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Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Grossman Circus: Kind or Cruel?

I wasn't planning on saying a word about the Grossman execution, but I cad hardly take it anymore. Starting on Wednesday or Thursday last week, I started to receive requests to sign the petition for the Florida Governor to grant clemency for Martin Grossman who had been sitting on death row for a quarter of a century. After a ridiculous amount of time, Grossman had exhausted appeals and the time to carry out the sentence was nearing. I was surprised to see how many known organizations, from the spectrum of Orthodoxy, had joined together in protest and the strength of the campaign certainly made me feel like I was doing something wrong by not penning the letter.. I am not a bold talk show host who throws out predictions, but I had some misgivings.

Shortly after the execution, a circus began confirming every single one of my misgivings and leaving me, and others, in pain.

My first concern was that the petitions were only giving the information they wanted to give. Turns out that information was withheld. I know of some people who sought advice and wrote letters that feel very duped. One person stated if he knew what he knew now, he would not have petitioned. Read Govenor Crist's statement:

On December 13, 1984, Mr. Grossman violated the terms of his probation by leaving Pasco County and having a stolen firearm in his possession. In a routine stop, Florida Fish and Wildlife Officer Margaret Park found the weapon. When she reached for the radio in her patrol car to report him, Mr. Grossman attacked her with her own large flashlight, beating her over the head and shoulders 20 to 30 times. When Officer Park tried to fight back, Mr. Grossman took her .357 Magnum revolver and shot her in the back of the head, killing her.

Mr. Grossman took several carefully planned steps to cover up this horrible crime. The weapon was buried, and Mr. Grossman attempted to burn his clothes and shoes, which were later disposed of in a nearby lake. The following day, Mr. Grossman thoroughly cleaned the van and changed its tires to mislead law enforcement.
Officer Park’s autopsy revealed lacerations on top of her head, hemorrhaging inside the scalp and extensive fracturing of the skull. All of these injuries resulted from Mr. Grossman’s attack. The facts of this crime clearly meet the definition of heinous, atrocious and cruel, and his actions afterward demonstrate his well-reasoned attempts to cover it up.

The defense being pushed by major Orthodox Jewish groups is that the death sentence was inappropriate because he was mentally deficient, a drug user, and had a very bad childhood. How many murderers are not at least one of the above, it not all of the above? This summary of the murder is sickening, and worst yet are the comments at YWN, VIN, MATZAV, and the letters that will soon come to other major Jewish publications. The comments being made about the Governor are especially sickening, and those disparaging the legal system that protects us are downright irresponsible.

Which brings me to my next concern: Why did the Jewish Organizations involved in this campaign seek the involvement of the Jewish public? I'm saying this as someone who is politically active and has intentions of becoming more politically active in the future. A mass campaign was asking for trouble. A number of years ago, I attended a meeting within the Jewish community where there was going to be a small push for greater funding for private schools. Those who came to the forum were able to meet with state and local politicians. I believe every politician there was Democrat and not particularly open to additional funding for private schools, and certainly not vouchers. After some nice back and forth, a hot tempered man in the community (a loose cannon by all means), attacked one of the female politicians shouting her down and accusing her of all sorts of things. I think nearly everyone was horrified as the scene developed for what felt like at least 10 minutes. I was waiting for one of our leaders to kindly escort this man out of the room to take a breath. He was doing our cause no favors! Spend a short amount of time on any Jewish news website, and it should be obvious that we have plenty of loose canons in our midst. Letters from the NCYI, or the OU, or the Aleph Institute, sent to the Governor's Office would have made the point that they wanted made without the embarrassment that transpired.

