Victoria Kim of the Los Angeles Times reports: Two years ago, Rabbi Moshe Zigelman went to prison rather than testify against fellow Jews in a federal tax-evasion case and receive a lesser punishment.
Now, federal prosecutors are threatening him with a return to jail unless the 64-year-old devout Hasid agrees to testify 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 Zigelman, a teacher of scripture and son of Holocaust survivors, will again 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 ever-lasting punishment.
“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.”
Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel O’Brien said whether Zigelman would be compelled to testify was unrelated to Jewish principles.
“Bottom line is, federal law is federal law. It’s not religious law that’s going to govern the court’s decision,” he said. O’Brien declined to discuss specifics, saying that much of the case is sealed because it involves grand jury matters.
Read more at the LA Times.