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Top Rabbis Send Personal Plea to President Bush for Pollard

For the first time, Israel's leading hareidi Sages write to a US President, asking for clemency for Jonathan Pollard.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 2/28/2007, 9:43 AM

Two of world Jewry's most renowned Torah Sages, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv of Jerusalem and Rabbi Aaron Leib Shteinman of Bnei Brak, have signed a historically unprecedented letter to U.S. President George Bush, calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard.

It is reportedly the first time that these Torah Sages have ever addressed a foreign head of state about any matter.

The letter was relayed to Jeremy Katz, Special Assistant to the President and Liaison to the Jewish community, and others in the White House. Copies of the letter, written in both Hebrew and English, were also sent to various Jewish communal leaders and activists.

The joint letter to the U.S. President was the initiative of Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel. Lerner, who has visited Pollard many times in his prison cell in North Carolina, met of late with leading Torah sages in Israel and asked for their involvement in securing his release. Another rabbi who has taken great active interest in the case, and whom Pollard considers his personal rabbi, is the Rishon LeTzion, former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Lerner discussed with Rabbis Shteinman and Elyashiv the special elements of the Pollard case, over and beyond its being a supreme Torah value of "Redemption of Captives." Mentioned were Pollard's self-sacrifice on behalf of the security of the Jewish People, the disproportionate nature of the sentence, the failure of the Israeli Government to act on his behalf, Pollard's failing health, the positions taken by former CIA head James Woolsey and Dennis Ross [see below], and more.

Rabbi Elyashiv (l) and Rabbi Lerner (r)
Rabbi Shteinman (l) and Rabbi Lerner (r)

The rabbis then decided that their best course of action would be to send a concise personal letter to President Bush. The letter reads as follows:

Dear Mr. President,
We appeal to you as President of the greatest power on earth, the epitome of compassion and generosity, to grant clemency to Mr. Jonathan Pollard who has been incarcerated for more than twenty years.
With deep respect and appreciation,
(signed: Rabbis Elyashiv and Shteinman)

In Oct. 1993, nearly 30 leading rabbis in the United States took out a full-page ad in the hareidi-religious Yated Ne'eman newspaper, calling upon "every Jew to make efforts to free [Jonathan Pollard] from his imprisonment; those who can should write letters to the government, and whoever can intercede on his behalf should do so."

The White House has also been bombarded of late with calls for Pollard's release from another direction: A nation-wide call-in campaign, also initiated by Young Israel and endorsed by Agudath Israel.

Jonathan Pollard's wife Esther, speaking with IDF Radio this morning, called on Prime Minister Olmert to follow the example of the Torah sages by making an immediate demand for Jonathan's release. "Mr. Olmert does not have to free murderers or terrorists," she said. "All he has to do is bring Jonathan home now and he will have blessing and the thanks of the Nation."

"After 22 years in prison," Mrs. Pollard said, "22 years of torture and affliction and the worst possible treatment by the Government of Israel - and by the Americans - Jonathan deserves to be home in Israel well in advance of Pesach so that he can truly celebrate the Holiday of Freedom."

Jonathan Pollard has been imprisoned since November 1985 regarding his conviction on one count of passing classified information to an American ally - Israel. The normal sentence for this offense is 2-4 years, and his unprecedented life sentence was in direct contrast to his plea bargain arrangement. He has long been in a maximum security prison, under difficult conditions.

U.S. Appellate Court Justice Steven Williams has called the Pollard case a "fundamental miscarriage of justice," and even James Woolsey - former head of the CIA, a body that has traditionally been against clemency for Pollard - believes Pollard should be released. He recently told Arutz-7, "Now that [Pollard] has served [over] 20 years in prison, my view is that 20 years is enough. I also think that the close relationship between the US and Israel is also of some consideration, and at this point I think he's served long enough."

Former US Ambassador Dennis Ross, who has been involved in shaping US policy in the Middle East under Presidents Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr., has said that Pollard's sentence was excessive, and that he told all three presidents that Pollard should be released. "Pollard has been in jail for so long," Ross said last December, "that whatever facts he might know would have little if any effect on national security today."