The never-ending lynching of Sholom Rubashkin
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The never-ending lynching of Sholom Rubashkin

So much for Christian charity.

Sister Mary McCauley, the former pastoral administrator at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville, Iowa, who provided support for families affected by the Agriprocessors raid, publicly condemned the complete acquittal of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin on charges of child labor violations as a tragedy. “I was heartsick,” she declared. “I had to just sit and deal with the heartbreak I was feeling.”

Truth regardless of consequences Never mind that a jury deliberated only 12 hours to reach a verdict exonerating Rubashkin on all 67 counts. Never mind that Rubashkin, a father of 10 with a long history of charitable acts feeding the hungry and the poor, has been so demonized in the press that it was practically impossible for him to receive a fair trial, and still he was found innocent. The good sister is convinced that the man should have gone down. Her heart tells her so. The jury be damned.

Funny, that.

When I, as a rabbi and broadcaster, read of the unending accusations against countless priests and even nuns for molesting children and against the pope himself for covering such deeds up, I went on the air on my radio show in New York City and begged my audience to place the allegations in perspective. The pope had been tried in a media circus without being given an opportunity to respond or defend himself. Further, all judgments about the morality of the Church had to be assessed in the context of the global good it does in running the world’s largest network of orphanages, hospitals, and schools. Whatever crimes were committed against children by men and women sworn to God’s work were despicable in the extreme and abomination against all that is decent. And the perpetrators would have to be held accountable. But wait before you lynch any innocent man.

I was heavily criticized on the air by my own devoted listeners, with the angriest calls coming from Christians and Catholics: “How can you defend our Church, Rabbi Shmuley? You who promote family values and ethics? Do you not understand what these men have done?”

Yes, of course I understood. But allow the facts to emerge before you disparage the whole Church. Don’t paint with a broad brush. Point a finger only at the priests who are guilty and refrain from assailing the papacy itself until you hear more. Amid the caller onslaught, I stood my ground. All people carry the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

Unless you’re Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, that is, in which case even once you’re found completely innocent on charges of child labor by a jury of your peers you are still guilty.

Sen. Barack Obama, campaigning in Iowa to be president in August 2008 and promising a new era of civil American political discourse, forgot his commitment when it came to Rubashkin: “When you read about a meatpacking plant hiring 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds – that is some of the most dangerous, difficult work there is. They have kids in there wielding buzz saws and cleavers? It’s ridiculous. And the only reason they’re hiring these folks is because they want to avoid paying people decent wages and providing them decent benefits.” The president is a politician and might be forgiven for pandering for votes, although it would still be encouraging if now, in light of the acquittal, he would publicly apologize for his slander. But Sister Mary is a nun consecrated to Christ and has no such excuse.

I have no doubt that the sister is a good woman who wants to defend immigrant children, even as they admitted under oath to falsifying their work papers in order to work at Agriprocessors. I agree with Sister Mary that these children were desperate. The cowardice on the part of the American government in repeatedly failing to address the immigration crisis with serious reforms leads to these tragedies. But does Sister Mary not reserve even a tiny sliver of her heart for Rubashkin’s 10 children, one of whom is autistic, even as their lives have been turned upside down as their father has been painted as the anti-Christ?

Let me be clear. I am on record in several columns as saying that Rubashkin is no hero. He has been found guilty of financial fraud and will be punished. Whatever good he and his family have done – and they are justly renowned for their charity and philanthropy – in no way cancels his conviction, even if his intentions were to temporarily avert near-certain bankruptcy that was caused by an INS raid and eventually pay the bank back. Wearing a yarmulke and a beard, Rubashkin is a public representative of the Jewish faith, and he has let us all down. In our religion there is no greater sin than desecrating the divine name. No doubt the pain Rubashkin feels in having done so is more excruciating than anything the penal system can do to him. He will have to repent of his actions before God and man. He will also have to serve time, tragic as that is for a man with a large family who are now destitute.

But the time served must be fair and just. For goodness sake, stop the never-ending lynching. Treat the man fairly. Prosecutors, stop portraying him as a monster.

On the home page of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with whom Sister Mary is affiliated, is this statement: “We are women of steadfast love called to live the mission of Jesus through our core values of FREEDOM, CHARITY, EDUCATION, and JUSTICE.” Those are values I applaud and respect. Are you listening sister?

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