Bintel Blog

Is ‘Stop Snitching’ a Jewish Value?

By Daniel Treiman

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The L.A. Jewish Journal’s Amy Klein has a great in-depth article on the alleged money-laundering and tax-fraud scheme that has resulted in the indictment of leaders of the Spinka Hasidic sect.

Reporting from both coasts, and visiting the Spinka sect’s home base in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, Klein tackles a number of interesting issues that the case raises, including the debate among Orthodox Jews over criminality in their community. The most interesting aspect of the article, however, is Klein’s treatment of the question of how the community regards individuals who report their fellow Jews to law-enforcement.

In the Spinka case, an informant dubbed “RK” — whom Klein says is actually businessman Robert A. Kasirer — played a key role in helping prosecutors assemble their case. And some are quite angry with him for doing so.

Klein reports:

…the most talked-about aspect of the case — both among bloggers and at Shabbat tables on both coasts — has been the involvement of Kasirer. From the start, most here guessed accurately who he was — an informant who turned state’s evidence to save his own skin — but what they wanted to know was what was he? Was he a moser — an informer, who, according to traditional Jewish law, must be killed for turning against a Jew and is denied access to “the world to come.”

The Talmud forbids a Jew to inform on another Jew to a secular government, even if that Jew violated both secular and Jewish law.

Today, among poskim — Orthodox rabbinic deciders — there is a debate over whether a Jew may turn in another Jew in a democratic state. Some rabbis say that laws of moser do not hold in the United States because they were established to protect Jews from corrupt and anti-Semitic governments that would likely torture and give Jews worse treatment than other prisoners than merited by Jewish law.

This is not the case today in a democracy, they say. “These rules apply only to one who informs on another to bandits and so endangers that person’s money and life, as these bandits chase after a person’s body and money, and thus one may use deadly force to save oneself,” it is written in the Aruch Hashulchan, (“Laying the Table,” a book about Jewish law written in the late 19th century).

But many insist that the laws of moser do apply today, and that it is forbidden by Jewish law for one Jew to inform on another to any secular government.

Rabbi Ezra Batzri in “Dinnai Mamonut” (“Laws of Money”) says informing is prohibited. “All rules of informing are applicable even currently …. Even if they bring all matter to court, it is clear that, through interrogation and the police, government can destroy people, and in many places they do, in fact, destroy people.”

Some rabbis say you cannot be a moser, even in America, except when the person doing the questionable act may be a danger to others — a child molester, a rapist, a murderer. In those cases, it would be “permitted” to inform the authorities, writes Rabbi Hershel Schacther, a top posek. Which means that in the case of financial wrongdoings, a Jew is not allowed to inform on another Jew.

When the Spinka case broke, the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) discussed the informant issue, RCC President Rabbi Meyer May said. But the council decided to let other halachic authorities deal with the question.

“There is no way to explain how perfidious what RK did is. He violated the spirit of Jewish law,” May said. “Having said that, it doesn’t justify what was done on the other side [by the defendants].”

Although many were focusing on the moser and other justifications like “everybody does it” and “we pay more taxes than everyone else,” that is beside the point, May said. The point, he continued, is to own up to any wrongdoings. “Our business is the integrity [of the individual],” he said. “Something which is wrong is wrong.”

Still, others, like lawyer and blog commentator Cohen, argue that it is precisely such concern about laws like that of moser — which forbid a Jew to turn in another Jew to authorities, and chilul Hashem, desecrating God’s name in public, which has created an atmosphere were people are more concerned with protecting their own than following the laws of the U.S. government.

“To ignore crime within our ranks does us a great disservice, both because it weakens us as a community and because tolerating it suggests to the outside world that Judaism does not promote a righteous moral compass,” Cohen wrote.

Interestingly, there’s a parallel phenomenon that’s contributing to lawlessness in America’s inner-cities. It’s known as “stop snitching.” Instead of receiving sanction from backward rabbinic rulings, however, it’s fueled by rap lyrics and the code of the streets. I fail to see how the anti-moser ethos is all that different than the “stop snitching” madness. True, these backward rabbis do make an exception in cases of danger to others. But, then again, shouldn’t rabbis be held to considerably higher standards than “gangsta” rappers?



Comments
Eric Leibman Tue. Jan 15, 2008

The laws of moser stand. The Rambam clearly states in Mishne Torah that a moser is in a category of individual who has no share in the world to come. And I don't think anyone who really knows about the Rambam calls him backward. We must never start a precedent of turning our fellow Jews over to the authorities unless it is with the approval and at the direction of a properly constituted religious court. You assume the government has the public interest at heart. Never underestimate the ability of a gentile government to turn on the Jews with little warning. The government's motives, however real the initial case or provocation, may be something far different, and much less benign, than you think. Two thousand years of history have taught us that.

Mike Thu. Jan 17, 2008

K'mo shene'emar: "Paranoia . . . zo machala kasha . . ."

David L Nilsson Fri. Jan 18, 2008

LOL at this stuff, which sounds like some weird hangover from the Middle Ages. Is it any wonder theories of Jewish clannishness and conspiracies abound in the USA whispered behind hands, even if the MSM have hounded such talk out of polite society? (Yeah, and who owns the MSM-- so go the theories.) Of course you can patiently explain to a gentile the huge differences between secular Jews and closed communities, between the Talmudically minded and the majority who've never read it... and then he says, "Ah, you mean these secret-society guys who wouldn't co-operate with the law were Orthodox, kind of like Scoooter Libby?" And Jews like to protest that they are always the blameless victim, and there's never any fire behind the smoke of prejudice! But these sects, with their elaborate rationales for perjury and concealment of guilt, for being Americans above American law, are not fading relics; they are the most resilient element in the survival of Jewish identity in America. Liebman says a Jew can only be turned over to the civil authority with the approval of a religious court. And our self-appointed Jewish leaders warn that Muslims are plotting to set up sharia law in western democracies. You cannot satirize such two-faced garbage.

Rabbi Barry Leff Fri. Jan 18, 2008

There are some rabbis who speak out against fraud and corruption. See my blog entry at http://www.neshamah.net/reb_barrys_blog_neshamahn/2008/01/is-snitching-a.html where you can also see my teshuvah on "Whistleblowing: the Requirement to Report Employer Wrongdoing."

yehudis Fri. Feb 1, 2008

There is a well-known anecdote about a certain member of an American Chassidic group who, after indictment for white-collar crime, showed up in court with the beard and peyos shaved and without a yarmulke. Although members of his community were incensed, their Rebbe said, "That was the very best thing he could do under the circumstances. Minimizing the chilul Hashem resulting from his wrongdoing overrides all the niceties of his 'frumkeit.'" It's a painful (true) story, but I appreciate the Rebbe's attitude.

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