Time for Agudath Israel to Live Up To Its Commitment to the Pollard Case

An Open Letter from Esther Pollard
To Rabbi Avi Shafran, Director of Public Affairs, Agudath Israel

J4JP Release - December 13, 2002

Dear Rabbi Shafran,

A concerned Jew recently wrote to ask you what exactly Agudath Israel has done in the last 18 years to secure the release of Jonathan Pollard. Your response has been forwarded to me. (Copy attached.)

It is surprising that as Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel, you are unaware that more than a decade ago the Agudah officially adopted the position that the plight of Jonathan Pollard is the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim (redemption of a captive), which is obligatory for all Jews. As a result of this position taken by the Nesius (Rabbinic Presidium) of Gedolei Agudath Israel following a personal presentation by Jonathan's parents, the organization lent its name to an amicus brief on the case filed in 1991.

Writing to the concerned Jew, on the one hand you question whether there is any reason for the Agudah to exert any effort on behalf of Jonathan Pollard; and on the other hand you insist that the Agudah has been working behind the scenes on Jonathan's behalf for the last 18 years.

It should be stated at the outset that in the nearly 2 decades that Jonathan has been in prison, the Agudah has never once put him on the agenda of its annual national convention; has never put him on the agenda of any official meeting in Washington; and has done very little both publicly and privately to demonstrate its commitment to the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim in this case.

The previous President of Agudath Israel, the late Rabbi Moshe Sherer z"l, was devoted to the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim for Jonathan Pollard. Personally he did what he could, writing several eloquent letters on Jonathan's behalf to the White House. But he was frustrated that the Agudah as an organization was not willing to invest more of its resources in this mitzvah. He pressed the Agudah to be more active. His efforts resulted in a couple of admittedly excellent articles by Dovid Zwiebel, the Agudah's General Counsel, one of which was an invaluable critique of the government's "Victim Impact Statement." But when Rabbi Sherer died in 1998, all interest/involvement in the Pollard case was promptly buried.

In 1993, Rabbi Ya'acov Perlow, the current Rosh (Head) of Agudath Israel, added his signature to a letter together with 20 of the most choshuveh (prominent) Roshei Yeshiva in America, calling on the nation to participate in the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim for Jonathan Pollard. The letter was originally published on October 15, 1993 as a full page ad in Yated Ne'eman. It has been faxed to your offices a number of times asking for the Agudah's help. The text is as follows:

October 15, 1993 Yated Ne'eman - [Full Page Display Ad]

To all our Jewish brethren, wherever they may be:

The difficult plight of Jonathan Pollard is well known and publicized. He is enduring an usually harsh and severe sentence.

It is a mitzvah incumbent upon every Jew to make efforts to free him from his imprisonment; those who can should write letters to the government, and whoever can intercede on his behalf should do so.

In the merit of this great Mitzvah of "Pidyan Shvuyim" (Redemption of a Captive), may all who take part be abundantly blessed by the One Who Frees the Imprisoned.

Signed: Rabbi Yaacov Perlow and 20 prominent Roshei Yeshiva

* (List of signees follows in footnote number 1 below)

Rabbi Shafran, we are troubled that in spite of your organization's official position; in spite of your current and past president's acknowledgment that the case of Jonathan Pollard is the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim, you persist in characterizing Jonathan Pollard as merely one Jewish prisoner among many, "[t]here are many Jews sitting in jails, unfortunately, for crimes large and small. Agudath Israel takes its direction from its Gedolim, and they have not asked us to call a yom tefilla on behalf of either Mr. Pollard or others imprisoned." In light of the foregoing, Rabbi Shafran, surely the question to be asked is, "In the name of Heaven, why not?!"

Your response also implies that Jonathan's continued incarceration is somehow his own fault, that if he had not brought his case to public attention, it is your opinion that "Mr. Pollard might be free today." And you further state that the Agudah is involved in behind-the-scenes efforts to free Jonathan. We beg to differ. Insider sources confirm that there is absolutely no evidence that such behind-the-scenes activity ever took place for Jonathan; and we repeat: in 18 years there has certainly been no public activity. No yom tefillah (day of prayer); no yom iyun (day of learning); no mention of Jonathan at the Agudah annual convention; no public meetings or rallies; no public pronouncements. Nothing.

