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.
Reaction has been varied to a frum Jew’s continued refusal to share information about fellow Jews with government authorities because of his belief that to do so would violate the prohibition of mesira. The mainstream media have largely reported the case straightforwardly (although a reporter for a major Jewish news service asked this writer if the “tactic” employed by this man is a common one; the response he received was that a religious conviction is not a tactic).
On the street, and in the even grimier blogosphere, however, a broad range of perspectives has been aired, many of them deeply critical of the Jewish man’s stance. Among common reactions have been assertions that the man is endangering Jews by his stubbornness, and that he has created a chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s Name) by his refusal to name names.
It is important to separate the issue of mesira from a crime that is committed. Dealing dishonestly, whether with Jews, non-Jews or governments like ours, is forbidden by halacha. The sources are clear about the requirement incumbent on a Jew to heed the law of the land—dina di’malchusa—with regard to monetary and other civil matters.
Also worth recognizing is that the prohibition of mesira does not always apply, particularly in a society with a justice system like that of the United States, which does not systematically treat Jews badly and whose laws are generally fair and just. In cases, for example, where a Jew poses a threat to others—such as a violent criminal or child abuser—and cannot be controlled by communal efforts, decisors are in agreement that the prohibition of mesira is trumped by concerns about the potential harm the wrongdoer poses to the public.
Cases like this man’s, however, are not in that category. His implication of other Jews in the crime for which he has paid his debt to society will not remove any threat to society; it will only create the likelihood that other Jews may come to harm. Although there are halachic decisors who might not consider mesira as applying at all in a country like the United States, there are certainly many—including Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l—who have stated clearly otherwise. The rabbi has consulted with his personal rabbinic guides and received a similar determination.
A common misconception about chillul Hashem is that it includes anything that is looked down upon by people. But for something to qualify as chillul Hashem it must first be a sin; and the fulfillment of an obligation cannot, by definition, be a chillul Hashem. Were society to suddenly see circumcision as a barbaric and terrible rite, practicing bris mila despite the societal disapproval would constitute a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of G-d’s Name, not its opposite. The man’s refusal to inform on others, rooted as it is in halacha, is laudable.
American history includes a long and illustrious history of citizens putting personal conscience before the law of the land. The civil disobedience of the 1950s and 1960s in the face of racial discrimination is rightly celebrated today. Dedication to a religious ideal deserves no less respect than dedication to a secular one. If a person is willing to give up his freedom in the service of a higher ideal, he should be respected for his selfless and principled choice.
The prohibition of mesira might strike some, even some otherwise halacha-respecting Jews, as discomfiting. The idea of a requirement that a Jew seek to protect the well-being of other Jews, especially when they may have committed crimes, may stick in some contemporary craws. But even leaving aside the fact that many religious and ethnic groups display special concern for “their own” (just as families are more protective of family members than strangers—a fitting comparison here), committed Jews need make no apologies for what the Torah teaches.
Whatever the judge decides, one thing is clear: the man ready to be jailed for his principles intends no contempt of any earthly court, only to honor the Heavenly one.
[Rabbi Shafran is an editor at large and columnist for Ami Magazine]
If a son refuses to testify to covict his father is that contempt of court?
What about a brother?
hat about a cousin?
What about a second cousin?
Where does the US justice system draw the line?
If testifying against someone, is un-ethical and careless, then we should never testify against anyone, Jew or Non-Jew.
If it is ethical and humane, then we should testify against a Yid as well.
We just can’t live amongst our neighbors and treat people differently based on what kind of mother they were born to. It lacks in the Middas Tzedek V’yoisher.
Uh oh. Here come the child advocates (the fanatics), who insist that anything they want supersedes the halachos of mesira. I, too, have issues with some of the current proclamations and the ways in which rabbonim and others seek to implement them. However, as the author here states clearly, certain views may be unpopular, but are based on the mission of adhering to Torah in all our actions, not what our logic wishes. I, too, believe that the secular justice system is the only effective one in dealing with abuse. But I will disagree with respect, and seek to have that position understood by the frum leadership. The pattern of heaping bizyonos must be rejected by every Yid that has a conscience about following Torah and the mitzvos. Our poskim are seeking to follow Torah Law rigidly, and that is good. If the truth differs from their conclusions, they will listen and change their stance. After all, they are the lomdei Torah whose light illuminates our generation. The current stance of disagreeing with disgrace is to be shunned by all.
