The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared on the website, The Jewish Thinker, on 22 April, 2013.
There are two ethical issues in the Free Pollard campaign:
1. What should President Obama do?
2. What should the Jewish people do?
WHAT SHOULD OBAMA DO?
Be big enough and decent enough to let Pollard go without delay.
Exercise the Biblical concept of leadership, the foundation of the American leadership tradition. That tradition has four requirements – vision, courage, wisdom and morality. All derive from Moses, the first national leader.
Moses had vision, a mind’s-eye picture of a people that valued every one of its members, and championed the dignity even of a condemned offender. He had courage, the strength to stand up to external pressure when necessary – and to stand up to his own people. He had wisdom; he knew when to withdraw if the situation called for it. He had morality, the instinct to choose the right thing.
President Obama: show vision, courage, wisdom and morality, and let Pollard go. You can find words for it. Call it clemency, call it commuting a sentence, call it humanity. History will acclaim and congratulate you. Whatever wrongdoing Pollard may have committed is now history. His release has been urged by so many eminent Americans that the presidential office should stop hiding behind legal technicalities that are probably inapplicable in any case.
Keeping Pollard behind bars sounds like the three Vs – vindictiveness, vengeance and violence. Where the first two Vs fit in is obvious. The third? If (God forbid) Pollard dies in prison it will be as if he had been assassinated, and the presidency will be tarnished for not saving a life.
WHAT SHOULD THE JEWISH PEOPLE DO?
Pray for “our brethren who are in distress and captivity”. That kind of prayer arose in days when the law was inept and unfair. We thought the American judicial system, though far from the anarchy which Jewish teachers feared (Avot 3:2) was superior, but maybe it’s not. Releasing Pollard would restore its lustre.
Speak up like the Biblical prophets, even “to (our) own detriment” (Psalm 15:4). Confront leaders, if necessary echoing Moses and Aaron who told Pharaoh in the name of God, “Let My people go!” (Exodus 10:3).
Our indignation is not because Pollard is a Jew. We defend any human being (Mishnah Gittin 5:8), if an injustice is being done. American leaders recognize that we take up good causes regardless of who it is who is in distress.
It is true that the command to love your neighbour, re’acha (Lev. 19:18) possibly refers to a fellow Jew, though the word is also used for a gentile (Exodus 11:2). We admit to a special feeling for one of the family: there is a Hebrew rule, “The poor of your own town have precedence” (Talmud Bava Metzi’a 71a).
Nonetheless Judaism does not allow itself to turn an offender, Jewish or not, into a hero. That would be a Chillul HaShem, a desecration of the name of God.
If anyone, including a fellow Jew, has broken the law, the law has the right to deal with them. But the law has to treat them fairly, and Jewish ethics lays down a duty to protest when the law is not fair and to campaign for a change.
Pidyon shevuyyim, redeeming the captives, might not apply here, but “Let justice well up like waters, righteousness as the mighty stream” (Amos 5:24) does.
The public has never been told precisely what Pollard did, but was it something so very wrong as to justify so many years locked away? People who are in a position to know have, one after the other, called “Enough is enough”.
Decent and responsible people everywhere are united in their call to President Obama to let Pollard go. Enough is enough!