The Rubashkin Contradiction
One year ago, Sholom Rubashkin was released from prison. (For an excellent discussion of the entire tragic story, along with many other fascinating topics in kashrut, I recommend the book Kosher USA.) Rubashkin's sentence was absurdly excessive and it was wonderful that it was commuted. Yet I bemoaned how the yeshivishe press was portraying him. Although Rubashkin didn't deserve the punishment that he received, he had nevertheless committed serious crimes that caused great harm. Yet the press were portraying him as a hero, the Sharansky of our era.
Several people (including a close friend) criticized me sharply. But their criticism was not all the same. Some of them criticized me for attributing any wrongdoing to Rubashkin. They insisted that he was entirely innocent of any wrongdoing. Others agreed that he had committed some wrongdoings, but insisted that he wasn't being celebrated as any kind of hero; people were just rejoicing that his unjust sentence was being commuted.
It is now one year since Rubashkin's release from prison. Tonight, there is an enormous party and concert, celebrating the "Baal Haness," pictured triumphantly clapping over the cheering crowds. During the last year, Rubashkin has been paraded as a celebrity, invited to speak at numerous venues. He also published a book of "inspirational messages and divrei Torah." As far as I am aware (and I would welcome being proved wrong), in his speeches and writings he does not bemoan making terrible mistakes that harmed many people. Nor does he use this opportunity to beg people not to break the law. Instead, he speaks about his great emunah and bitachon.
On the other hand, if you read the account of his sentencing, a very different picture emerges. Rubashkin was described as giving a "tearful apology." He told the court "I guess this is the time to apologize to my community, and especially to my dear wife and children, for the harm I have caused them. There are no words to express the grief that I feel and have caused them.” A psychiatrist spoke on his behalf, and attested that "Rubashkin expressed regret for the harm he had caused himself and others."
So was Rubashkin lying? Was all that merely in order to fool the judge? Or was he sincere - in which case, why does that sentiment appear to have gone out of the window?
Which is the real Sholom Rubashkin?