The relevant shulchan aruch is choshen mishpat, siman 388.
I agree with the author.
To # 2
Yakov, you better go back to cheder and learn chumash with Rashi again
Emes lamitah shell torah,
Is it only mesira if u testify against a “heimishe” or even against a modern orthodox or secular jews. We seem to have this double standard when it comes to lashon hora on “hemish” news sites.
Sorry, but the theme of the article misses the point. What is to prevent ANYONE from invoking a religious objection to testifying in a variey of matters, whether it be a yid invoking “mesirah” or a wicken invoking some comparable principle under their pagan religion. The courts cannot and should not seek to analyze and evaluate the sincerity of one person’s religious objections compared to another. Under our legal system, the civil courts ultimately trump religious law although they are required to make a reasonable accomodation. In this case, refusal to testify is a “contempt” of court, whether intended or otherwise and this yid should stay in jail until he provides the testimony demanded by the court’s lawful order.
Even according to those poskim that state “where the law is just to everybody and there is no din of Mesira” I believe when it comes to the jews there still is no equality of the law
Look at Rubashkin
Look at Pollard
Rabbi Shafran writes that chilul hashem applie only where the deed in question is a sin. I’m not sure that this is true. Hashovas aveidah to a nochri is ossur, and yet the Gemara and Poskim say that where a chilul Hashum might result, one must be meishiv the aveidah. It is even praiseworthy to be meishiv the aveidah to make a kidush Hashem.
We live in a medinah shel chesed. If someone commits a crime there is no din of Mesirah in testifying against them (many contemporary poskim hold this way). If someone breaks the laws of this country, regradless of their status in the community, they must pay the price for their crime. If you don’t like it, either leave the country or perhaps don’t break the law.
What about dina d’malchusa dina? Wasn’t the original act rooted in a sin?
“Cases like this man’s, however, are not in that category. His implication of other Jews in the crime for which he has paid his debt to society will not remove any threat to society; it will only create the likelihood that other Jews may come to harm.”
Apparently, tax evasion is not considered a threat to society. What about Ponzi schemes, other fradulent schemes? Are any financial crimes considered a threat to society according to Rabbi Shafran?
While Rabbi Shafran is correct that a MITZVAH when performed properly cannot be a chilul hashem, he is incorrect, in that a Chilul hashem does NOT have to be a sin. Even a neutral act, such as taking meat from a butcher on credit (gemara at the end of Yoma) can constitute chilul hashem when a reasonable observer can misinterpret that act to denigrate the reputation of the one who commits the act (and, by association, Hashem, RL). Even an indiscretion or an act committed without intent can constitute Chilul hashem, as it says in Mishna avos, Echad shogeg ve-echad mezid, be-chilul hashem.
So many of these clever Jews who twist the Torah any way it suits them. Why did this holy Jew and his pals put God aside when they were defrauding the government and raking in cash? Where was their fear of “transgression”? How convenient it is to steal millions of dollars and pray to God while doing it everyday and then all of the sudden once they get caught they conveniently put on their religious hats and start demanding their religious rights. The judge should throw all the books on him. She should tell him next time you want to follow your “Mesira” rule, also follow the rule where God forbids you from stealing.
I believe the good rabbi is incorrect in his statement that the religious felon has paid his debt to society. He agreed as part of his plea bargain to cooperate with authorities than reneged on his word. Groise Tzaddik No Chillul Hashem tjhere
Why wasnt he so worried about Torah when he evaded tax laws?? What>? He got religion in jail???
Mesira is a complex halacha. It’s like eating on yom kippur- there are cases in which it’s muttar, but it’s not for every yid to pasken on his own, and the consequences are severe.
