NEW YORK (May. 13)
It’s not every day that the heads of the Reform and Orthodox movements create shared letterhead so that they can issue a joint letter.
They have taken the unusual step, though, in an effort to free Jonathan Pollard.
Rabbis Eric Yoffie and Raphael Butler, the heads, respectively, of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations and of the Orthodox Union, wrote to President Bill Clinton, asking him “in the noblest spirit of biblical teaching” to “show merey to Jonathan Pollard and commute his prison sentence.”
The president has decided three times against freeing Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in prison for delivering classified U.S. information to Israel.
Life sentences have been meted out to other spies only when they were involved in espionage on behalf of one of America’s enemies. Never before has someone spying on behalf of a friendly power been given such a stiff sentence.
Pollard spent the first several years of his incarceration in solitary confinement, but is now living as part of the general population in the medium- to maximum-security prison in Buttner, N.C.
“We realize that you are familiar with his case and have considered such appeals before,” Butler and Yoffie wrote to Clinton in their April 18 letter.
“Yet we — the representatives of the broadest spectrum of the American Jewish community — come together in the spirit of unity and out of a clear sense of fellowship and brotherhood as fellow Jews to raise Jonathan’s plight with you once again.”
The rabbis have not yet received a response from Clinton.
The letter’s timing, insisted Butler, was purely coincidental.
He had been working with Yoffie on it long before an otherwise little-known fervently Orthodox rabbinical group declared last month that the liberal movements were “not Judaism.” The declaration illuminated deep differences between the movements and set off a firestorm of controversy.
The letter was not intended to be a show of Jewish unity, said both rabbis, but it is having that effect.
“We are Jews united in sustaining other Jews,” Butler said in an interview. “When you have a Jew in captivity you expend all efforts” to help him.
While Pollard’s wife, Esther, said she was pleased that the two rabbis had issued the joint letter, she was sharply critical of the organized Jewish community’s efforts to free her husband.
The letter was not likely to be effective, she said, unless serious political pressure is also brought to bear on the president.
“Even such an unusual stand is not enough when you have the Jewish community in America literally funding the president and buttressing his office, but when it comes to equal justice for a Jew, they are quiet,” she said when reached at the school where she teaches in Toronto.
Both Butler and Yoffie said they sympathized with Esther Pollard’s feelings, but both said they feel that the Jewish community has acted responsibly on her husband’s behalf.
Jonathan Pollard also has a petition pending before Israel’s high court asking the government there to accept full legal responsibility for his work spying for them, which then would compel them to more vigorously seek his freedom, said his wife.