U nalloyed joy is a rare commodity in this world. But we all experienced a moment of such joy last week upon hearing that President Trump had commuted the remainder of the 27-year prison sentence of Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, and that the latter had been released from prison and reunited with his wife and ten children. With exquisite timing, President Trump made the announcement on Zos Chanukah, the final day of the celebration of the miracles of Chanukah.

One element of that pure joy was the complete surprise. Reb Sholom Mordechai’s release followed by only a few days the reading of parshas Mikeitz in which Yosef HaTzaddik, languishing in jail, forgotten by the Royal Cupbearer, whom he had asked to help him upon his release from the pit, is suddenly whisked from captivity to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. In short order, he is appointed viceroy of Egypt at age 30.

Presidential pardons or commutations in the first year in office, as opposed to at the end of the president’s term, are virtually unknown. (Sometimes it helps to have a president not hidebound by precedent.) No news of the impending commutation leaked. Even my friends in Chabad, with close links to the leadership, told me they had no inkling that the release was forthcoming.

At the end of human history, Chazal tell us that we will be joined in a great circle dance, with HaKadosh Baruch Hu, kiveyachol, in the center. Videos of joyous circle dancing, not just at 770 in Crown Heights, but in Boro Park, New Square, Kiryas Joel, and Lakewood quickly went viral. That taste of future unity was a second source of joy.

Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin’s plight drew together religious Jews across the spectrum to a remarkable degree. Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, publisher of yeshivah-oriented Yated Ne’eman, made Rubashkin’s fate his personal cause for over a decade. And Yated writer Debbie Maimon plowed through hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of dense legal materials to offer the best summaries of his various legal battles. In the pages of this magazine, Sruli Besser provided a series of moving portraits of Reb Sholom Mordechai’s trials and spiritual triumphs in captivity.

“Great is [Divine] vengeance, as it was given between two [names of Hashem] — Keil nekamos Hashem,” Chazal teach (Berachos 33a). Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that Divine vengeance involves the revelation of Hashem as judge and executor of justice. And that revelation brings joy. When Chushim ben Dan cut off Eisav’s head, Chazal reveal, Yaakov Avinu opened his eyes momentarily and smiled, for the righteous man rejoices upon witnessing revenge (Sotah 13a).

A similar reversal of a terrible injustice was also part of our rejoicing last week. Nathan Lewin, for decades the most prominent Orthodox appellate attorney in the United States, who initially represented Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin on appeal, described the case from beginning to end, including the decision to prosecute for bank fraud, as the worse miscarriage of justice that he has witnessed in more than 50 years of practicing law. He points out that before any of the alleged bank fraud, Agriprocessors already had a line of credit with the bank in excess of any monies borrowed.

The sentence in bank fraud cases is largely predicated on the amount of damage to the banks, under federal sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors sought a 25-year sentence based on alleged losses of around $25 million. The trial judge, Linda Reade, added two more years for good measure.

But for the actions of federal prosecutors, Agriprocessors would have been valued at $68 million, more than enough to cover any unpaid bank loans resulting from bankruptcy. However, prosecutors warned a potential buyer that he would have to make periodic disclosures that no member of the Rubashkin family would have any ownership or management role in Agriprocessors after purchase, a condition they had no right to demand. That condition caused the would-be purchaser to withdraw his offer. The plant was ultimately sold for $8 million.

Worse, the prosecutors deliberately solicited perjured testimony at the sentencing hearing from the trustee in bankruptcy, Paula Roby, that there was no such rule prohibiting Rubashkins from participating in the business, and took no steps to correct that perjury, even though one of the prosecutors had enunciated the rule at a meeting with the potential buyer. That alone should have been sufficient to vacate the sentence.

James Reynolds, the former US attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, where Agriprocessors was located, wrote last year that the minimal consequence for those prosecutors should have been firing. He and Charles Renfrew, a former US attorney and US district court judge, published an op-ed in the Des Moines Register, the largest paper in Iowa, in which they characterized the overzealous prosecution of Rubashkin as bordering on a “witch hunt.”