The acharonim mention a case where mesira on a yid who committed a crime is muttar. Reb Moshe ZT”L (in a teshuva in volume 8) debates whether this applies to any yid who actually committed a crime or only in a case where it mitigates the impact on other Jews. He is machmir, as is the case where the issur
#4 #10 #11 etc.
Don’t understand your problems,
The man is ready and willing to go back to jail, to satisfy his conscience, who are we to say whether it’s right or wrong…
Again, being he committed a crime, does this mean he can’t turn his life, his mind, his conscience, around? He has to continue doing criminal acts? What’s wrong in deciding “let bygones be bygones from now on I’ll be good”. Sorry to say it seems you don’t have a problem with obeying the law or judicial system, you have a problem of despising frum Jews, as much as you try to conceal it, it’s just oozing out of you….
Also, don’t judge anyone unless you are in his shoes…
The main issur of mesirah is only in a case when there is no wrongdoing on the part of the nimsar (CM 388,12) Whether it is muttar or not so bad in other cases where the nimsar is a criminal remains a machlokes poskim. Many poskim do hold that you are not mechuyav to go to jail in a case where the nimsar is a criminal. It’s not black-and-white either way. But this is clear- do not decide without asking a competent rov. The halacha is not to be decided by vin news comments.
Rav Zalman Nachemia Goldberg clarified in a tschuva that primarily the prohibition of mesira is in making a financial claim against another yid in a non-torah court, whereas reporting a Jewish criminal who causes financial or physical harm such as stealing or brutalizing is ussually permited. It should be clear though, that tax evasion can not be equated with stealing. It can even be argued that avoiding giving Jewish money to the gentile government is praiseworthy. There is a lot of corruption in the way taxes are collected and spent, and every bar sechal (Jewish or not) prefers to hand over as little as possible. So a person guilty of tax-evasion is not a type of criminal whom we are obligated to report on (or permited to report).
Did this strike anyone else? “…where a Jew poses a threat to others—such as a violent criminal or child abuser—and cannot be controlled by communal efforts…”
Can the “local community” be depended on to control a violent criminal? Does one have to kler a shaylah before turning in an armed robber or a Murder Inc. hit man?
The sincerety of his beliefs is irrelevant. If its misirah it’s one thing. If not, let him sit in jail for his wrongful beliefs. I think Rabbi Shafran owes the community an explanation when he says that we can report those with potentional for violence only if the community cannot control them! Who in the community would make this decision? How can they be controlled? By putting them on secret lists? When it comes to violennce or child abuse, report immediately! The authorities are the only ones qualified to investigate.
Here is my issue, we get more worked up against the masser than against the people who committed the crimes! You don’t here anger and indignation against the thieves and fraudsteres, like you hear it against the mosrim. People have no fear of Hashem while stealing but they suddenly have fear of Hashen by mesirah and they r considered tzadikim! I have news for you, they didn’t have fear of Hashem then ad they don’t have it now. The only thing they have is contempt for non-jews and secular courts, laws and society.
If a Jew makes a contract with a Gentile, is the contract valid al pi halacha? If it is, if the Jew in question agreed to cooperate with authorities as part of a plea deal, isn’t that a contract? Also, such a contract included the committment to do an aveirah. Does that invalidate the contract? If that is so, then why would anyone object to the State invalidating the plea and sending him back to serve his full sentence?
Here is my issue, we get more worked up against the masser than against the people who committed the crimes! You don’t here anger and indignation against the thieves and fraudsteres, like you hear it against the mosrim. People have no fear of Hashem while stealing but they suddenly have fear of Hashem by mesirah and they r considered tzadikim! I have news for you, they didn’t have fear of Hashem then ad they don’t have it now. The only thing they have is contempt for non-jews and secular courts, laws and society.
“…for something to qualify as chillul Hashem it must first be a sin”. WRONG. Buying on credit is not a sin, yet the Gemara (יומא פ”ו) calls it a חלול ה for some. It all depends on the person’s spiritual level and how he is viewed by others. The greater the person, the more wary he must be of how his actions may be interpreted (or misinterpreted by others, even if there is no sin involved.
