For I am full of words;
The wind in my belly presses me.
My belly is like wine not yet opened,
Like jugs of new wine ready to burst
Let me speak, then, and get relief;
Let me open my lips and reply.
I would not show regard for any man,
Or temper my speech for anyone’s sake;
For I do not know how to temper my speech –
My Maker would soon carry me off!
Iyov (Job) 32.18-22, translation from The JPS Bible (I would normally do my own translation, but Iyov is really hard).
I didn’t intend to write again tonight, certainly not at gone 1.00am, but I feel incredibly agitated, upset and angry. There are a few things on my mind.
The main thing making me angry is something within the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community that I wish I didn’t have to speak about because it is a chillul HaShem (desecration of God’s name; something that makes non-Jews and non-religious Jews think badly about religious Jews, Torah and HaShem (God)), but I feel so upset and angry I have to.
Sholom Rubashkin is a convicted fraudster who was jailed for twenty-seven years for massive fraud at the kosher abattoir he owned. He also happens to be a religious Jew, although “religious” here requires qualification. He doubtless would never dream of breaking Shabbat (the Sabbath) or eating non-kosher food, but he apparently has not heard of the Talmudic dictum that dina demalchuta dina, the law of the land has the status of religious law, nor does he seem to realise that stealing from non-Jews is still stealing.
Even before he was jailed his business had close run-ins with the law, most of which were resolved outside of the courts, for issues concerning animal welfare, food safety, environmental safety, child labour and employing illegal immigrants. He is not a good man. But his sentence was viewed as excessive even by people outside the Jewish community and there was a big campaign involving, to be fair, a large number of prominent American politicians of both parties and lawyers, including Nancy Pelosi and the ACLU. President Trump commuted his sentence (not a pardon as some people think) and he was released after serving eight years.
Rubashkin is now touring Jewish communities as a inspirational speaker, speaking about emunah and bitachon, faith and trust in God which he says helped him in prison. He is coming to the UK soon; in fact, he might even be here already, which is why this has suddenly come on my radar. His promotional material describes him as a “baal haness,” someone who has experienced a miracle. He has apparently written a book, the blurb on Amazon.com for which states “Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin has become a symbol of spiritual endurance for Jews around the world.” One Jewish newspaper even disgustingly compared him to Captain Dreyfus, the Jewish soldier framed for espionage who became a cause célèbre in nineteenth century France.
I feel so sick writing this. He’s an criminal who should slink off into a hole instead of which he’s being portrayed in some parts of the community as a hero. As far as I’m aware, the money raised from his speaking (minimum donation £20, which is a LOT) is going to charity rather than to him, but even so, money is being generated by a narrative which turns a very bad man who defrauded others into a hero who survived incarceration in prison through piety and which implicitly misrepresents him as a prisoner of conscience who survived by his faith, instead of someone who should have been stopped by his conscience and his faith from committing his crimes in the first place.
The reason this upsets me so much on a personal level is the fact that I feel so isolated in the frum community as it is and then to see it fêting this ganav (thief) is so painful, another rejection. He is the hero and I’m – what? – some ignored, lonely, isolated freak who almost no one even invites for Shabbat meals. I have been depressed for at least sixteen years, I have spent twice as long as Rubashkin’s prison sentence in the ‘prison’ of mental illness. My emunah and bitachon, my faith and trust in God is very, very weak at times, apparently unlike Rubashkin’s, but I’ve had to hold on to it knowing not that God was punishing me for doing something wrong* but that I was suffering terrible mental and emotional pain for no obvious reason (my mental health issues began before the age of twenty, the age at which Jewish tradition states one becomes liable to punishment for sins, although I suppose that only proves that the initial cause of the depression was not punishment; later on it could have been a punishment) and had to somehow find a way to keep my faith and trust in a God who was doing this to me for no obvious reasons. And now to see this ganav being praised to the skies and held up as a spiritual hero and master of bitachon is just sickening and painful.
I don’t think I’m a particularly good person and sometimes I think I’m a very bad person, but most of my worst sins have been the product of years of emotional neglect, bullying, loneliness and despair. I am ashamed of them, I don’t try to profit by them and I would stop committing them if I could. Yet it sickens, angers and, frankly, terrifies me to be in a world, in a community that lauds someone like that. I don’t know what to do. I should say that no one from my own shul (synagogue) has been praising Rubashkin to me, it’s just the wider Anglo-Jewish community, seeing his face looking out from newspapers and emails promoting his talks. The worst thing was seeing one particular rabbi lauding Rubashkin in his Jewish newspaper column and attacking people who thought he was a criminal; this rabbi had been supposed to help broker a shidduch (blind date) between me and one of his congregants in 2017. I think the failure of the shidduch to materialise was not his fault, but he certainly did not help me, being very difficult to get hold of.
When I turned on the computer again to write this, I wanted to write about several things that were upsetting me, but I feel burnt out and this is a long enough post already, and it’s nearly 2.00am, so good night for now; perhaps I will turn to the other things after sleeping.
* This assumes that Rubashkin actually realises he did something wrong. Aside from his appeal to the judge in court before sentencing, I don’t think he has actually admitted any guilt or shown any remorse.