay so heavy a price for an act of spying so minor in comparison to acts committed by others.

Others caught spying for America's enemies got off with short prison sentences, while Pollard, who spied for an ally, received an outrageous punishment. Spies who betrayed the US to the Soviet Union during the Cold War era, causing the death of American agents, were freed years ago, while Pollard, who transferred information vital to the security of America's ally, Israel, causing no apparent harm to the United States, still suffers in prison. What is different about Pollard? Why must he continue to rot in jail indefinitely?

We search for an answer.

Perhaps the reason can be found in the anti-Semitic bluster displayed by former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, the son of a Jewish apostate who converted to Christianity? Was this the source of his burning hatred towards a Jew who betrayed the United States government? We all know, after all, that honesty, logic, and justice go out the window when decisions are guided by anti-Semitism.

But perhaps the reason for Pollard's harsh punishment lies in something deeper and more fundamental than one man's anti-Semitism. Perhaps the timeless Torah principal that "they are a people who will dwell in isolation" comes into play here. Perhaps through this draconian sentence, the United States sought to teach a painful lesson to American Jewry, to make clear to them that they were mistaken in their interpretation of this great democracy's generosity towards them. "Listen up, you Jews," the sentence is saying, " America may be the most hospitable country the Jewish people have ever known since the destruction of the Temple. But that doesn't mean you ever became an integral part of the American people. Keep in mind that we're just very good hosts, but nothing more. There's a limit to what democracy has to offer you. Don't forget that you're different from the Irish, the Italians, and all the rest of the immigrants that blended into the American melting pot. Any American citizen who's caught spying for the enemy has to pay the penalty, and that's all there is to it. But such treachery by a Jew is much worse in our American eyes. This Jew has taken unfair advantage of our hospitality. He is ungrateful, and that makes us feel very insulted. He has crossed a line that you Jews mustn't ever cross. You are indeed very welcome guests in our wonderful country. But only guests. So please act accordingly."

Could such an attitude, never spoken about openly, but quietly germinating in the deep recesses of some minds nonetheless, have brought about this perversion of justice? Perhaps. We don't know.

Perhaps, if this hunch of ours can explain the hard-heartedness of the American government on this issue, it also explains why American Jewry hasn't come out in full force against the injustice of keeping Pollard in prison so long. Perhaps in this way, this large and influential Jewish population is expressing its anger at Pollard for upsetting the delicately-balanced relationship between the American government and its Jews. Perhaps they feel that by doing what he did for Israel, he endangered the entire American-Jewish community, and therefore they are unwilling to help him?

We don't know if we are reading the situation correctly. In any case, we believe that the letter from the gedolei Yisrael must surely change prevailing attitudes. If the Jewish people needed to be taught a lesson, these two decades of solitary confinement for Pollard have surely been sufficient to teach it.

Perhaps the general apathy, both in the U.S. and in Israel, is due to the fact that only the national-religious and right-wing circles in Israel have rallied to the cause. And of course, nothing more irks the liberal, Jewish left wing in America, and all the more so in Israel, than activities on the part of nationalistic and religious groups on behalf of any cause whatsoever. Liberal Jewry will never make common cause with them, no matter how just the cause may be.

And why haven't we seen chareidi Jews coming out en masse to demand Pollard's release? Perhaps it's because we don't feel comfortable with the flamboyant approach of demonstrations, mass petitions and other such pushy means that we simply don't believe will be effective?


But one thing is certain.

Jonathan Pollard is still in prison because we, the keepers of the Jewish faith, have not directed our tefillah,(prayer) in the full sense of the word, on his behalf. The one and only power operating in this world is the power of prayer. This is clear and simple. But nonetheless, we'll make mention of a statement once made by the Chazon Ish, ztz"l, to Rav Ben Tzion Bamberger, ztz"l, the mashgiach (director) of Yeshivas Ponevezh, when the latter, as a young man, began to teach in cheder. Rav Bamberger, who recounted part of the conversation to the writer of this column, asked the Chazon Ish what point in particular he should stress in the education of
young Jewish boys. The Chazon Ish answered him as follows: "They must be taught that tefillah is the most important thing. If a person wants to be successful in life, if he wants to buy a house, a car, or whatever he wishes for, he should know that tefillah is the key to attaining it, the only key. True, he cannot be sure that Heaven will grant his request, but no other way of attaining his desire exists."

And of all the questions we have posed and all of the puzzles we have pondered, this is the gravest question of all: why aren't we davening (praying) properly for Pollard? It could very well be that if we could answer this one question, all the rest of the questions would be answered.

See Also:
Marriage Made in Prison - Exclusive to Mishpacha Magazine