Haredi prisoner chooses jail over security bracelet

Rabbis disagree on whether hi-tech ankle monitor breaches Shabbat

jail cell bars 88 (photo credit: )
jail cell bars 88
(photo credit: )
A haredi activist arrested for allegedly pummeling opponents during a violent turf war demanded an exemption this week from wearing a house-arrest monitor on Shabbat. But a Jerusalem Magistrate's Court judge ruled that if the man does not wear the ankle bracelet monitor at all times, he must go to jail. As a result, Avraham Zarbiv, 24, who first made a name for himself in haredi circles by spearheading an angry and sometimes violent offensive against attempts to enlist yeshiva students in the IDF, was removed this week from house arrest and imprisoned because of his punctilious observance of the Jewish day of rest. Judge Alexander Ron of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court refused to accept Zarbiv's claim that the bracelet, which he was forced to wear 24 hours a day, seven days a week, constituted a desecration of Shabbat. Ron, himself an observant Jew, cited the opinion of the modern Orthodox Zomet Institute, headed by Rabbi Israel Rosen, which approves the use of the bracelet on Shabbat. Zarbiv refused to recognize Zomet's halachic authority and appealed to the District Court. The appeal is expected to be heard before Shabbat. Haredi sources predicted that if the court refuses Zarbiv's request, extensive haredi demonstrations against what they perceive as a violation of Zarbiv's religious freedom will break out in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. Supporters have already vented their anger over Zarbiv's predicament. On Friday, December 29, Zarbiv forcibly removed the bracelet. Moked 99, a private security company that operates the house-arrest monitoring system for the police, responded immediately. Officers from the security company confronted a crowd of angry haredim that surrounded the patrol car, turned it on its side, and slashed all four tires. Zarbiv is the leader of the Marom Group, haredim who in recent months have been in a power struggle with a rival group headed by Israel Kletzkin over the pashkevilim (notices plastered on walls and bulletin boards in haredi neighborhoods) business. Meanwhile, haredi activists who see the court decision against Zarbiv as an attack on religious freedom have enlisted haredi MKs. In a letter to Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) called the use of the bracelet on Shabbat "anti-religious coercion." "Zomet's approval of the use of the bracelet on Shabbat is, of course, baseless from a halachic perspective," said Porush. "Halacha forbids the use of an instrument that causes [electronic] currents on a computer on Shabbat," he added. Rabbi Haim Kanyevsky, one of the most respected in the Lithuanian community, ruled by proxy that use of the monitoring system on Shabbat was prohibited. Metzger, quoting Kanyevsky, Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib Landau, and Rabbi Tuvia Weiss, head of the Edah Haredit's Rabbinic Court, joined the opposition against the monitoring system. However, none of the rabbis explained why the Zomet Institute's halachic opinion was wrong. In contrast, Zomet's Rosen explained why he permitted the use of the bracelet. "In the prisoner's house there is an electronic receiver that constantly receives broadcasts from the ankle bracelet," explained Rosen. "The prisoner's movements do not activate anything. As long as the prisoner does not leave the perimeters of the house he remains within broadcast range of the electronic receiver and no alarm is activated. There is no difference between the ankle bracelet and any conventional battery-powered wrist watch." Rosen added that it was possible to deactivate the bracelet without removing it, if a prisoner had permission to do so. Rosen said that he had received anonymous phone calls attacking him for rebelling against the rabbis. "But nobody bothered to find out how the monitoring system really works," he said.