It has been reported that Ms. Park's mother was harrassed by people in the Jewish community. While everyone pats their back for their rachmanus, I am horrified. I don't know the extend of the harassment, but this is certainly an example of being cruel to the kind! I am not going to speculate if the rachmanut for Mr. Grossman was misplaced, but I do believe that this massive effort has been completely cruel to the Park family, from the calls (of hopefully only a few) to the comments that are being made all over the news sites and blogs. Even in the stories where Ms. Park's mother expresses her feelings, people have the audacity to rub salt in her wounds by accusing her of being revengeful and asking if she would support the death penality had her child murdered. Her child did not murder. This is shameful. This is painful. This is not rachmanus, this is cruelty! And this is the state of chinuch.

Speaking of chinuch, over at imamother, what in the world was a school doing discussing an execution with 8 year olds?

The real circus has been developing ever since the execution. Have we no busha? A very public funeral attended by thousands in Monsey. I don't think anyone would disagree that Mr. Grossman should have a proper Jewish funeral. But the frum community is walking a very fine line between making this man a hero, and just providing a kosher and modest funeral. (If anyone can translate this video through the raw emotion, please do). There are people speaking as if he died al kiddush Hashem. There are people speaking of his great teshuvah. That is for Hashem to decide. But as a parent, I am very concerned about the elevation of criminals (and accused criminals) of various stripes to tzaddikim.

I think now it is time for the News Blogs and every other publication to just lay low and exercise some self-control. Let's not pile on the governor trying to referee his every move in executing justice, such as being done on Matzav right now. Let's not make anymore asinine comments for the family or friends of Ms. Park to read. Let's take some time to think about her, rather than pat ourselves on the back. Let's not threaten to derail the governor's career or accuse him of acting only politically. If you disagree with the death penalty, fight that battle instead.


Dave said...

I think the Orthodox leadership on this were hideously misguided; especially since Orthodox Judaism is the only Jewish denomination in America to still officially support capital punishment.

And I think the rampant hypocrisy and outright falsehoods (much less the near beatification of a killer) are extremely disturbing.

However, I think the most important thing for the Orthodox leadership to do right now is to publically call for clemency for Melbert Ray Ford (

I say this, not because I think that Mr. Ford deserves clemency, but because failure by the Orthodox community to support Mr. Ford would cast what is either hypocrisy or bigotry into sharp relief (*).

One of the things I found somewhat astounding was people in the frum community pointing to support from the Pope as proof that their arguments were right. They didn't realize, and no one told them, that the Pope and the Catholic Church oppose all executions.

If the Orthodox leadership had come to the realization, because of the Martin Grossman case, that they could not support the Death Penalty in America, I would respect them for that. I might not agree with them, but I'd respect them.

But to loudly and shrilly oppose it only when it's unzer facing execution, that's wrong. In looking at writings contemporaneous with the execution of Karla Faye Tucker (another murderer who found religion in prison), the only ones I could find from an Orthodox perspective were adamantly against clemency.

(*) I'll be blunt, I think it's bigotry.

Honestly Frum said...

This episode is a huge embarrassment for our community. I am getting hate mail b/c of the stance I took and I am told that I am creating a chillul hashem b/c every Jewish organization supported it, it must be the right thing to do. When are our organizations going to stop siding with criminals? This man was a clod blooded killer who did tshuva in prison. I am happy he found his way but I am afraid it was too late. Like you, I can't take it anymore.

a reader said...

you are absolutely correct. the entire grossman episode illustrates perfectly the absolute perversion and moral bankruptcy that (sadly) is 21st century orthodox judaism. when the color of one's shirt, the opaqueness of one's stockings, the number of times one's salad is inspected via electron microscope, etc., is how a society judges religiosity, it is really no surprise that a cold blooded killer (who wears tefillin, to be sure) can be held up as a hero, saint, martyr, etc.
after all, the orthodox establishment ('daas torah') has been working overtime for years now to paint any and every jew accused/convicted of any crime as a hero/martyr/victim. (off the top of my head: the rubashkin family, chasidic boys in japan, meah shearim mother, etc. etc.).
i've known for years now that the frum world has gone crazy, but i prayed that somehow things would turn around. now i worry that we may be past the point of no return.

