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Rabbi who refused to testify freed after seven months in prison

Moshe Zigelman
A Brooklyn orthodox rabbi who was jailed after refusing to answer questions before a federal grand jury, saying his religion forbid him from testifying against other Jews, was ordered freed this week by a district court judge in Los Angeles, the rabbi’s attorney said.

Judge Margaret Morrow found Rabbi Moshe Zigelman in civil contempt in December 2011, rejecting a defense attorney’s argument that sending the devout Hasid to prison would be futile because of the man’s beliefs. Citing the Jewish doctrine of mesira, which bars Jews from informing on other Jews to secular authorities, Zigelman’s attorneys argued that compelling him to testify would infringe on his 1st Amendment right to religious freedom.

Morrow ordered Zigelman, 65, released Monday after seven months in a Brooklyn lockup when a federal prosecutor agreed in court papers that “additional incarceration would be futile” in compelling the rabbi to testify.

Zigelman was called before the grand jury regarding an investigation into the Spinka sect, which was accused by federal authorities of soliciting tens of millions of dollars in contributions, only to secretly refund most of the sum to wealthy donors through international channels allowing them to claim large tax write-offs.

Zigelman, who was executive assistant to Grand Rabbi Naftali Tzi Weisz, pleaded guilty to one count of criminal conspiracy in 2008 and received a two-year sentence. At the time of his sentencing in 2009, prosecutors argued that Zigelman’s belief that "it is a sin to inform on a fellow Jew" made it difficult for authorities to detect and prosecute wrongdoing by members of the sect.

He was called before the grand jury in the summer of 2011 after serving that sentence. He was sent back to prison this May –- facing a maximum 18-month confinement –- for his refusal to testify.

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-- Victoria Kim

Photo: Moshe Zigelman was ordered released from prison this week after seven months behind bars for his refusal to testify against other Jews. Credit: Pesach Zigelman

 
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