For three thousands years, the children of Abraham have found themselves the victims of countless despots, conquering armies, subjected to the edicts of ruthless tyrants and bigots who subjected them to all kinds of social, political and economic persecution. So it is certainly no surprise that in the canons of Jewish law there is an injunction entitled “mesira,” that prohibits a Jew from offering testimony that could lead to the incarceration of another Jew.
Clearly though, in establishing mesira, the rabbis of the Talmud envisioned Jewish people being forced to testify against oppressive governments like the
Romans. During the hundreds of years that Rome ruled over ancient Israel, Jews were denied their most basic civil rights including the right to practice their faith. Simply studying or teaching Torah with others was a capital offense.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that this past week, Rabbi Moshe Zigelman, invoked the mesira prohibition when he declined to offer testimony against other members of the Spinka Chassidic sect.
Prosecutors have asked Judge Margret Morrow of the LA District Court to send Zigelman to prison if he refuses to testify in the tax fraud case against a number of key people in the Chassidic community who are charged with tax fraud. This would not be Zigelman’s first experience with prison. He himself was found guilty of issue receipts for large charitable donations to Spinka synagogue, which were covertly returned to the donors.
One can’t help but wonder if Rabbi Zigelman is also familiar with Jewish laws that: a) require a Jew to obey the civil laws of the land in which they live; b) demand that Jews hold themselves to the highest ethical standards in conducting their affairs. Laundering money for charitable tax receipts definitely does not sound “kosher,” under any circumstances.
The notion that the civil governments, laws and courts of the “non-Jewish world” are not worthy of Jewish person’s respect or allegiance is not uncommon in some rigidly provincial, Orthodox communities. Just recently, the Agudath Israel synagogue organization which represents some of the most religiously and culturally conservative Jews, issued a statement instructing people to not inform civil authorities about known pedophiles in the community.