Miami Al said...

a reader,
A secular redneck Jew kills an officer of the law to cover up criminal action, and during his time in prison "gets religion." Other than his being a Jew, and therefore adopting Judaism, this is a typical story of the Evangelical Christianity or Nation of Islam.
I don't presume to have an opinion on the Halacha of the matter, and I assume that the leadership had a reason to take the position that they did, I find the behavior of the "community" and the "calls to action" absolutely disgusting.
Calling the governor "bloodthirsty" after 26 years of appeals is beyond bizarre, making the killer out to be a martyr is beyond the pale. Don't want Jews executed, join the other Jewish movements and the Catholic Church in opposing capital punishment.
The position that capital punishment is fine, but Jews shouldn't be executed MAY be acceptable under Halacha, but is DEFINITELY an extremely bigoted position, amoral at best, and certainly makes us look parochial and insular to secular Jewry and the rest of the world.
Don't want Jews executed, oppose capital punishment. Otherwise, keep your appeals quiet, and DO NOT spread falsehoods and rumors to make this man seem like a victim.
The stories of the victim's family being harassed is nauseating, but expected given the bizarre lies being spread.
Less Chumrot, more Chumash and Pirkei Avot, and you'll have a more moral Orthodox society.
Oh, and don't call child molesters, religious leaders that trade conversions for threesomes, and other lunatics "ultra orthodox," call them heretics beyond the pale. Treat these offenses AT LEAST as seriously as someone that flips a light switch on Shabbat... remember, the secular Jew might keep the next Shabbat, the child molester has still traumatized the child.

alpidarkomama said...

Thank you so much for posting this. You echoed my thoughts exactly (only much more eloquently)! Good shabbos.

megapixel said...

for all you left wingers out there, my son goes to a right wing yeshiva, came home the other day and told me the following:
someone hung up a sign about this, urging people to call the governor. The Rosh Yeshiva saw it and got very angry, ripped it down and told the boys that this man is a murderer and deserves his punishment. They should NOT call the governor

Tova said...

I wish the frum community would get its priorities straight. People rallied behind a convicted cop-murderer, but I don't see any of these people rallying behind our brother, political prisoner Yonatan ben Malka.

Also, why does the Agudah support murderers while dismissing those who speak up about child molestation in the frum community? I feel the urge to vomit at this painful realization.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom...

Mechel Lebovitz said...

Translation of the speech at the funeral:

"[From middle of speech]... But what then? The estrangement that the Baal Davar instills in [the heart of] one Jew toward another, is an avoda Zara. It is worse than all other avoda zaros. Yakov Avinu pleaded, rid yourselves of the false idols of nechar, there should be no estrangement of one Jew from another, they should love one another. We should merit from this achdus to awaken the mercy of Heaven, to bring about the general salvation, the Messiah should come, and we should experience [the fullfilment of], "He will swallow up death forever, and God will wipe away tears from off all faces" (Isaiah 25:8)."

LeahGG said...

I learned gemara sanhedrin (kfira kfira - a woman learning gemara!!!!) and I don't remember learning anything about if a murderer did tshuva then he wasn't chayav anymore.

I get that the US court system isn't a sanhedrin, but still.

Thanks Lubavitch for another fiasco said...

Way to go SL, and others here.

The fiasco came about thanks to the Lubavitcher Aleph institute. See 'anatomy of a fiasco', at

Megapixel - I would like to know which RY it was. Of course, you may not wanna post it, but maybe somehow I can find out. Nice to know some people didn't join the Lubavitcher initiated stampede.

SL - see a great editorial at Vos Iz Neias about it, which I think you will enjoy -

Time to stop treating Lubavitch with kid gloves. They must be held accountable for their reckless actions.

Anonymous said...

Oh Oh Oh... how true everything you write. How sad, but true.

What have we come to?

(And where is at least half of that mobilization of the frum community to petition to allow Mr. Rubashkin to be allowed out on bail... a case with potential repercussions for ALL jews if they ever find themselves on the wrong side of the law?)


