Month: October 2011

Zman – Rubashkin & Leo Frank

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There are many differences between the Rubashkin and Leo Frank cases.

Even though Sholom Rubashkin’s 27-year sentence is ludicrous and unprecedented for the crimes he was charged with, it was not death by hanging given to Leo Frank. Even though many believe anti-Semitism influenced (and influences) the Rubashkin case, the proceedings were not conducted as a mob shouted, “Hang the Jew!”

Nevertheless, one is struck by this similarity between the cases: Each was a grave miscarriage of justice where the justice system itself was/is blind to its own shortcomings. (At least in the Leo Frank case, the State of Georgia eventually admitted its blindness, albeit 70 years later.)

I, like so many others, find it incredible that the judge whose judgment was being questioned in the recent appeal was a backup and had influence on the court that reviewed the appeal!

This was the same judge, Linda Reade, who was discovered to have had several secret meetings with law enforcement long before the arrests at Agriprocessors (for more details see Zman Sivan 5770/June 2010)! It was Judge Reade whom ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) memoranda indicated had taken an organizational role in the immigration raid; attended weekly meetings; personally requested a meeting with personnel from the many branches of law enforcement who would participate in the raid; and requested updates and final game plans.

How can a person work with law enforcement, which worked with the prosecution, and then serve a judge in that case?!?

Yet, Reade denied having performed any functions that fall within the executive branch (i.e. law enforcement) which may have reflected an irreconcilable stain on her impartiality.

I don’t claim to know American law. Maybe according to the US justice system this is perfectly legal. But, that’s the difference between a man-made law and a Divine one.

The Torah tells us: “Don’t take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous” (Devarim 16:19). The emphasis is on “the wise” and “the righteous.” Even they can be blinded by impartiality.

The Gemara offers several cases of Jewish judges who disqualified themselves for even the minutest influences. When Shmuel was walking on a bridge and a man lent him a hand, Shmuel disqualified himself from judging his case.

When Rebbi Yishmael b’Rebbi Yossi encountered a sharecropper who did him the tiny favor of bringing him his fruit a day earlier than usual he disqualified himself from judging his case. Indeed, as Rabbi Yishmael listened to the case (as an observer) he found himself conjuring up arguments in favor of the sharecropper.

“I didn’t take a bribe,” Rebbi Yishmael declared, “and had I taken the fruit, it would have been mine – yet I was biased!”

This issue of Zman comes out during the Yemei HaDin, “Days Judgment.” If we make an extra effort to painfully examine where we are being moreh heter on ourselves, maybe in that merit a measure of objectivity will descend upon those with power over Sholom Rubashkin’s life and help them come to their senses long before they did in the case of Leo Frank.

Zman – Tishrei

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The Tragic Saga of Leo Frank

It launched the Ku Klux Klan and the Anti-Defamation League. It inflamed a community and ignited a nation. It brought out the worst in people and the best in people….

It is the tragic story of Leo Frank – and it happened in America.

Standing trial for murdering a Christian girl as crowds outside the courtroom screamed for his blood — intimidating witnesses, jury members, judges and politicians — the evidence against Leo Frank was so full of holes that the judge later declared that he was innocent. The lawyer of his main accuser eventually acknowledged that the accuser himself was the murderer.

Yet, none of that was able to stem the tsunami of anti-Semitism. Even as convincing new evidence demonstrating his innocence came to surface, a mob – later discovered to include high-ranking politicians and prominent Georgian community members – abducted Frank right out of prison and lynched him.

Terrifying and infuriating, the story of Leo Frank touches on so many raw nerves that even today, almost a century later, people are afraid to bring up the subject for fear of inflaming old passions and stirring old hatreds.

August 6, 1913. The atmosphere in the streets is fraught with tension. Frenzied hordes march around government buildings, wielding rifles and other weapons. They surround the courthouse where the trial of a Jew falsely accused of murdering a young Christian girl is taking place.

“Hang the Jew or we’ll hang you!” the crowds shout raucously, brandishing their weapons.

“Kill the Jews who killed our savior!” resonates in the street.

The atmosphere is reminiscent of the medieval pogroms of Europe. Rabble-rousing sermons by local priests and other anti-Semitic leaders have aroused the passions of the ignorant masses. And the minority of rational, level-headed individuals are simply too intimidated to take a stand against the blatant injustice and rabid anti-Semitism. It is just too risky.

It reads like an old-world legend from the Middle Ages, but incredibly this happened in the twentieth century in the United States – land of the free and home of the brave.

The city was Atlanta, capital of Georgia. The frenzied hordes wielding rifles and other weapons were red-blooded American citizens. The government building they surrounded was the Fulton County Superior Court House of Atlanta.

The governor of Georgia, a respected and popular man, is trying desperately to keep the situation under control. He has called in the National Guard and the military to protect Jewish neighborhoods. Privately, he has prayed that justice prevail and that he will not have to use force. However, he does not, at that point, fathom how deep the hatred runs and how inflamed the passions have become. Neither does he know the steep price he will pay for trying to help the hapless Jew.

Then, just like now, the Jews of Atlanta felt safe and secure as American citizens with equal rights to pursue the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They lived under the illusion that their non-Jewish neighbors regarded them as equals, and that anti-Semitism was relatively non-existent in America. Then their illusion was shattered. Abruptly, they were faced with the shocking realization that even after doing their utmost to assimilate into the American melting pot, they were no less immune from virulent anti-Semitism than their openly Jewish relatives in the “alte heim.”

This past August 17 marked the 96th anniversary of that dark chapter in American history, when an innocent Jew named Leo Frank was lynched by a group of Americans, not exclusively by low-class, uneducated street ruffians, but by the elite of Atlanta society, including elected officials and judges.  Zman headed south on a fact-finding mission to the Jewish community in Atlanta to speak with community leaders, relatives and others well-read in the Leo Frank saga who have invested much effort clearing Frank’s name decades after his brutal murder.

Read the entire story in this month’s issue…