a person who turns over a Jewish person or his property to Gentiles is a moser and has no part in the world to come – it is permissible to execute the moser even today when there is no capital punishment – it is permissible to kill the moser before he informs – if he has been told not to inform and insists on informing, then he who executes the moser first has great merit
This was an element of the defense made in 1995 by Yigal Amir, the religious extremist who assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Amir offered up the laws of mesirah as justification for his deed, telling police that Rabin was a moser for giving up Jewish property as part of the peace process. (That Rabin was a moser had been implied by several religious Zionist Israeli rabbis including Dov Lior, Eliezer Melamed and Daniel Shilo.) “Din moser [the law of informing] and din rodef [the law of a pursuer] are a halachic ruling,” Amir said during the police interrogation. “Once something is a ruling, there is no longer a moral issue.”
Two years earlier, Rabin, setting aside a lifetime of enmity, appeared on the White House lawn with Yasir Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, to agree to a framework for limited Palestinian self-rule in the occupied territories; the next year, somewhat less painfully, he returned to the White House, with Jordan’s King Hussein, to officially end a forty-six-year state of war.
Within months of Rabin’s death, Benjamin Netanyahu was the new Prime Minister and the prospects for a wider-ranging peace in the Middle East, which had seemed in Rabin’s grasp, were dead, too. Twenty years later, Netanyahu is into his fourth term, and the kind of peace that Rabin envisaged seems more distant than ever.
The response of the Haredi Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York City, to allegations of sexual abuse against its spiritual leaders has drawn scrutiny. When teachers, rabbis, and other leaders have been accused of sexual abuse, authorities in the Haredi community have often failed to report offenses to Brooklyn police, intimidated witnesses, and encouraged shunning against victims and those members of the community who speak out against cases of abuse.
Nechemya Weberman, a member of the Hasidic Satmar community in New York, was sentenced to 103 years in prison for sexually abusing a young girl over the course of three years, beginning when she was 12. The case, needless to say, sparked an uproar within the community. Some were outraged over the 54-year-old Weberman’s behavior, but others were furious for a different reason—that he had been turned over to the police at all. Four men were arrested on charges of witness intimidation, after allegedly offering the girl, who later testified against Weberman, half a million dollars to drop the case and suggesting that she move to Israel. To some, the girl was a moser, a rabbinic term for a Jew who informs on another Jew.
Mesirah (or mesira, to turn over) is the action in which one Jew reports the conduct of another Jew to a non-Rabbinic authority in a manner and under the circumstances forbidden by Rabbinic Law.
This may not necessarily apply to reporting legitimate crimes to responsible authority, but does apply to turning over a Jew to an abusive authority, or to a legitimate one who would punish the criminal in ways seen as excessive by Jewish community, though “excessive” punishment by non-Jews may be permissible if a precept of the Torah has been violated.
The term for an individual who commits mesirah is moser (HE:מוסר) or mossur. A person who repeatedly violates this law by informing on his fellow Jews is considered subject to “Din Moser” (law of the informer), which is analogous to “Din rodef” in that both prescribe death for the offender, and according to some, in some circumstances he may be killed without warning.
The source of the ban comes from the Bava Kamma (HE:בבא קמא) section of the Babylonian Talmud. Probably the law was instigated to ease Jewish life under Roman or Persian rule. This law is discussed in Babylonian Talmud, by Rambam and in Shulchan Aruch. Shulchan Aruch, however, states that in the cases that if Jews do not testify against other Jews in the gentile court, it will be obvious that Jews are covering up for each other, they should testify.
Whoever adjudicates in a non-Jewish court … is wicked and it is as though he has reviled, blasphemed and rebelled against the law of Moses.
Maimonides further explains:
“It is forbidden to hand over a Jew to the heathen, neither his person nor his goods, even if he is wicked and a sinner, even if he causes distress and pain to fellow-Jews. Whoever hands over a Jew to the heathen has no part in the next world. It is permitted to kill a moser (informant) wherever he is. It is even permitted to kill him before he has handed over (a fellow Jew).”
