January 10, 2008
The Spinka money trail—and the informant who brought them down
(Page 4 - Previous Page)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.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
On Monday morning, Dec. 31, the streets of downtown Los Angeles were eerily empty; nearly everyone had left town. But the Roybal Federal Courthouse was open, and by 8:30 a.m. there were enough Chasidic men in the third-floor corridor for a minyan: 11 -- not to mention a few clean-shaven men wearing black yarmulkes -- all waiting for the morning's arraignment hearings to begin.
Grand Spinka Rebbe Weisz didn't converse much with his gabbai Zigelman. The men pored over Hebrew books -- either studying holy texts or reciting psalms -- and intermittently conversed with the lawyers. It would be an hour until the court would open and another until their own hearing would begin.
Everyone was anxious for the hearing to start -- not because of the upcoming secular New Year, which the ultra-Orthodox do not celebrate -- but so that they could return to their homes and to their lives in Brooklyn.
The seven men had been arrested and jailed on Dec. 19, a Wednesday, and most were released before Shabbat.
Weisz and Zeligman had spent another Shabbat in Los Angeles, detained until the arraignment. The Spinka Rebbe attended Rabbi Chaim Boruch Rubin's synagogue in Hancock Park -- which itself is entangled in a legal battle over land use -- and was given the honor of leading services. At this, a few men walked out in protest.
"As a parent in the community and as a rabbi in the community, since there were children in the room and since we have an obligation to teach our children right and wrong," one person who left quietly said later. "I have no problem [with the Spinka Rebbe] sitting in the front in his normal [honored] seat," but the man who walked out said he would have preferred "one stage less than normal" to show children "that it's not business as usual."
When the court opened for the hearing, most of the defendants and their supporters filed into the first row of the courtroom, except for the clean-shaven Friedman, who sat in the back, a few seats away from Zeivald, who was accompanied by an Israeli translator.
A Yiddish translator sat next to the Spinka Rebbe, and only Roth, the Israeli banker, came from the entrance behind a glass partition, clad in green prison outfit. He was the only one not yet released on bail, at the time, because the government said he was believed to pose a flight risk. Roth remains in custody.
Finally, their turn arrived. The seven filed up front, each with his separate lawyers. (Famed lawyer Donald Etra, who was originally retained to defend Weisz, was by then no longer on the case). They each declined to have the charges read to them.
"How do you plead?" Magistrate Judge Alicia G. Rosenberg asked.
One by one, Weisz, Zigelman, Naiman, Zievald, Friedman, Lazar and Roth each said: "Not guilty."
By 11 a.m., they filed out of the courtroom.
By Shabbat, Jan. 4, the Grand Spinka Rebbe was back in Boro Park to lead his congregation. He's free on $2 million bail, allowed to travel for work in New York and New Jersey, and of course, to California, where he and Zigelman, among others, await trial.
Yeshiva snapshot (above) by Amy Klein