Saturday, May 25, 2024

Excerpts from Sholom Mordechai’s Letters

Excerpts from Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin's letters to His children after receiving the devastating news of the Supreme Court's rejection of his appeal

A Guten Moed
Dear Kinderlach
, Sheyichyu,


Boruch Hashem hatov vehamaitiv. Gam zu letovoh, and yeshuas Hashem k’heref ayin.


Hashem will send His help very quickly and bring me home to you. We have bitochon in Hashem in our time of need and He answers our tefillos.


Remember that true bitochon in Hashem means that even when the person has no natural means to obtain help, he still has bitochon and menuchas hanefesh because Hashem is not limited by the natural order; He is above it. So what difference does it make whether there is a natural means of salvation? We stay focused and certain in our bitochon only in Hashem, who will surely help and has unlimited avenues.  


As Dovid Hamelech says, “Hashleich al Hashem yehovcha vehu yechalkelaka!” Throw your burdens on Hashem and He will support you. The word “yechalkeleka” is connected to the root word keli, which means that when we throw our pekel, our tzoros on Hashem, and only look to Him for help, then Hashem makes Himself the keli through which salvation will come.


All we were asking from the human justice system was to allow ourselves to be heard, as should be the norm in a civilized society, about a serious failure of the system that denied a citizen a fair trial. But we were not granted that opportunity, even though so many legal scholars and so many thousands of people demanded a review.


We were also asking for an explanation for the extreme and unusually harsh punishment since no reason was given as required by law. But shockingly, Ethe pleas of so many concerned officials and scholarly opinions were ignored. What a profound lesson in what the posuk tells us: Al tivtechu b’nedivim, b’ven odom...” Do not place your trust in officials, in mortal men… because salvation will not come from them.


We made the “keilim” as Hashem wanted us to make, but perhaps Hashem wants to show us that putting our trust in human channels–even if only a little bit–was misplaced.


Now we can turn to what the hailege Rushiner said on kapital yud gimmel, that there can be a hester ponim from Hashem only as long as there are “aitzos benafshi,” human strategies that we depend on.


As long as we trusted in this or that strategy, there could be a hester, chas v’sholom. But now that we see that the best and most promising aitzos are  ineffective, says Dovid Hamelech, we turn to the only One who can help, and there can be no more hester ponim.


Hashem is tachlis hatov. He hears what we ask Him for and He himself will make the keili to bring the geulah proti I need, and the geulah keloli we all need, with Moshiach tzidkeinu.


Kinderlach, go dance simchos beis hashoeiva!B’ezras Hashem, I will join you also.  


Be’ahava raboh,


Besimcha gedoloh,


Besuros tovos,






Dancing With The Aibershter


[Letter written on Motzoei Yom Tov:]


Dear Kinderlach, sheyichyu


Baruch Hashem for the volunteers who had the mesiras nefesh to come to the prison on Hoshana Raboh to make a minyan! What a present from Hashem to be able to say Amein yehai shmai raboh. To know that I am connecting with all the Yidden who are saying this with me gives me such koach.


And what a difference to be able to sing Halel besimcha, to shout out with all one’s heart, “Ono Hashem hoshiah noh!” To be able to say hoshanos and to hear krias haTorah with a minyan on this holiest of days, and to have birkas kohanim! No words can describe the preciousness of these things in this place of darkness.


Since it was Sunday and all rooms in the chapel were taken, maariv and hakofos were scheduled for outside in the sukkoh, to be followed by the Yom Tov meal. I was looking forward to the singing and dancing with the sefer Torah that would accompany the “seudah,” before we had to return to the units for the nightly lock-in.


But I overlooked the possibility of rain.


As we came to the sukkoh for maariv and hakofos, the sound of a light drizzle met us. We stood around, very disappointed. Then a few people left, leaving only about five of us.


The sukkoh was still dry so we davened maariv and began Atoh Horaisoh hurriedly. We did each hakofoh way too quickly, as the raindrops began coming through the schach. We were forced to stop to take the sefer Torah out of the sukkoh, waiting there under the overhang, until 7:30 when the sefer Torah had to be returned to the chapel.


We exchanged a hurried gut yom tov and the few stragglers with me all went back to their units.


But since we were technically allowed to be in the sukkoh until later, I decided to stay there for my seudah and remain there as long as I could. After all, it was Shemini Atzeres, Zman Simchosainu, and we were supposed to be enveloped in kedusha.


