I was representing the party who had lost in the trial court. One of the arguments raised by the other party was that she did not understand the written agreement to go to beis din that she signed – because she does not understand English. It was a one-page document. This claim was made in a three-page affidavit that made other factual statements. The document was clearly prepared by a lawyer and contained language more sophisticated than the one-page arbitration agreement. The wife signed the affidavit before the notary without any indication that it was translated either orally or in writing to her native language.
I made sure that the appellate court became aware of how ridiculous it is for someone to claim that they do not understand a document written in English in another document written in English.
It appears to be so obvious, yet neither the attorney who represented the husband in the trial court or the trial judge picked up on it. Also, the attorney for the wife came from a well-respected law firm and they did not realize the inherent contradiction.
I thought of this case when I read the Chazaq Weekly, issue #653. It has a dvar Torah written by Rabbi Dani Staum with the title “Perilous Purity.” On the next page there was an ad for a shiur sponsored by Chazaq to be delivered by Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin titled “Emuna & Bitachon,” which addresses “Sholom’s unshakable faith under the most trying of circumstances” – namely being arrested and incarcerated.
Rabbi Staum starts off with a story: “A non-religious Jew once approached the Telshe rosh yeshivah, Rabbi Mottel Katz, zt”l, and asked him, ‘How do you explain all of the religious Jews who lie and cheat on their income taxes?’ Rabbi Katz replied, ‘I have a similar question about all those religious Jews who eat on Yom Kippur, drive on Shabbos, and don’t only eat kosher.’ The non-religious man was perplexed, ‘But those people are not religious.’ Rabbi Katz nodded, ‘And neither are the ones that you mentioned.’”
Rabbi Staum quoted the Kli Yakar (commentary on the Torah) who explained why the Torah, in mentioning animals that only either chew their cud or have split hoofs, first mentions the attribute that would make it kosher before mentioning that it lacked the other attribute. The Torah was telling us that this animal is more dangerous than an animal that is clearly non-kosher. “The signs of purity within the impure animal pose the greatest threat to our spiritual wellbeing… External piety inextricably connected with internal iniquity is the most dangerous level of impurity.”
Although I was aware of Rubashkin being invited to speak before the event, I decided not to say anything. It is not up to me to tell an organization who they should invite to speak. Moreover, any time you try to convince people not to show up, the attention only helps to increase the crowd. After the event I kept quiet, waiting to see what the media response would be. In last week’s Queens Jewish Link there was an article by Susie Garber, which almost took up a full page, about the lecture. As a result, I felt the need to respond.
I have been unsuccessful in trying to view the program online. I had to rely on well-respected journalist Susie Garber’s synopsis of what transpired.
It was disappointing that a large crowd came to hear him. There are many other people who can speak on the topic of emunah and bitachon without the baggage.
What was absent from the speech was any admission of guilt. There was no acceptance by Rubashkin of any responsibility for his conduct that resulted in him being convicted of a felony and being incarcerated. There was no admission that his conduct had caused a chillul Hashem.
Mrs. Garber quoted Rubashkin with the conclusion, “Only a Jew can be b’simchah in a place like prison, because a Yid knows, wherever he is, that Hashem is with him.” She said this was a powerful message. I have another reaction. If a Yid is aware that Hashem is with him, then he shouldn’t engage in conduct that would result in him being placed in prison. The purpose of prison is to deter, rehabilitate, and/or punish for illegal conduct. It is not a place to be b’simchah. If a person is b’simchah then they will never see the error of their ways and do t’shuvah.
I would prefer not having to write about Rubashkin. However, if he continues his speaking tour and people look up to him as a role model, I will speak out. There needs to be a response so that people do not get the wrong impression that the Orthodox Jewish community is monolithic in supporting him and his conduct.
Warren S. Hecht is a local attorney. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org