Michael Vick and Forgiveness
12/30/10
Special to the Jewish Week

Q - Does Michael Vick deserve the accolades he is getting? Or does he deserve to die, as Tucker Carlson said last week on Fox News in response to President Obama's congratulating the Philadelphia Eagles for giving Vick a second chance? Carlson said: "I'm a Christian, I've made mistakes myself, I believe fervently in second chances. But Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did in a heartless and cruel way. And I think, personally, he should've been executed for that. He wasn't, but the idea that the President of the United States would be getting behind someone who murdered dogs? Kind of beyond the pale."

Is it ethical to forgive Vick so soon?

A - Really, Tucker! Is it ethical to listen to Fox News when they allow someone to incite a lynch mob simply as means of taking yet another cheap shot at the President? Even when he is doing the most Christian thing imaginable, forgiving a repentant sinner, Obama can't buy a break from the Foxxies.

But the question here is not whether the President deserves a break, but does Vick - or, more precisely, does any ex prisoner? To that the answer is a resounding yes. Successful re-entry of those who have served their time is a major concern in our society. Nearly 650,000 prisoners are released from state and federal prisons each year, the vast majority of whom face legal and social obstacles that go far beyond the notion of punishment fitting the crime.

As for Vick, ESPN's Rick Reilly says it's time to forgive, that Vick has paid his debt. Torturing animals flies against everything Judaism believes in - hence the laws of Kashrut, which inculcate kindness to animals and sensitivity to all life. As a vegetarian and dog owner, I take those laws even further in my own personal practice, and every fiber of my body abhors what Vick did. But Jewish law mandates that the death penalty is meant to be utilized only in the case of the murder of a human being, and even then only in extraordinary circumstances.

Vick deserves a chance to play again, and he's making the most of it. I would not rush to anoint him Mr. Role Model, though, as many have. Americans love a comeback story, but don't confuse Vick with Michael Oher, a real hero, who was last year's NFL comeback cover boy. Last week, Vick said he would vote for himself for MVP, a disturbing sign that he may not have learned much about humility in prison. But fortunately he played himself out of the running against the Vikings, and Tom Brady, who does not profess to care about individual honors, will win it going away.

For Vick, the biggest prize is yet to be won, and I'm not talking about the Super Bowl. It's the prize of being able to go to bed peacefully every night, feeling fully content at having done more good than Ill for the world. For as long as those 47 rescued pit bulls are still alive, shaking, cowering and unable to bark, those peaceful nights should remain as elusive as ever.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Read his blog here, and follow him on Twitter.

Last Update:

12/31/2010 - 09:54

Comments

Whether or not this is Josh's official ethics column or is meant more as a political piece, I think he goes a bit far and comes dangerously close to indulging the same kind of thinking that must have led to Tucker Karlson's comments. Bringing Vick's race into this debate (lynch mob) is unfortunate. It is a rather common media approach to any criticism of a black person that tends to be identified with the democratic/liberal end of our political spectrum. I don' t think that a writer of ethics should identify himself in that manner. And it is equally unfortunate to want to help Obama for associating himself with Vick as they are both role models for our youth. This leads to the issue of "forgiveness" as it pertains to public figures. I don't know if Vick is a repentant sinner, or someone who is benefiting from the need for a winning Quarterback by the Eagles, plus some good advice from his agent. I don't believe my "forgiveness" of Vick makes any difference one way or the other to either of us. I don't know enough about him, and we don't travel in the same circles (wish we did). But I would certainly not want my kids idealizing him, nor see the leader of the free world buddying up with him. I will happily leave the issue of his forgiveness to God, and try to keep a fair distance from him. And if I were to have to judge his person rather than his past behavior, it certainly would have nothing to do with the color of his skin. I would be disgusted by his former (hopefully) treatment of animals, which goes way against the laws in our Torah and Writings. So back to Karlson and Fox News. I don't suppose there's any possibility of anyone in the liberal establish taking a softer view of them. I can see why - they are not liberals - and they are rarely if ever repentant. But putting them and their viewers into a large lump of people called "foxies" is taking an altogether too familiar approach toward profiling that so many people reject out of hand. I don't know if Carlson is a jerk. He certainly behaved like one. And that's enough to criticize him for. But I think it wrong to accuse him of inciting a lynch mob, or of overgeneralizing about people who use Fox TV for their news.
get over it . Paul murdered Christians in the New Testament...actual humans by the way..do you think St Paul is in hell?
Second chance for criminals? A worthwhile idea, depending on the people involved. That is one-half of an equation. The other half is to mention with equal conviction (pun? maybe) that killing dogs, fighting dogs as a sport, any animal abuse, all are still sins, ethical and legal felonies in many states. And that point needs to be made. Why the rabbi made only one-half the equation I don't know. I am not a fan of Fox but I think that Tucker Carlson was perhaps extreme but--leave it at that.
I do not care about the law and serving time. My only concern is that Vick is a monster. He repeatedly took pleasure in watching man's best friends tear each others faces apart. That is a monster. And the fact that our president wasted his breath on this dirtbag makes me absolutely sick. Shame on Obama. Clearly he is fishing for the ex-con vote this year. Scumbag.

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