Sitting there alone in a drenched sukkah in the middle of a prison yard on the night of Shemini Atzeres… thoughts weighed me down about the little bit of simcha that we had been anticipating but which had vanished. Those thoughts were mixed with imagined scenarios of the wonderful simcha that Yidden were right now enjoying in their warm, lit-up shuls.


Visualizing in my mind the crowds of joyous Yidden singing and dancing together, it was hard to hold on to any degree of simcha in such a desolate situation.


The only sounds around me were of the chilly rain falling outside and I was getting wetter by the minute.


Then “the old foolish king” [yetzer horoh] came along with his “grand idea” of how to celebrate Yom Tov in the rained-in sukkoh. Just sit there and think, he said, about the contrast between the simcha you could and should be enjoying, and the sadness of being alone, cut off from all those you belong with! And the old foolish king urged on the tears, because that would really prove how much I appreciate and yearn for simchas yom tov, right?


But Hashem always helps. Pushing away the advice of the old fool that would only plunge me into despair, I remembered how once, the Rebbe was dancing during hakofos and pulled a Yid into the dancing. Later, he apologized to this person for pulling him in, but the man waved off the apology, saying that it was an honor to dance with the Rebbe.


The Rebbe responded, “Tantzen darf men mit der Aibeshter” —you should be dancing with the Al-mighty!


It came to me all of a sudden that the order of the day was to dance, and it did not matter that there was nobody else there, because it was about tantzen darf men mit der Aibershter. And at this moment, there was no choice but to take this literally.


Since the Sefer Torah had already been returned to the chapel, I took a sefer to use in its place, holding it on the right, next to the heart. The sounds of a freilicher hakofos song filled the Sukkoh, drowning out the sound of rain.


Hakofo Alef began, with the table serving as a bimah, and each “orbit” stirring up more and more simcha, until the announcement came, “Ad kan hakofo aleph!”


Hakofo Bais began, to the nigun of “Vesomachto bechagecho.” The very words of the song propelled a lonely Yid into the simcha of Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. For a few wonderful moments, I was in a shul filled with rejoicing Yidden–far from the wet, cold, slippery sukkoh in a prison yard. The song would have lasted much longer but–ad kan hakofoh bais!


To the song of “Atoh bechartonu mekol ha’amim,” hakofoh gimmel took off. How well we have learned through the bitter golus the different languages of all the nations. We are so thankful to Hashem for raising Yidden above and beyond the lies and corruption of the cultured “language-nations.”


As the hakofos continued, the wet sukkoh no longer felt wet, and the cold was replaced with the warmth of the words of the songs that brought comfort to the heart of a Yid.


Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu! The words rang out during hakofoh vuv. “How fortunate and lucky are we, what a blessing to be a Yid! How good is our portion with Hashem. How beautiful is our inheritance; the Torah hakedosha that Hashem gave us Yidden!


The hakofos would have continued much longer but a guard came to the sukkoh and ordered me to leave. Going into cell 217, I realized that my shoes and pants had part of the muddy sukkoh floor smeared on them, which somehow made me happy. After finishing learning the daily shiurim, the idea occurred to me to make my cellmate part of the simchas yom tov.


I began describing the scenes taking place in shuls everywhere, and the experience of spending Simchas Torah in Brooklyn where this inmate happens to be from… the thousands of Yidden that come together to dance with the Sifrei Torah. Then I “demonstrated” to him some of the dancing and some of the songs, and for a short while, this cold, bleak cemetery of a cell was transformed into a place of life. Simcha is literally poretz geder, it tears away all boundaries and transports a person to a different realm.


On Simchas Torah day, we davened and made hakofos in the Chapel besimcha gedolah, Sefardim and Ashkenazim together–with achdus and ahavas Yisroel.  


Dearest Kinderlach, go into the new year now with simcha and bitochon in Hashem who will send His yeshua in a revealed, good way. We take with us all the brochos from the month of Tishrei to last us a whole year. May each and every day be filled with Hashem’s brochos in gashmius and in ruchnius!


B’ahava raboh,








By Debbie Maimon


The Supreme Court’s rejection of the Rubashkin appeal continues to stir outrage and deep distress among Sholom Mordechai’s supporters and advocates, including his legal team. 


“The Supreme Court’s refusal to consider the Rubashkin case — which is the greatest injustice I have seen in more than 50 years of law practice — was very distressing,” said lead appellate attorney Nathan Lewin. “But the legal battle is not over. There are, in American legal history, a few famous cases ‘that will not die.’ The Rubashkin case is in that league.