David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

In general, the Orthodox Jewish leadership cannot be trusted. Currently, Orthodoxy is heading for disaster. I say this as an Orthodox Jew. Sad.

Anonymous said...

well said. i dont think the agudah represents more than 10% of the haredi world. most of us haredim disagree with 90% of their positions.

JS said...

Can't add to what has been said above. Good post.

Offwinger said...

I agree. This is a great post that summarizes what I have been thinking and feeling.

otd for a reason said...

Excellent article. I just want to comment on the supposed "achdus" Zweibel is kvelling about. I followed this story closely on numerous websites and blogs and never have I seen such arguing and vitriol. Anyone who questioned the support for Grossman, no matter how politely, was called a Nazi or worse. I can usually tolerate the Augdahniks, but my hatred for them has grown this past week.

wendy said...
view from central park

The Hedyot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Hedyot said...

Very smart analysis. I just posted about how this whole escapade just proves what a lie it is when the frum community avoids taking action on sexual abuse with their various excuses that its not something they have anything to do with or that they're not associated with the people involved. They had no connection to Grossman, the issue of his death has no bearing on their community, and yet they do everything in their power to help him. Yet on an issue of such relevance to their community as sexual abuse, they endlessly avoid it! Can they be more hypocritical?

Orthonomics said...

SL - see a great editorial at Vos Iz Neias about it, which I think you will enjoy -

It was nice to see Rabbi Hoffman's editorial. It took a lot of guts for him to write that I'm sure. So it is nice to see a voice of sanity. But I think he is mistaken that a politician not alienate civil service for career reasons. Governor Bob McDonald just did so this week by proposing major budget cuts to education and everything else under the sun. This was the subject of some morning talk shows just this week.

Nonetheless, a good and gutsy article, especially after this incident was used to trump up feeling of anti-semitism and make Mr. Grossman into a modern day Chananya ben Teradyon who was brought from the study hall and burned together with his Torah Scroll.

AmIaFrumFeminist said...

Thank you for bringing the full story to our attention. I saw the petition but wasn't sure if the whole story was being told.

Walter said...

Your point about loose cannons is not taken. The alternative is an authoritarian, hierarchical societal structure. I, and probably, you would not want to live under such a regime. Whether or people should have more sense is a different question.

The reaction to his execution is entirely understandable once one realizes that the US government is viewed by this generation no differently from the way in which their not too distant ancestors viewed the despotic, tyrannical systems under which they lived. Shocking it may be, surprising it is not.

Walter said...

PS: people confuse teshuvah with capparah.

Honestly Frum said...

I wish the frum community would get its priorities straight. People rallied behind a convicted cop-murderer, but I don't see any of these people rallying behind our brother, political prisoner Yonatan ben Malka.

You must be joking, Pollard is a convicted spy who committed high treason. He is lucky that HE was not shot. We should not be rallying behind him either. He is also a criminal. We need to start rallying behind people who do not break the law.

Miami Al said...

HF, agreed, whatever unfairness towards Pollard is not "anti-Semitism" but rather the freaking unique situation Israel sits in in the United States foreign policy realm. Israel gets WAY more attention than it's geopolitical situation warrants because of a cultural connection, and the issue of dual loyalties is a very scary one that should not be treated lightly.

He didn't commit high treason, but his betrayal of the United States for Israel plays into the dual loyalty charge that makes all of us nervous citizens.

Agreed, we need to rally around non-criminals, and limit our support to criminals to getting them Kosher food in prison.

Tova said...

I am not joking, but it doesn't surprise me that frum people hate Pollard.

(By the way, I'm not saying he's innocent. For you to suggest that I think so is incorrect.)

megapixel said...

a-pollard does get alot of support! ads urging people to call when there is a chance for clemency. righties and lefties!

b- and he is being punished way more severely than other people who have committed similar crimes. and he spied for an ally, which is less serious than spying for an enemy.

