Agudah Spokesman: Haredi Rabbi Convicted Of Fraud Who Refuses To Give Government Information About Co-Conspirators are "Selfless," "Principled," "Laudable"
SPEAKING AS ADVOCATES WE KNOW THAT AGUDAHS POSITION ON MESSIRA IN
CASES OF CHILD ABUSE AND THE MUCH NEEDED CHILD VICTIMS LAWS ARE
SELFISH UNPRINCIPLED DEPLORABLE
|RABBI AVI SHAFRIN|
THE AGUDAH CLOWN
New York - Mesira Analysis By Rabbi Avi Shafran
Rabbi Avi Shafran • Ami Magazine
New York - Last Wednesday a small group of Jews was present in a Los Angeles courtroom as U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow heard arguments on whether a 64-year-old frum Jew should be found in contempt of court for his refusal to testify against other Jews before a federal grand jury.
After completing a two-year sentence in regard to a tax evasion case on behalf of a group of religious institutions, the man was served with a subpoena to testify before a grand jury in the government’s continuing investigation of the case, and now finds himself facing the possibility that the judge will rule him in contempt, a decision that could result in additional incarceration. The case at issue concerns the group’s network of institutions, which apparently accepted donations from wealthy contributors but issued receipts in excess of what was actually received, allowing for donors’ tax breaks on the larger amounts.
At the heart of the man’s current situation is the Jewish prohibition of mesira, literally, “handing over”—the forbiddance, codified in Jewish religious law, of informing on a fellow Jew to secular authorities.
“Because the transgression of mesira is so dire,” the man asserted to the Los Angeles Times through a Yiddish interpreter, “my mind won’t change until I die.”
His attorney, Michael Proctor, said the man had obtained Jewish legal decisions that the serious prohibition of mesira applies in his case and that, as a result, he should not testify.
“It’s not conceivable,” Mr. Proctor told the judge, “that he is going to, quote, ‘break’.”
On the other side of the issue stands Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel O’Brien, who argued that such a religious stance, if not punished, could serve as a “convenient tool” for law- breakers to hide behind. Because there are other Jews, Mr. O’Brian contended, whose testimony will be vital to the case, permitting the Jewish man to avoid testifying could “stifle” the investigation.
Prosecutors have also reportedly contended that the man’s position is unsupported by Talmudic law.
The Los Angeles Times quoted Rabbi Michael Broyde, an Emory University law professor and a member of the Beth Din of America, as contending that, in the paper’s paraphrase, “a commonly held view is that the principle doesn’t apply in a just, democratic state.” There are, how- ever, other views among respected decisors of Jewish law.
In any event, the Jewish man’s attorneys assert, what matters is not whether the rabbi is correct in his interpretation of Jewish law, but the fact that his belief is sincere and that he is committed to it. Finding him in contempt and sending him to jail, they say, will be “vindictive rather than coercive.”
The judge has postponed her decision for now.