According to Michael Broyde, there are many different opinions among 20th-century rabbis as to the extent and circumstances mesirah is still valid in modern times.
According to The Times of Israel and a Channel 4 investigation, the concept of mesirah was used by a Haredi leader to protect community members investigated for child molestation from police investigation.
The principle of mesirah has also been used to dissuade Jewish auditors from reporting other Jews to the IRS for tax fraud.
Rabbinic courts in Israel have been known to issue writs calling for social exclusion of Jews bringing legal issues to Israel’s civil courts.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky a leading Israeli rabbi and posek in Haredi Jewish society ruled that reporting instances of sexual child abuse to the police is consistent with Jewish law.
Mesirah has also been cited as one of the main reasons for the gross underreporting in the Sexual abuse cases in Brooklyn’s Haredi community.
The mesirah doctrine came under intense public scrutiny in Australia in early 2015 as a result of evidence given to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse relating to an alleged long-running and systematic cover-up of child sexual abuse and the institutional protection of perpetrators at the exclusive Melbourne boys’ school Yeshiva College. Fairfax Media on 28 January 2015 reported secret tape recordings and emails had been disclosed which revealed members of Australia’s Orthodox Jewish community who assisted police investigations into alleged child sexual abuse were pressured to remain silent on the matter. Criminal barrister Alex Lewenberg was alleged to have been “disappointed”, and to have berated a Jew who had been a victim of a Jewish sex offender and whom he subsequently regarded as a mossur for breaking with Mesirah tradition. Lewenberg was subsequently found guilty of professional misconduct.
In February 2015 Mr Zephaniah Waks, an adherent of the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Chabad sect in Melbourne, Australia, testified to the Royal Commission that following his discovery that one of his sons had been sexually abused by Rabbi David Kramer, a teacher at their school, Yeshiva College, he confronted the school’s principal, Rabbi Abraham Glick and demanded that Kramer be sacked. Mr Waks told of his shock when he learned a few days later that Kramer was still working at the school, and that he again confronted Rabbi Glick, who then claimed that Kramer had admitted his guilt “because he wanted to be caught” but that the school could not dismiss Kramer because (Glick claimed) he was at risk of self-harm. Mr Waks also told the Commission that despite his anger, he felt constrained not to go to the authorities because of the doctrine of mesirah:
“I thought this was absolutely outrageous, however if I reported this to the police I would be in breach of the Jewish principle of mesirah.”
Waks said the concept of “mesirah” prevented members of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad sect of Judaism from going to secular authorities.
“At the very least, the breach of mesirah almost certainly always leads to shunning and intimidation within the Jewish community and would almost certainly damage marriage prospects of your children.”
Giving evidence to the Commission on the day before his father, Mr Menachem (Manny) Waks, one of three children from the Waks family who were sexually abused by staff at Yeshiva College, testified that after breaking mesirah by going public about his abuse, he and his family had been ostracised by rabbinical leaders, shunned by his community and subjected to a sustained campaign of abuse, intimidation and threats, which eventually forced Mr Waks to leave Australia with his wife and children. He also testified about how members of the exclusive Chabad community had pressured him to abandon his advocacy:
“I was in fact contacted by several considered community members, and they said to me that the anti-Semites are having a field day with my testimony and my publicity around this issue, and that if I cared about the community, I’d cease doing that straight away.”
Counsel Assisting the commission then asked Mr Waks how he felt having been accused of being an informer:
“I am appalled by it obviously, because the concept of ‘Mesirah’ really, you can become a death target. Taken at its literal meaning, you become potentially a target who is legitimate to be murdered, because you’ve gone and cooperated with the authorities. Now, I’ve never felt threatened for my life, but it does highlight the severity in which this concept is held.”
In December 2017, the Commission’s final report included a recommendation to Jewish institutions:
All Jewish institutions in Australia should ensure that their complaint handling policies explicitly state that the halachic concepts of mesirah, moser and loshon horo do not apply to the communication and reporting of allegations of child sexual abuse to police and other civil authorities.