Judge frees Orthodox rabbi who refused to testify

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles judge has ordered an Orthodox rabbi from Brokklyn, N.Y., freed after he refused to answer questions, saying his religion forbids him from testifying against other Jews.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Judge Margaret Morrow ordered Rabbi Moshe Zigelman freed Dec. 10, after he had spent seven months in jail. A federal prosecutor had told the court that “additional incarceration would be futile” in forcing the 65-year-old rabbi to testify, the Times said.

Zigelman was found in civil contempt in December 2011 after Morrow rejected his attorney’s argument that forcing him to testify would violate his First Amendment religious freedom.

The Jewish doctrine of mesira, from the Talmud, bars Jews from informing on other Jews to secular authorities.

Zigelman had been called before a grand jury regarding an investigation into a Brooklyn-based Hasidic sect, Spinka, which was accused of arranging illegal donations in a tax-fraud scheme.

He had pleaded guilty in 2008 to criminal conspiracy and received a two-year prison sentence. Zigelman was the executive assistant to Grand Rabbi Naftali Tzi Weisz of the Spinka sect.

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