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L.A. rabbi refuses to testify against fellow Jews, faces jail time

September 7, 2011 |  8:16 am

Tax case

Federal prosecutors are threatening a rabbi with jail time unless he testifies before a grand jury regarding the federal government's ongoing probe of tax evasion in his Orthodox Jewish sect. On Wednesday, they will ask a judge to order him to testify or be found in contempt.

His attorney says Rabbi Moshe Zigelman, a teacher of scripture and son of Holocaust survivors, will refuse, citing his religious principles.

Zigelman's unyielding religious stance has led to attorneys wrangling in a federal courtroom over the rare intersection of the modern U.S. legal system and the ancient Jewish doctrine of mesira, a prohibition for Jews against informing on other Jews to secular authorities.

Prosecutors have said the rabbi's position is unsupported by Talmudic law, according to court papers filed by Zigelman's attorneys. Defense attorneys contend that he is again being asked to make the obvious choice between heaven and earthly jail cells, and that no prison time will be able to get Zigelman to go against his religion and face everlasting punishment.

Zigelman is a 64-year-old devout Hasid. He was born in communist Hungary to a mother who had been interred at Auschwitz and a father whose first wife and six children died in the Holocaust, according to his attorneys. After moving to Brooklyn in the 1970s, he began working for the Hasidic sect in the kitchen before eventually becoming executive assistant to the grand rabbi.


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-- Victoria Kim

Photo: Rabbi Moshe Zigelman says his religious beliefs prohibit him from testifying against fellow Jews. Credit: Pesach Zigelman