Not long after the death of Rabbi Moshe Sherer z"l, Jonathan's rav, His Eminence HaRav Mordecai Eliyahu, met personally with Rabbi Perlow, the new Rosh (Head) of Agudath Israel. The meeting took place in Jerusalem in 1999. When it was over, HaRav Eliyahu summoned me and provided a full report for Jonathan. I was also briefed by Rabbis Yehoshua Marcus, Shmuel Zafrani and Pesach Lerner who had accompanied the Rav to the meeting. According to all of them, HaRav Eliyahu painstakingly explained the case to Rabbi Perlow. HaRav Eliyahu pleaded for the Agudah's active involvement in redeeming Jonathan Pollard. By the time the meeting ended, Rabbi Perlow understood from HaRav Eliyahu that the case of Jonathan Pollard is not merely the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim; it is the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim for one who was "moser nefesh for Am Yisrael" (one who has sacrificed himself for the Nation of Israel.) Rabbi Perlow appeared deeply moved. He promised to bring the Agudah actively into the struggle, and said that as soon as he got back to New York, he and the organization would do whatever was needed, and just to call him next week. Rabbi Lerner was designated by both Rabbi Perlow and HaRav Eliyahu as the official shaliach on Jonathan's behalf. Acting through Rabbi Lerner, we called Rabbi Perlow the next week, and the week after that and again after that. Several years have passed and we continue to call. But our calls go unanswered. We have also made requests to meet with the Nesius again. This too has gone unanswered.

In light of the foregoing, it is apparent that the assertion that Agudath Israel is secretly working behind the scenes for Jonathan Pollard's release is not credible. We are left with the bitter impression that to say so is simply to camouflage the Agudah's inaction/indifference to Jonathan's plight, in spite of its own articulated position of support.

As for your questioning whether Jonathan's case is the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim, we present an excerpt from a letter [translated from Hebrew] written by HaRav Eliayhu, Israel's former Chief Rabbi, to Jonathan Pollard's attorney, Larry Dub, a copy of which has been sent to Agudah offices more than once - and most recently this year Erev Tisha B'Av, on the instruction of HaRav Eliyahu.

Mordecai Eliyahu
Former Chief Rabbi of Israel and Rishon Letzion
October 28, 1997

...In response to the question that others have asked you, namely whether the mitzvah of Pidyan Shvuyim (the redemption of a captive) is relevant in the case of the above-named, Jonathan Pollard. Those who ask, should themselves be asked how it is that they could have any doubt!

It should be clear that this is a great mitzvah and it is the obligation of all the nation of Israel no matter where they may be, to do everything that they can to assist and to aid with all of their strength and all of their means to work to extricate and free the Honorable Gentleman Jonathan Pollard, may G-d watch over him and protect him, who sacrificed himself, for the good of, and in order to save, all of the nation of Israel. The mitzvah of Pidyan Shvuyim devolves upon him and it is obligatory for all of the nation of Israel, both in the land of Israel and in the Diaspora, to exploit every way to influence those who have the power to release him from prison and set him free...

Mordecai Eliyahu

It is at times like this, Rabbi Shafran, that I worry most about the Jewish People and the damage its leaders have done for 18 years by turning away from the most basic imperatives of the Jewish religion: the pursuit of Justice and the mitzvah of redeeming a captive.

The saddest part of all is that the callousness and indifference that Jonathan has experienced from you and from your organization mirrors that of virtually all the Jewish organizations in America. And that is a terrible keetroog (accusation) in Heaven against the Jewish people. Even more so in the case of the Agudath Israel which, as representative of Torah Jewry, is presumed to know better.

Rabbi Shafran, Jonathan is still in prison. It is not too late for the Agudah to re-examine its actions, to roll up its sleeves and start to honor its commitment to the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim.

We have seen what this organization is able to accomplish behind the scenes for others when it sincerely wishes to. We invite the Agudah to use its behind the scenes contacts and clout on behalf of Jonathan. As the front-line representatives of Torah Jewry, it is incumbent upon the Agudah to be the model for the rest of the Jewish community. .

The Agudah's annual convention is due to take place at the end of this month. Isn't it time that the plight of Jonathan Pollard finally be placed on the agenda? A public statement at the convention reaffirming the Agudah's commitment to act on the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim for Jonathan would be very important. For his sake. For the sake of the Agudah. But most of all, for the sake of Heaven.

Yours truly,

Esther Pollard (Mrs. Jonathan Pollard)