And 107 of the top legal experts in the country, including four former US attorneys-general, two former directors of the FBI, and numerous senior Department of Justice employees, wrote a letter, cited by President Trump in his commutation order, decrying the sentence as grossly unfair and irregular.

That injustice meted out to a chassidic Jew garnered such an unprecedented level of protest from so many legal experts — most of them not Jewish — is but one more cause for rejoicing.

And perhaps above all, stands the example of bitachon that Reb Sholom Mordechai radiated throughout his eight years in prison. To witness that bitachon rewarded served as a powerful chizuk for all of us.

Cheers from Israel for President Trump



A friend visiting from the States told me this week that every time he gets into a cab in Jerusalem and the cab driver hears his American accent, he is immediately treated to expressions of gratitude for President Trump. As usual, the cab drivers are right.

Some have dismissed the president’s declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel as mere symbolism, and nothing more than a restatement of the obvious. First, stating the obvious when the entire world has been denying it since 1948 is no small matter.

Second, President Trump sent an important message to the Palestinians: Time is not on your side. The strategy of waiting for Israel to disappear or for the international community to hand Israel’s head to you on a platter will not prevail. The height of that strategy was UN Security Resolution 2334, drafted by the Obama administration (which graciously abstained, thereby allowing passage), declaring “any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem” to have “no legal validity and [to constitute] a flagrant violation under international law.”

But from here on, President Trump effectively told the Palestinians, it’s all downhill. His ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has made clear that the current administration would have voted no on Resolution 2334, and thoroughly repudiates it.

As long as Palestinians cleave to the view of chief Palestinian cleric, Mahmoud Habash, that “Jerusalem can never be under the sovereignty of non-Muslims,” and that struggle over the Land of Israel is one between “those whom Al-lah has chosen as custodians for the Land of Ribat [i.e., the border between lands under Islamic control and those not yet under Islamic control] and those who are trying to mutilate the Land of Ribat,” there can be no compromise by the Palestinians or peace with them.

By treating Israel as a sui generis state, alone among nations unable to determine its own capital, the world has only reinforced Palestinian hopes that Israel will one day disappear. Trump has provided the Palestinians with a bit of reality testing, which they must internalize before peace is possible. President George W. Bush did the same thing in his letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dated April 14, 2004, in which he wrote that “new realities on the ground since 1967” make it inconceivable that Israel would withdraw from major settlement blocs (including the post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem). Unfortunately, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton immediately repudiated that letter upon entering office.

The Palestinian strategy is doomed in any event. The oil-rich Sunni Gulf states have never particularly cared for Palestinians, to whom they never granted citizenship and whom they frequently evicted. But now they are barely even paying lip service to the Palestinian cause, as even the New York Times acknowledges: “The Persian Gulf States like Saudi Arabia, more concerned about their rivalry with Iran, have found their interests increasingly overlapping with those of Israel.”

Last week’s release of a new US National Security Strategy constitutes another boon for Israel in its recognition of Iran as the great destabilizer of the Mideast and radical Islam as a threat to the entire world. The new document dismisses yet another hoary delusion: the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “the prime irritant preventing peace and prosperity in the region.”

That claim never made a lick of sense, but it has distorted six generations of American Middle East policy making. What does Israel have to do with the chronic backwardness of the Arab world, its high rates of illiteracy (except in the West Bank under Israeli rule), its lack of technological or scientific advance, failing economies, oppression of women, and absence of democracy, or even fledgling institutions of civil society? The linkage myth was completely exploded by the Arab Spring, which had no more to do with Israel than did the Iraq-Iran War and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Now, if President Trump really wants to hit the trifecta, let him act upon his justified disdain for the UN — where nations like Syria and Venezuela lecture Israel on human rights — by cutting off all funding for UNRWA. Between 40 and 50 million refugees from ethnic strife have been resettled worldwide since 1948 under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Only the Palestinians have been denied citizenship by states of their own ethnicity. Only the Palestinians retain refugee status into succeeding generations. Only the Palestinians have their own refugee agency, UNRWA, devoted to them. And that agency has only succeeded in keeping them in miserable refugee camps as a permanent strike force against Israel.

Go for it, President Trump, and end that farce as well.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 691. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com