Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Is it Laudable to protect Jewish Criminals from Prosecution?

There is an interesting analysis at VIN by Rabbi Avi Shafran about a case pending before a California judge right now. It is a case I blogged about recently. There is not much to add.

To review - a Chasidic Jew has refused to testify against other Jews who have committed financial crimes. Specifically avoiding taxes via a money laundering scheme this Chasidic Jew devised, carried out, and was convicted of.

He has already served time in prison for that crime. He is now being asked to cooperate with prosecutors by giving up the names of individuals who used his money laundering scheme. They saved millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains (selling illegal knock-offs of designer products) by ‘donating’ the huge profits they made to a charity and then getting most of it back under the table for a 10% fee.

He has refused to do that because of a Halacha called Mesirah – but most Poskim do not believe that it applies in a country such as ours.

However, Rabbi Shafran points out that there are Poskim who say it does apply today - among them Rav Moshe Feinstein – a certifiable Gadol. And certainly the vast majority - if not the entire Chasidic community feels that way. And the defendant in this case is one such Chasid. He firmly believes that he is serving God by not informing on his Jewish ‘clients’ who participated and benefited from his illegal scam.

Is that a Kiddush HaShem or a Chilul HaShem? Rabbi Shafran does not say so directly but I think he implies that it is actually a Kiddush HaShem! He points out that the defendant in this case is not participating in some sort of conspiracy to hinder the government but is merely standing up for his religious beliefs. As such he considers it laudable – implying that it might even be a Kiddush Hashem.

The reasoning behind that is as follows. That a Mitzvah may not be universally seen as a positive does not automatically make it a Chilul HaShem if it is done . For example in a society that sees circumcision as so barbaric an act that it might outlaw it, it is still incumbent upon us to circumcise our sons. Not only that - if a country would outlaw it for anti Semitic reasons doing a circumcision in defiance of the law would be a Kiddush HaShem!

Rabbi Shafran wants to compare a government requiring testimony against Jewish white collar criminals to a government forbidding circumcision - at least as it applies to this Chasid.

But is that a Kiddush HaShem – even if he believes that Halacha requires him to do it? I do not see it that way. How can it be a Kiddush HaShem to protect criminals from prosecution just because they are Jewish? There are clearly Poskim who say it is not Mesirah … even if his own Poskim say it is? He may feel it is still his obligation to follow his own Poskim. But please – let us not view his actions as in any way laudable. In his case I see it as nether a Kiddush HaShem or a Chilul HaShem. If he believes that this is Mesirah he has a right to his beliefs and to stand up for them.

But I also believe that a just government like the United States has a right to lock him up if they feel that he is hindering their pursuit of justice. His refusal to testify against his co-religionists may be based on his religious principles and not be self serving. But the government’s interests aren’t self serving either. They are there to protect the public from criminals – Jewish or otherwise – misusing taxpayer money. It is after all our money - Jews and gentiles alike. It is one thing to honor God by standing up against an anti Semitic government. It is another to stand up for Jewish criminals.

Laudable? I have to respectfully disagree.