As the days of Pesach were approaching, an alcoholic man went to visit a community Rov with an interesting dilemma. “Rabbi, I’m a recovering alcoholic. Even though I could not control my drinking, I always stayed out of trouble. I always managed to manage my home and professional life, and I never put myself or anyone else in danger. I have been clean for a number of years, and I would like to fulfill the mitzvah of the Four Cups on wine instead if grape juice this year.”
Without a moment of hesitation the Rov answered, “Absolutely not.”
Despite the man’s explanations and protests, the Rov was adamant.
Some days before Yom Tov, this man came across the Rov in the street.
“You know, Rabbi, after I met with you, I explained my situation to another Rov, and he gave me a heter to use wine!”
The Rov answered: “I don’t know what you told him, or the reason for his heter. I do know that if he understood the nature of addiction and the danger into which you throw yourself, he would have forbidden you to do so, just as I did.”
Someone recently stopped me in the street to thank me for my involvement in the Rubashkin case. “Did you go to court” he asked. Although others from our office did travel to South Dakota to be present at the trial I didn’t go to court. My many obligations in here in New York, I explained, prevented me from making that kind of trip. His response was quick. “What about the Shomrim case? Have you been to court? That’s right here in Brooklyn!” To this I had no answer.
Therefore, this morning I arrived at the Kings County Supreme Court building at 320 Jay Street, went up to the second floor, and experienced my saddest day as an askon and, perhaps, as a Jew.
I watched as a bearded young man in an ill-fitting suit and “yechi” yarmalke explained to a handful of attorneys, a judge and jury, alternately in English and through his Hebrew translator, why he wanted to imprison six Lubavitcher Chassidim.
I started in avodas haklal at an age earlier than most. At the age of fifteen I was already heavily involved in a variety of activities which concerned the welfare of the community at-large. The next forty years of askonus would bring such a parade of problems and crises in front of my eyes that I naively thought that I had seen it all. Boy, was I wrong.
Of all of the needless heartbreak that I have seen come about from reckless sinas chinom, nothing will wash away the sheer perversity I saw today when a Jew, a chosidisher yungerman -a Lubavitcher Chossid!-twisted and turned under cross-examination while testifying against six fellow Chassidim.
There are two tragedies, though, that are totally lost upon most of those directly involved, but are clear as day to the judge, the attorneys, the jury. The first is that there were an abundance of lies being told in today’s cross-exam. Not critically important ones, perhaps. But in regards to details (who was present, who said what and when, affiliations, lifestyles, etc.) the truth was painfully elusive, and it was embarrassingly clear to all. Under cross-examination, it doesn’t take long for stories to unravel. Any attorney who could find the desire to begin untangling today’s web could keep himself busy for a long, long time.
The second tragedy is how our way of life has been debased in court. The court transcripts are busting with references by the judge and the attorneys to “lapel pins” and “yarmulkes with writing.” The Lubavitcher Chassidim, the Rebbe, Crown Heights, the imminent coming of Mashiach, 770… Everything that means anything to us is today represented in Supreme Court through a “yellow flag” prism. Our associations, motivations and whether or not six fellow Chassidim will sit in prison will be determined according to the writing on our yarmulkes.
I have sat through well beyond my fair share of court proceedings and I’m very familiar with the way things play out. A man takes the stand and believes that he has control, that he can tell his story the way it needs to be told. The absurd song and dance that is taking place at 320 Jay Street is evidence of just how naïve that belief is. Every word, every motion that takes place in court is masterfully controlled by the attorneys. After all, that is their art.
No Rov could have given permission for this to take place. True, someone may have asked and justified their need. True, Shulchan Aruch may in fact permit going to gentile courts in some circumstances. But it is painfully obvious that if that Rov would understand the nature of the courtroom, its proceedings or the magnitude of the Chilul Hashem that almost always occurs in that setting, he would have forbidden these vain pursuits without hesitation.