Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Criminal Intent

I am so tired of crooks like Rabbi Moshe Zigelman perpetuating a Chilul HaShem in the name of religion. Especially when there is such contempt for the law. The issue here is Mesirah. Halacha dictates that a Jew is not allowed to inform on another Jew. Reporting a Jew to the government is considered a grave sin.

I can certainly understand why this is the case. Anti Semitic governments have ruled over the Jewish people almost continually since the destruction of the second temple 2000 years ago. Although there were periodic times of relative governmental tolerance for its Jewish citizens during the course of Jewish history, I think it is fair to say that the issue of Mesirah was a serious matter that often resulted in punishments that far outweighed any crime a Jew was convicted of. Sometimes Jews were tortured, executed, or given life sentences for relatively minor and sometimes trumped up crimes.

So turning a fellow Jew in to the government was indeed always a very serious matter and not taken lightly by the Jewish people. This kind of anti Semitism persisted well inot the 20th century which of course culminated with the Holocaust. Imagine what Mesirah to the Nazis must have meant!

So it is therefore very understandable that Mesirah is treated so seriously even today – as it should be. But not in a country that has a fairly applied system of justice like ours. As pointed out in a Los Angeles Times article:

Rabbi Michael Broyde, an Emory University law professor and a member of the rabbinical court Beth Din of America, said a commonly held view is that the principle doesn't apply in a just, democratic state.

Indeed as long as Halacha views a societal law as just, it is an obligation for us to follow it. And if it is not followed one may in fact not only be permitted to inform the government of the crime and the criminal– but required to do so by Halacha. Especially if not doing so constitutes a Chilul HaShem.

This is certainly the case with Rabbi Moshe Zigelman who was the Spinka Rebbe’s right hand man.

For those who suffer from short term memory loss the Spinka Rebbe was involved in one of the most complex and far reaching money laundering - tax evasion schemes in American history. It was a scheme which caused one of the biggest Chilul HaShem in Jewish history. He took millions of dollars in tainted money as charitable contributions; issued tax receipts to the donors for the full amount; and returned 90% of those donations under the table (in an elaborate international scheme). He then kept the rest for his own Spinka institutions. The Rebbe was convicted of the crime and given a prison sentence.

Rabbi Zigelman has already served time for his part in the crime. If I recall correctly he was the mastermind behind the whole thing. It was done with criminal intent.

But now he has again been asked to inform on others who participated and benefitted financially from his criminal scheme. He has refused citing the Jewish law against Mesirah as justification for it. And thus he perpetuates the Chilul HaShem in my view.

Toi be fair there are some Poskim who say that informing on a fellow Jew even in a just society like the United States still qualifies as Mesirah. I’m sure that Zigelman feels that way. His lawyers are making the following argument:

Given his clear principle, finding him in contempt and sending him to jail will be "vindictive rather than coercive…”

Given his convictions, it may in fact be futile to put him in jail for the purpose of ‘getting him to talk”. But I wouldn’t call it vindictive. I would call it just. Especially when a Chilul HaShem is involved. And as I said I’m tired of people scamming the government and then crying religion to protect themselves and fellow miscreants.

That said, if this is truly his conviction then to him it is not a Chilul HaShem but a Kiddush HaShem. He can stand up for his convictions. But he should be willing to the pay the price and not complain if his legal arguments are denied. If that means an additional stint in jail so be it. One thing is certain. No matter what one’s position is with respect to Mesirah, no one has a right to criticize the government here at all. Because in all of this, they are the ones serving the cause of justice.

The laws of Mesirah are very complex and subject to various different interpretation by Poskim. No one should therefore extrapolate Halacha from this essay or the many comments offered by commenters. If God forbid a situation like this ever arises in your life - please ask a competent Posek how to proceed.