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Is ‘Stop Snitching’ a Jewish Value?

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?

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