How does the criminal stand by and watch an innocent man go to prison in order to keep himself out? How is it that we are powerless to stop him, and then PROTECT him?
Why did we not deliver Miller to the Japanese authorities and take those 3 boys home? If he had no problem sending them, he certainly has no problem sleeping at night!
The guilty party’s sleep isn’t my concern;
this person, that served his sentence, and made restitution IS.
When someone harms another and may harm some else, then the din of Rodef applies. One in that case may call the police where there is future danger Ex: a ponzi scheme, going the wrong way on a one way street, abuse etc. In our case the harm was already caused and there is no future harm.
Don’t you guys have an amendment that protects him?
The gratuitous insult is startling. The blogosphere is “grimier” than the street. While the author’s organization, Agudath Israel, stands on the sideline for decades, or worse, actively hinders any progress, it is the bloggers who are shouting loud and clear that child abuse of any form is intolerable. Finally, when some positive action is being taken, from other quarters, not only is a simply “thank you” not offered, but the klal is the recipient of a snide put-down.
How are the courts going to distinguish between a claim by a frum jew that he/her is precluded from testifying because of some aspect of their religious beliefs and any other person from any religious belief (or even non-religious person claiming “spiritual” objections) asserting a similar right not to testify under a court order. Under our system, the courts cannot grant a special exemption to yidden not afforded to others based exclusively on their beliefs nor do we want the courts deciding which religious beliefs are sincerely held and which are not.
There is also this troubling quote: “In cases, for example, where a Jew poses a threat to others—such as a violent criminal or child abuser—and cannot be controlled by communal efforts, decisors are in agreement that the prohibition of mesira is trumped by concerns about the potential harm the wrongdoer poses to the public.” These words show an appalling lack of knowledge of the underlying cause for our child abuse problem.
Both in theory, and experience has shown: child sex abusers cannot be controlled by Jewish, Catholic, or any other “communal efforts”. The evidence can be found in the detox centers, and the cemeteries. Over and over again, the medical and psychological professional journals are telling us, the Catholics, and the whole world: pedophilia has no cure.
The empty promise of teshuva made by a pedophile to a rabbi, has proven a recipe for disaster. Criminal prosecution works. It can either take the molester off the street for the period of time he is sentenced, and even better, in my opinion, is that he is now branded a convicted criminal who is less likely to be in contact with children.
And we child advocates have our rabbinic “decisors” who agree.
So, if a Yid commits one sin by defrauding the gov’t, he should commit ANOTHER sin by telling on others? If I desecrate Shabbos in the first hour, should I continue doing so for the rest of the day?
Missing from Mr Shafran’s dissertation is the condemnation of this tax fraud and theft.
Many of the posts are asking on Rabbi Shafran that we see form different sources that Chilul Hashem is even where there is no sin involved, so how could Rabbi Shafran say:
“A common misconception about chillul Hashem is that it includes anything that is looked down upon by people. But for something to qualify as chillul Hashem it must first be a sin”
I think what Rabbi Shfaran means is pashut, that of course a Chillul Hashem does not necessarily have to be a straight out sin, he only means that if what you are doing is correct (something praiseworthy, like going to prison before ratting someone out), then that can not possibly be a Chillul Hashem all because people with other outlooks view it negatively.
Emes lamitah shell torah,
Rubashkin committed bank fraud and stole millions which earned him the title hero, rebbe, tzadik and he was and still is lauded by all on VIN. Lo Signoiv is in the Aseres Hadibros. When it comes to mesirah everybody is a frummy, but since Rubashkin gave tzedaka with his stolen money you defended and supported him, and deny his crimes. What a bunch of hypocrites.
R’ Shafran wrote: “‘tactic’ employed by this man is a common one; the response he received was that a religious conviction is not a tactic…”
It is a conviction AND a tactic. Who would want to rat out their sugar daddies…?