Rabbi Zirkind – Money Laundering, Narcotics and a Sentencing Letter or Two…

Letter regarding education to the Court

Considerations for Deciding on a Sentence – A Deficiency of Education? Really…

Dear Reader:

Zalmund Zirkind is charged with the laundering of funds derived from drug trafficking. There are numerous victims, including those who have fallen victim to drug abuse, overdoses and death for whom Zirkind, whether directly or indirectly, provided a pathway to use. His laundry operation was clever, considered and committed. And excusing this behavior on the basis of a failed education is a travesty.

If Hasidic education is inadequate it should be acknowledged as a failure and fixed. If the Hasidics are fighting any effort to provide them with an adequate education, they should not then be excused from the accompanying failures with respect to abiding by civil laws. The Zirkind family ascribes to their belief system, indoctrination of educational neglect, the accompanying insularity and community centrist religious practice. They should not be rewarded for their choices when running afoul of the law.

The community with which Zirkind identifies is entirely opposed to secular education with rare exception. They claim that their Torah education is superior to civil education, a claim echoed in the United States, Canada and throughout Europe and Israel. Rabbi Zalmund Zirkind is a rabbi, a person held in high esteem and regard, a person of allegedly moral superiority. He is supposed to be exemplary and pristine, setting an example for his followers.

The religious community has fought in courts the world over to prevent the imposition of civil education. There are claims in lawsuits wherein Torah education is described as “superior” and “secular studies as morally challenged.” If Torah education, absent civil studies, is superior are we to reward its failings? Is Zirkind, then, by virtue of the educational environment in which he was raised superior or is he morally challenged? He can’t have it both ways with the above letter also being evidence of reasons for leniency, a shield protecting him for the charges for which he has pleaded guilty.

While the person who wrote that letter claims to have fought the religious educational system for years, his fight is irrelevant. If Zirkind himself believed his education inadequate, why allow his own family members to follow suit? Perhaps so they will later have an excuse to claim that their deficient understanding of the world should yield the benefits of diminished sentencing when they commit crimes? That is an absurdity.

Rabbi Zirkind was to have been a pillar of his community, an example. His affinity for decency as expressed in the above letter does not mitigate the crimes he committed or the responsibility he had to provide a pristine example for his congregants. Were we to be lenient what message would that send to his followers?

The following are pages from the Government’s position on the Zirkind sentencing which can be found on the court docket. It is not to be deemed as complete.

Government position on Zirkind Sentencing from Docket
Government position on Zirkind Sentencing from Docket
Government position on Zirkind Sentencing from Docket
Government position on Zirkind Sentencing from Docket
Government position on Zirkind Sentencing from Docket

The Supreme Court, Covid-19 and Religious Freedoms, Tone Deafness

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. – First Amendment

Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn to protest against coronavirus restrictions, in October. (photo credit: YUKI IWAMURA/REUTERS)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn to protest against coronavirus restrictions, in October.
(photo credit: YUKI IWAMURA/REUTERS) Photo from the following article in The Jerusalem Post

Dear Readers,

I write this in response to an Op-Ed posted by Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel regarding the recent decision of the Supreme Court in which the Archdiosese of New York and Agudath Israel were a party. It is written with the utmost respect. The Op-Ed in Haaretz is entitled, “Why Are Jews Flinging anti-Semitic Libels at Jews Who Simply Want to Pray in Synagogue?”

I value our Constitution and the principles it purports to enshrine. Freedom of Religious Practice and Assembly being two of the great rights supposedly guaranteed under the First Amendment to that Constitution. But, I propose this: Is the freedom to not practice a religion, the freedom to be free from the religious whims of another also enshrined in the First Amendment? The Supreme Court, in rendering its decision in this case, seems to think not.

The basis of the Supreme Court decision was, indeed, draconian restrictions on religious practice by Governor Cuomo, wherein he color coded certain areas of New York and within those zones restricted gatherings of, in this instance, greater than between 10 and 25 people. That number was arbitrary. It had some basis in reasoning from public health experts; but it ignored indoor space size and in effect was not even-handed. That being said, it was not as proposed by the Plaintiffs intended to single out the Orthodox Jewish synagogues and religious churches but rather to provide a voice of reason to religious adherents who have been congregating in large and maskless numbers. Unfortunately, that brush painted with broad strokes the religious Jewish community.

Governor Cuomo’s mandates admittedly would have made far more sense, and been far more palatable and even-handed, had the restrictions been fluid with the size of any space. In other words, if the capacity of an indoor space is safely 1000, the limit of gathering within that space should have been 10% or 15%. Similarly, if the limit of capacity of a location is 100 people, 10% or 15% would have been a fair and uniform method of keeping attendance at any location to a minimum while Covid-19 is spreading. Governor Cuomo’s restrictions were not consistent and uniform and that may have been a problem, but it was not the focus of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Rather, the protected class within the context of the ruling related to the definition of “an essential business” and whether the practice of religious belief is “essential.” In response, I similarly ask if the decision to not practice religion is also “essential.” The comparison used by the litigants in the case was that of synagogues and churches to liquor stores and bicycle shops, the latter of which were not restricted in the same or similar manner under Governor Cuomo’s restrictions as the former.

I maintain that comparing liquor stores and bicycle stores to synagogues and churches is not an apples-to-apples comparison in terms of how each is “attended” by the general public and thus how each is affected by the Covid-19 contagion. The numbers in New York have quantifiably proven that the pandemic adversely affects large numbers of people enclosed indoors for extended periods of time in far greater numbers than those who go to purchase items in stores. In other words, the results of walking in to buy a bicycle or a bottle of wine is far different than the results of congregating for long periods of time in a synagogue or a church. And, it is upon that basis that the Supreme Court should have ruled.

In wine stores, bicycle stores and other stores, people enter, look around, purchase something or not and leave. The ingress and egress are not all at once but sporadically; and liquor stores and bicycle stores generally do not attract crowds of people. In churches and synagogues people are in attendance in large numbers for hours. They come and go at generally the same time and congregate and talk amongst themselves before and after services. Attendees dance and they sing and they are indoors together in a closed (and sometimes poorly ventilated space) for lengthy periods of time. This is an important distinction that should have been made by the majority of the Supreme Court; and the one Justice Sotomayor made in her scathing dissenting opinion.

What was ignored both in the litigants’ papers and in the ruling itself is that mask and social distance restrictions are, have been and continue to be ignored by much of the religious community, at least the religious Jewish community. The photo above says it all “We will not comply”. That is the attitude that has been taken since the Covid-19 pandemic began and one that puts everyone at risk.

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