  1. *Signees of the letter published in Yated Ne'eman October 15, 1993 and reprinted by the NCYI in Viewpoint Magazine 1994, and 1998 calling on the nation to act on the mitzvah of pidyan shvuyim for Jonathan Pollard:
  2. Rabbi Ahron Moshe Schecter: Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva R. Chaim Berlin
    Rabbi Alter Chanoch Henoch HaKohen Leibowitz: Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim
    Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler: Rosh Yeshiva, Beis Medrash Gedola, Lakewood
    Rabbi Avraham Ya'akov HaKohen Pam: Rosh Yeshiva, Mesivta Torah Vodaas
    Rabbi Moshe Stern: Rav of Debrecin
    Rabbi Ya'akov Perlow: Nominsker Rebbe [currently Rosh of Agudath Israel] **
    Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky: Rosh Yeshiva, Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia
    Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum: Rosh Yeshiva, Mirrer Yeshiva
    Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg: Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva Ner Yisroel, Baltimore
    Rabbi Simcha Bunim Ehrenfeld: Matesdorfer Rav
    Rabbi Reuven Feinstein: Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva of Staten Island
    Rabbi Z. Hirsh Tevel: Rabbi, Congregation Siach HaSadeh
    Rabbi M. Gifter: Rosh Yeshiva, Telshe Yeshiva
    Rabbi Zacharyah Gelley: Rav, Av Beis Din, Khal Adas Yeshurun, N.Y.C.
    Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Feigelstock: Rosh Yeshiva, Mesivta of Long Beach
    Rabbi Leib Bakst: Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva Ateres Mordechai
    Rabbi Ahron Zelif Halevi Epstein: Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva Shaar HaTorah of Gorodna
    Rabbi Avraham Chaim Levin: Rosh Yeshiva, Telshe Yeshiva, Chicago
    Ha Rav Mordecai David Reuvin: The Admor of Sasaragen
    Rabbi Menashe Klein: Rosh Yeshiva, Bais Shearim, Av Beis Din Ungar
    Rabbi Elyn Svei: Rosh Yeshiva, Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia
    Rabbi Elya Fisher, Rosh Kollel Ger Rabbi Yosel Harari-Raful, Rosh Yeshiva
    Yeshivas Ateret Torah Rabbi Chaim Ben-Ouliel, Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivas Mikdash Melech
    Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Horowitz
    Bostoner Rebbe Rabbi Levi Krupenia, Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivas Kamenitz
    Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik, Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva Rabeinu Yitzchok Elchonon

  3. Note that copies of all documents and letters cited above are available on the Justice4JP web site including:

  4. Copy of Concerned Jew's Letter and Rabbi Avi Shafran's Reply as received by email Dec 12,2002
  5. Letter and response from Agudas Yisroel regarding Jonathan Pollard

    12/11/02 -12:55 PM

    Dear Rabbi Shafran,

    Shalom to you and your family.

    Thank you for being on the front lines defending Orthodoxy to the non-Jewish/Orthodox world.

    I would like to bring to your attention an issue which I'm sure you are aware of: the incarceration of Jonathan Pollard.

    It's now his 18th year behind bars, all for the crime of supplying info which the USA was supposed to supply to Israel, which was agreed to betweeen Israel and the (antisemetic) State Dept.

    I don't have to go into the particulars of the case as that's not the purpose of my letter.

    The reason why I'm writing you is to find out what Agudas Yisroel did for JP during the past 18 years, and what it is doing currently on behalf of JP to facilitate his quick release??

    The enclosed letter from JP's wife would indicate that if anything is being done, it isn't enough, and the proof is he's still sitting rotting in jail.

    What happened to lo saamod al dam rayacho? And doesn't the mitzvah of pidyn shevuim apply here as well? How come our gedolim are being quiet? Too quiet on this issue? How come there isn't a yom tefilla called on his behalf?

    Irrespective of what other organizations are (not) doing to be politically correct, Aguda is held to a higher standard and has an obligation to the individual, as the tzibbur is in essence made up of individuals and if one yid is sitting in jail, it's our achrayis to do everything in our power to free him.

    Please don't answer me that you're working behind the scenes, as obviously it isn't working or not enough is being done, otherwise he would be free by now.

    Sincerely yours,
    A Yid who cares

    P.S. Enclosed is an answer written by JP's wife which reinforces my questions to Agudas Yisroel.

    What No One Wants To Talk About: Esther Pollard
    A Response to Aish.com Readers - Justice4JP Release - December 10, 2002


    Aguda Answers

    Subj: Re: What Is Aguda Doing On Behalf Of Johnathon Pollard??
    Date: 12/10/02 12:52:04 PM Eastern Standard Time
    From: [email protected] (Avi Shafran)

    Dear Yid who cares,

    Thank you for your kind words and bracha.

    Since you asked that I not answer that we have expended efforts behind the scenes, I cannot provide you an answer. It is my personal assessment, however, (though not necessarily Agudath Israel's) that had ONLY behind-the-scenes efforts (like those we have been part of) been pursued throughout, Mr. Pollard might well be free today.

    There are many Jews sitting in jails, unfortunately, for crimes large and small. Agudath Israel takes its direction from its Gedolim, and they have not asked us to call a yom tefilla on behalf of either Mr. Pollard or others imprisoned. That does not, however, mean that they or we don't care, only that a judgment has to be made about what is proper, what is effective and what might be counterproductive. You are welcome to your own feelings about those questions, but so are they, to put it mildly.

    As to she'elos about pidyon shvuyim (usually used in cases where a ransom is possible) or lo sa'amod (usually used when death is in the offing), you'll have to ask a halachic authority about their applicability here.

    Best wishes,


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