Bintel Blog

What Do Gangsta Rappers and Hasidim Have in Common?

By Daniel Treiman

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They’re not snitches. The N.Y. Daily News reports:

Long before the first rapper stopped snitching or any Mafiosi swore an oath of omertà, there was the Jewish law of mesira.

The tenet that forbids Jews from informing on fellow Jews is one of the hurdles facing Brooklyn prosecutors probing the April 14 attack on a black man by two Jewish men, sources told the Daily News.

Authorities - invoking a complaint long cited in cases involving rappers - said the initial probe was hindered by the local Hasidim’s refusal to cooperate.

One source suggested the Orthodox community was taking a page from the rap world’s “stop snitching” handbook. But it was actually lifted directly from the Code of Jewish Law.

“The Hebrew word is mesira, which means basically you are not allowed to be an informant,” said Rabbi Shea Hecht, a well-known figure in Crown Heights.

“In essence, I am not allowed to snitch, period.”

Let the record show, I was way ahead of the authorities with this analogy. The difference, of course, as I pointed out, is that we should hold religious authorities to higher standards than gangsta rappers.

Hat tip: dnA via Ta-Nehisi Coates

UPDATE: I just came across this analysis from Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen, in which he makes the case that “reporting Jewish violators of law is not necessarily a violation of Jewish Law, but, rather, a means of openly demonstrating that Orthodox Jewry will not tolerate criminal action. As such, it is a form of Kiddush HaShem, sanctifying G-d’s name and accordingly permitted and even to be extolled.”

Eric Leibman Wed. May 14, 2008

You can reference my comment on the first story you wrote on this subject. But I will say, briefly, that for very clearly demonstrated historical reasons, no government authority must ever be allowed for one second to think that they can get Jews to testify against or inform on each other. Governments have historically viewed this as the crack in the open door that allows them to force their way deeper and deeper into the Jewish community, using people against each other. Governments seem well intentioned and often are not. Governments seem to have the right motive and often have something else entirely in mind. The Rambam states, and he is a far greater and smarter man than Mr. Tremaine, to say the least, that informing on a fellow Jew is absolutely forbidden. The only exception is when a qualified religious court grants permission or the risk of physical danger is real, immediate and can't wait for consultation.

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