Monday, February 22, 2010

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof

This past week Martin Grossman was executed for the cold-blooded murder of Peggy Park. He had gone through the entire appeal process and he even had a little extra help that none of the other non Jewish, death row inmates have in any state of the union: the lobbying of Agudah and other Jewish organizations including a last minute plea from the Chief Rabbi of Israel to the Governor. Nothing helped. He was executed on February 16 by lethal injection in payment for a brutal murder committed on December 13, 1984.

Until a few weeks ago I had never heard about Martin Grossman. I took an interest in him like I take an interest in every other murderer sitting on death row. As a matter of fact I had just finished reading an expose on another gruesome murderer, Christian Longo (who murdered his wife and children) waiting for lethal injection that appeared in Esquire’s January 2010 issue. Funny thing, I don’t recall Chabad, Aleph or Agudah taking an interest in his case.

As a matter of fact, I can’t imagine any of these Jewish organizations taking a humanitarian stand for anyone unless they were Jewish. And there is the rub! Their credibility as principled petitioners for the sanctity of human life has been squandered, unlike Professor David Protess of Northwestern University who crusades against wrongful convictions, seeking out justice for those who have been victimized by the system.

Professor Protess is a very principled man. For the past twenty years he has been dedicated to crusading against those wrongfully sentenced to death first as the research director for the Better Government association and for the past eleven years as head of the Medill Innocence Project associated with Northwestern University. His efforts were probably responsible for Governor George Ryan to suspend the executions of all those inmates sitting on death row in Illinois until their cases can be reviewed thoroughly out of concern for the possibility of a wrongful execution.

Our illustrious rabbis representing Agudah, Chabad, Aleph, Young Israel and other Orthodox institutions flocked to Martin Grossman, not because he was innocent but because he was Jewish. Grossman admits to the murder and assumed full responsibility. The merits of the case were irrelevant to them. In their parochial minds the only thing that mattered was that he was Jewish and therefore entitled to some special consideration. Special because these same rabbis haven’t petitioned the Governor for anyone else who actually may be innocent, as Professor Protess would have.

What is disturbing in this entire sad chapter is that our rabbis have exhibited once again a strong affinity for the abstract rather than a deeper appreciation of text which could actually be applied to the here and now. Rather than be committed to the issues, they have concerned themselves with the superficial. They took up the defense of Martin Grossman for all the wrong reasons. He was Jewish, but he was a murderer nevertheless, an embarrassment to the Jewish community and the civilized world. On what basis does being Jewish entitle someone to special treatment? Rather than expend energy on a confessed murderer our distinguished rabbis ought to be joining ranks with crusaders like Prof. Protess and seek out justice where justice is lacking: “tzedek tzedek tirdof”.