Rabbi refuses to testify against other Jew

Sept. 7, 2011 at 1:00 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- An Orthodox rabbi citing religious principles for his refusal to testify against fellow Jews in a California tax-evasion case could face jail, prosecutors say.

Federal prosecutors say they'll ask a judge Wednesday to order Rabbi Moshe Zigelman, 64, to testify or be found in contempt, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Zigelman went to prison rather than testifying against fellow Jews in a federal tax-evasion case in exchange for a lighter sentence two years ago, the Times said.

The rabbi, who teaches scripture and is the son of Holocaust survivors, intends again to invoke the ancient Jewish doctrine of mesira, a prohibition against Jews informing on other Jews to secular authorities, his attorney said.

Zigelman has been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in the government's ongoing investigation of the tax-fraud scheme.

"No earthly sanction will ever make Rabbi Zigelman abandon his religious precepts," Michael Proctor, an attorney for Zigelman, wrote in court papers. "Imprisoning Rabbi Zigelman would be an empty, unjust act that accomplishes nothing."

But Daniel O'Brien, an assistant U.S. attorney, said Zigelman must comply with federal law.

"Bottom line is, federal law is federal law. It's not religious law that's going to govern the court's decision," he said.

Zigelman was arrested in 2007 for his role in a 10-year fraud in which donors made tens of millions of dollars in contributions to Spinka, a Hasidic sect based in Brooklyn, N.Y., but most of the money was refunded back to the contributors through underground transfers, the Times said.

Prosecutors said at the time his refusal to testify against fellow Jews made it harder to detect fraud and asked for a heavier sentence.

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