Anonymous said...

What is evident to me is the herd mentality and the absence of critical analysis and thinking in the Jewish community. Not just Orthodox - everyone - has their holy grails.

Dave said...

At the risk of reopening the endless can of worms that this topic seems to bring on...

1. Jonathan Pollard got exactly the same sentence that every spy-ring leader of his era did, Life in Prison.

2. American Law does not differentiate between "spying for an ally" and "spying for an enemy". The Law is the same in either case. You can look it up yourself.

Miami Al said...


Right, but if you spy for an enemy, you get LESS of a sentence. The law makes ZERO distinction, but geopolitics makes a major distinction... if you spy for the enemy, presumably the enemy has caught some of our spies as well, so we can exchange spies. OTOH, if you spy for an ally, there may be nobody to trade you for.
Pollard was THOUGHT to be responsible for the major mole problem (we later caught the mole), because Israel traded intel with the US AND the USSR (part of why the "spying for an ally" argument isn't so simple), Israel's Labor Zionists may have been forced to ally with the West, but had HUGE sympathies for the Social/Communist block... It was thought that the list of intel made it to the USSR and our resources died... I believe the mole's name was Ames, it's been a while.
Pollard thought that he had a plea bargain, but somehow, it wasn't honored... or so the story goes... the shear number of failed appeals tells me that the story told in the Jewish community isn't quite real... it sucks that Israel sold him out and he got arrested at the embassy gates, but you sell intel to a foreign country, you risk being cut loose.
The fact it, the maximum sentence for espionage is death. He got a "raw deal" in that he pled guilty to a lesser charge and got a severe sentence, but that's the breaks of our plea bargain system.
I don't see Jewish groups railing for general legal reforms, but since the raw end of the deal is usually poor minorities, and wealthy Jews get sweetheart deals, it really isn't on the community radar screen. We see isolated cases where the Jewish world rallies, but in general we're okay with a system that railroads the poor and protects the rich.

Dave said...

None of the spy leaders from the 1980s have been exchanged.

They are all still in jail.

Pollard pled guilty to the same charge that we generally have spies plead guilty to, and that includes the possibility of life in prison. His plea did not preclude this.

Moreover, Pollard's then-wife absolutely broke the plea deal by getting on television before sentencing and declaring that they "did the right thing"; a brain-numbingly stupid move (and one in a series).

The prosecution lived within the letter of the agreement (since they didn't explicitly ask for a life sentence, and were surprised when they got it), but Secretary Weinberger's intervention was questionable.

Pollard's attorney then neglected to file an appeal of the sentence. His subsequent attorney (at this point, I believe, paid by the Israeli government), whose only real option was to argue malpractice, then disavowed that as a tactic. Under American Law as the Supreme Court has set it over the past few decades, that eliminated any chance of appeal.

We don't know what Pollard sold. We do know that everyone in American government who has had access to the dossier has been adamant that he not be released.

We do know that the Israeli government has never come clean on the spy operation that ran Pollard, and for that matter, has consistently lied about it. We know this because despite claiming that Pollard was the only instance, a second spy run by the same ring was discovered last year. US Intelligence services (so far as I know) do believe that Israel still has a highly placed agent from the ring, and the pattern of lies isn't going to make Israeli disavowal of such a possibility any more convincing.

I am also convinced that the Israeli government does not want Pollard released, largely because of the ramifications of his getting a hero's welcome in Israel on American/Israeli relations. Some reports concerning the discovery of Ben-Ami Kadish as a spy last year had the tip coming from inside the Israeli government, and I don't find that implausible.

qsman said...

Pollard screwed himself. He violated the terms of his plea bargain, showed no remorse at his hearing and told the judge to his face (paraphrase) "You have no ownership over me, and you can't do anything to me". What do you think a pissed-off judge is going to say?

I know this as an attorney present at the Pollard sentencing spoke about it in a public forum, and was recorded.

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