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Jonathan Pollard: The Duties of Compassion

A call for compassion in no way undermines the balance required by our dual loyalties, and that a sense of duty to that which is beyond the requirements of the law is not a sign of disrespect for the law itself

With the recent illness and now death of his father, the issue of Jonathan Pollard’s continued incarceration has been receiving renewed attention in our community. Like many important issues, it is a deeply divisive one. The Jew in North America, in essence, has dual loyalty: one to the United States or Canada, and the other to the Jewish people. In general, we live with this dual loyalty with ease, as they are not competing or functioning in a zero-sum game.
The challenge that Jonathan Pollard’s case evokes is that it has the potential to upset the delicate balance which exists within Jews’ dual loyalty. For some, Jonathan Pollard was and continues to be a profound embarrassment, for he put in question the sincerity of Jews’ loyalty to the United States. For those for whom this embarrassment is primary, the issue of Jonathan Pollard is toxic, and one which they do not want to handle.
Others are deeply bothered by this hands-off approach, and feel that it is a betrayal of Jonathan Pollard in particular and the responsibilities of Jewish collective loyalty in general. While very few sanction his behavior, the duties of loyalty are tested precisely when it is difficult.
There are some who try to bridge the gap and who condone the punishment but condemn its severity, arguing against the exceptional prison sentence in relation to others. In most cases, however, one’s predisposition to this argument is often contingent on which of the above two positions one feels closest to.
I, too, am deeply conflicted and over the years have found it difficult to identify my voice on this issue. Recently, however, as there has been debate about letting Jonathan out to visit his father on his deathbed, and now that his father has died, I have been finding that the issue is becoming clearer for me. Our rabbis teach us that Jerusalem was destroyed because Jewish society was only governed by law and did not function as well beyond the requirement of law. Our tradition over and again distinguishes between that which is legally permitted and even required, and that which are the duties of piety and compassion. A Jew must first and foremost be obligated by the latter and ensure that the latter serves as a corrective to the former.
I don’t know exactly the full nature of Jonathan Pollard’s crimes, how exceptional they were, and whether or not they were incomparable to those of others who received far more lenient sentences. None of us do. I do know, however, that I am increasingly feeling that enough is enough. At the end of the day, Israel and the United States are allies, and yes, even allies regularly spy on each other. At some point the path of decency must override the wrath of justice. At some point we have to ask ourselves not whether the punishment fits the crime, but what are the dictates of those who feel obligated by the duties found beyond the requirements of the law.
This, I believe, is the domain of dual loyalty and the real meaning of friendship. Dual loyalties will inevitably engender moments of conflict and questions of priorities. As a people with two loves and a deep sense of belonging to two peoples, it is critical that we avoid to the best of our ability a test of loyalties. Yet when this happens and when the law receives its due, it is time to begin the act of balancing which comes with entering the domain of going beyond the requirements of the law.
This balancing is also the foundation of the art of friendship. To master it is to recognize the need to go beyond being right, to being kind, decent, and forgiving. The United States and Israel are friends. It is time to act as friends in this case, as well. As a Jew who never wishes to jeopardize and test my dual loyalties, after Jonathan Pollard’s 24 years in jail it is time not only for the United States to let him go free but also for us within our community to re-embrace the realm of compassion and piety without which no legal system is worthy. It is time, I believe, to recognize that a call for compassion in no way undermines the balance required by our dual loyalties, and that a sense of duty to that which is beyond the requirements of the law is not a sign of disrespect for the law itself.
As a Jew I am obligated both by the law and by the duty to surpass it. This is our vision of a just society and community. As we think about Jonathan Pollard I suggest that we think of these duties, as well.

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