“The Torah teaches that tzedek does not come easily; it must be pursued. Even at this juncture, there are legal avenues for overturning a fundamentally unfair trial.”


 Agudath Israel released a statement immediately following the news of the Supreme Court’s rejection.


“Agudath Israel of America is deeply saddened by the Supreme Court’s refusal to review the case of Sholom Rubashkin,” the statement said.  “Serious questions have been raised as to the fundamental fairness of his trial and sentence, and he surely deserved a full hearing from our nation’s highest court. It is noteworthy that a broad and distinguished array of legal scholars and experts has declared the case to be a miscarriage of justice.  As such, the justices have sadly squandered an opportunity to right a terrible wrong.”




Guy Cook, Sholom Rubashkin’s lead trial lawyer, who also worked on the final draft of the cert petition to the Supreme Court with Nathan Lewin and Paul Clement, called the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the Rubashkin appeal “a very sad day for justice.”


 “The monumental injustices in this case screamed out for review,” Mr. Cook said in a lengthy interview with Yated. “At the core of this travesty is a grave violation of due process, and the decision to deny the Sholom an opportunity to reverse this failure is indeed troubling.


“The case presented an opportunity to uphold the rule of law, to prove that prosecutors and judges cannot circumvent the law with impunity,” he said.


Given the high level of public interest, and given the number of legal scholars and organizations, as well as the array of formal attorneys general and former U.S. Attorneys that stood behind Sholom’s appeal, it is extraordinary that the Supreme Court turned it down,” Cook said.


“The many amicus briefs carried the signatures of scores of weighty legal authorities who saw this case as an important vehicle to set the record straight on matters important to the country,” he added. “That their opinions were not heeded is beyond disappointing.”


“These legal experts were impartial–they had no “dog in the fight”–yet their passionate calls for a review were ignored,” he said.


The Iowa attorney underscored what he felt were the two most glaring injustices in the case that cried out for rectification: First, “the judge’s improper involvement with the prosecution prior to court proceedings–and her failure to disclose it–robbed the defendant of a fair trial,” he said.


Secondly, Cook noted “the wrongful application of the sentencing guidelines, and the legal and procedural errors that were used to justify an appallingly harsh sentence where there was no criminal intent.”


“Here was a defendant who had no intention to hurt anyone, to cheat anyone out of anything. Here was a case in which no one was hurt–until the government dropped their nuclear bomb on Agriprocessors and caused the company’s bankruptcy.


“The government then orchestrated the impoverishment of the business by preventing its sale to new owners while it was still valuable, thus causing the failure of the bank loan, and driving up the loss amount in order to drive up the prison sentence.”


“Sholom Rubashkin, who was not responsible for this loss amount, was then sentenced to a virtual life sentence because of financial lossesthe government itself had caused,” Cook recapped.


“These injustices were simply ignored,” the attorney said. “The 8th Circuit’s opinion was notable for its whitewashing of the issues.”


“Their ruling did not address any of the core arguments raised in the appeal,” he said. “If you knew nothing about this case except what was discussed in their ruling, you’d think that was just an ordinary criminal prosecution, when it is anything but that.”


Asked if he saw an ethical problem with the 8th Circuit’s decision to invite Judge Linda Reade to sit with them on cases the same day as the Rubashkin appeal was being heard, Cook said the move “raised real questions about whether justice was being honored.”




Asked about the remaining post-conviction remedies available in the Rubashkin case, Cook said a second FOIA lawsuit had been filed by a Washington firm on behalf of Sholom Rubashkin, for the release of volumes of information that till now have been withheld from the defense.


“At least 30 per cent of the FOIA documents we received were heavily redacted,” Cook said. “The lawsuit is demanding full disclosure of the ICE documents and other government materials related to the 2008 raid. It is also seeking to have the case moved from Iowa to Washington where the federal agencies responsible for the documents are based.


Asked how this could benefit Sholom Rubashkin, Cook indicated that new revelations of misconduct or other foul play could possibly lead to a new motion for retrial, as well as increased pressure of the Department of Justice for an investigation.


“Nothing is impossible for a man of faith,” he said, “and Sholom Rubashkin is the quintessential man of faith. If you speak to him, he will tell you that miracles are possible. And indeed, I can attest to that.”


“Miracles have happened in my own family,” the attorney shared with this writer. “My son was waiting for a year and a half for an organ transplant. His case seemed almost hopeless. Sholom and many of his family members were praying for him. Miraculously, the organ transplant just recently came through. My son was operated on and is now recovering. Yes…I do believe that justice in this case is still possible.”



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