Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hammerman on Ethics: Does MIchael Vick Deserve a Second Chance?

Michael Vick and Forgiveness - Jewish Week - Hammerman on Ethics

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.

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