Executing The Jewish Murderer Martin Grossman

Wikipedia says: “Martin Edward Grossman (January 19, 1965 � February 16, 2010) was convicted of first degree murder for his part in the December 13, 1984, Florida killing of wildlife officer Peggy Park. He was executed by lethal injection. In the days before his execution, there were a large number of appeals for clemency, ranging from petitions to pleas, as well as a request to halt the execution from Pope Benedict XVI.[1] Grossman, a Jewish American, received strong support from national and international Jewish organizations for his death sentence to be commuted.[2][3][4]

I remember many of my Jewish friends agitating on Facebook to prevent the execution of Martin Grossman. I did not know much about the case. It seemed clear that Grossman had committed murder and therefore I felt no need to defend him from capitol punishment (which I support for the crime of murder).

Rabbi Yitzhock Adlerstein had thoughts on this case. Rabbi Adlerstein now opposes the death penalty.

Rabbi Marc B. Shapiro writes April 22, 2010:

During the discussions about the Grossman execution, I looked at some of the haredi websites (until the comments made me sick). What I found interesting was the incredible level of ignorance of most of the writers, all of whom had been in yeshiva and many of whom had studied there for years. They were able to declare that a murderer can’t be executed unless he was observed by two kosher witnesses and was given warning, which they thought settled matters. Had these people known a bit of responsa literature, there would have understood how things worked in the real world, and especially what was done in the days of the rishonim. Do these people think that if a guy stood up in shul and opened fire with a machine gun, killing 20 people, that a Jewish court couldn’t execute him because he was never given a warning? Let’s continue with R. Liebes:

יש כח להבי”ד בזמן שרואין צורך השעה לענוש עונש מות אפילו בכל יום אפילו אם מן התורה פטורין הם כדי שעל ידי זה כל העם ישמעו וייראו ולא יזידון עוד.

As for the possibility that a Jewish man will be executed:

מצוה וחיוב לעורר את דעת הקהל להתריע את בתי המשפט שיראו להעביר בכל המדינה משפט מות ולענוש בכל החומר הרוצחים והפושעים ואת מדינתינו ארצות הברית אשר מאמינה בתנ”ך יכולים לשכנע אותה ולהראות לה עד היכן תוה”ק מקפידה לבער את רשעי הארץ בתור חיוב ומצוה. ומש”כ כת”ר לחשוש דלפעמים ימצא רוצח יהודי א”כ אנחנו נהיה אשמים במיתתו זה אינו כלום . . . מוכח מזה דהמחוייב מיתה עפ”י דין המלכות מותר למסרו להם מטעם דינא דמלכותא. מובן ממילא שכל דברינו מוסבים רק על המדינות שיש להם שוויון הזכויות לכל אזרחיה בלי שום אנטישמיות ושנאת ישראל ולכן אם ח”ו יהודי נתפס באיזה עון ופשע הרי הוא נידון כמו כל אזרחי המדינה.

Many who commented on the various sites were people who never opposed the death penalty before and do not oppose it now, yet they were anti-death penalty in this case because, quite simply, they think the death penalty is just fine except when it is a Jew being executed. They vote for all the right wing candidates and then have the chutzpah to complain when their man actually follows through on his support of capital punishment and doesn’t share their view that a supposed baal teshuvah (whose last meal on earth was a non-kosher chicken sandwich bought from the prison canteen) should not be executed. Some of them cited Sanhedrin 17a, סנהדרי שראו כולן לחובה פוטרין אותו , as if this had any relevance. First of all, this passage only means that he is not executed in the normal fashion, but he can certainly be executed as an emergency measure. In addition, some understand this passage to mean that if on the first day of deliberations all conclude that he is guilty, he is not condemned to death immediately but the case is revisited on the next day. If then, all find him guilty, he is executed. None of the commenters who mentioned this law quoted the view of R. Meir ha-Levi Abulafia (cited in many sources) and the Tosafot Hakhmei Anglia that the meaning of פוטרין אותו is ממהרין אותו להורגו . This understanding is praised by the Reisher Rav, R. Aharon Lewin, Ha-Derash ve-ha-Iyun, Deut. no. 119:5, and R. Baruch Epstein, Torah Temimah, Ex. 23:2. Epstein is convinced that this understanding is correct because otherwise היש לך חוטא גדול ונשכר מזה . For more on the subject, see Zorach Warhaftig, “Rov u-Miut be-Veit ha-Din,” in Itamar Warhaftig, ed., Minhah le-Ish (Jerusalem, 2001), pp. 100ff. See also R. Reuven Margaliot, Margaliyot ha-Yam, Sanhedrin 17a, no. 19, who cites the Tashbetz:

שהם ז”ל לא אמרו ב”ד שהסכימו כולם לחובה פטור, חלילה להם שיאמרו ככה, ואם על פי הרוב הורגים כל שכן ע”פ כולם ויותר טוב ויותר משובח הוא שיהיה הפסק דין מוסכם מהכל ולא שיהיה שום חולק.

See e.g., R. Yair Hayyim Bacharach, Havot Yair, no. 146. Some poskim have even ruled that when a murderer has been sentenced to death it is forbidden to try and save him. See R. Nathan Leiter, Tziyun le-Nefesh Hayah, no. 121. (Others disagree, see e.g., Teshuvot Hatam Sofer, vol. 6, no. 14.) Obviously, such a ruling has no relevance to people who oppose the death penalty on principle, but it does speak directly to those who normally support it—as I daresay includes most, if not virtually all of the people who were commenting so outrageously on the haredi sites. Let me close by citing a responsum of R. Meir Zak in Teshuvot Eitan ha-Ezrahi, no. 45. What he said in the seventeenth century, in a case involving a Jewish murderer, is just as relevant today, and it is incredible how this responsum speaks to the Grossman case (he even uses the term “hillul ha-shem”!). Notice how he also includes the manhigei ha-dor in his criticism.

מאחר שניתן ביד גוים ערכאות הם יעשו בו משפט וידינו לא תהיה בו . . . ואפשר שעל נדון דידן נאמר מורידין מאחר שכתב הרב מהר”ד ה”ל האב”ד דק”ק ה”ל שדעתו לעשות כפרה והיה כל ימיו חוטא גדול ופושע, נאמר לישרי’ ביה גודא רבא ואף אם יאמר שרוצה לעשות תשובה ולפי דעתי על אלו אמרו חז”ל אין נחת רוח בתשובתן של רשעים להקב”ה כי ראה עצמו ביד גוים רוצה לרמות אותנו, אבל להפריז ממון לפדות אותו בשביל שאומר שרוצה לעשות תשובה זה הוא חילול השם שיאמרו אין עונש שפיכות דמים אצל יהודים נחשב חטא והיה אם גוי יהרוג ח”ו ליהודי ג”כ לא ידונו לעשות נקמה. ותמיד אני צועק ככרוכיא על מנהיגי הדור שכל גנב או חוטא שבא למאסר עושין השתדלות לפדות אותו ע”י שחדים דבר זה בעו”ה מרבה פשעים וגניבות כל א’ עושה מה שלבו חפץ ורבו פריצי הדור כאלו אנחנו רואים בעו”ה רוב גנבי ישראל ע”כ שלא לתת פרוטה לפוטרו ממות.

Isn’t it amazing that hundreds of years ago he was condemning the leaders who think that every thief or sinner who goes to jail should be the focus of pidyon shevuyim? From this responsum we learn that the warped values we have seen these last few years go back a long time. And what is one to make about his statement that the majority of thieves are Jewish? (using the language of Avodah Zarah 70a). I pray we never reach this point, although we probably have to do keriah over the fact that the Agudah spokesmen have been insistent in letters to the editor and in interviews that Orthodox Jews are not more dishonest than anyone else. In other words, no one, neither Jew nor non-Jew, even assumes anymore that being an Orthodox Jew means that you hold yourself to a high ethical standard. Their goal now is to convince the public that when it comes to obeying the law, Orthodox Jews (and their institutions) are simply no worse than everyone else. If that is not an indictment of our entire educational system, I don’t know what is.

For those interested in pursuing further the topic of Jewish murderers, here is a nineteenth-century responsum by the Moroccan R. Joseph Berdugo (Divrei Yosef no. 381).

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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