Untrimmed for service? NYPD boots Hasidic Jew for beard
Fishel Litzman was just weeks away from receiving his badge, when he was officially booted out.
“I always wanted to be a police officer,” he told The New York Daily News. “This was unfortunate.”
The 38-year old father of five stated that that the NYPD gave no reason for his dismissal.
“They didn’t give me anything,” he said. “I don’t understand what the problem would be.”
His lawyer, however, pointed to the fact that the New York police knew Litzman was not going to prune his beard because of his strict observance of Orthodox Judaism.
“They knew from when he took the exam and applied that he would not trim his beard,” said Nathan Lewin, a lawyer famous for defending religious Jews in similar cases against the Army and the Air Force. “He said from the outset it was a matter of religious observance. He never made a secret of it.”
Lewin says the incident is now a matter of religious discrimination.
Chief NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said Litzman knew the rules when he applied, and underlined the fact that the police allow beards up to a millimeter in length for religious purposes.
“The NYPD makes reasonable accommodations in this regard, permitting beards for religious purposes to be kept to 1 (millimeter) in length,” he noted “This was explained to the recruit in the Police Academy.”
Over the past six months, Litzman had been issued several command disciplines for “failing to maintain personal appearance,” according to sources cited by the newspaper. He was also cited for minor blunders such as being in the locker room too early and forgetting his gym gear despite his outstanding test performance.
In an early memo from Litzman to the NYPD, the recruit expressed his belief that the reason he was targeted was that he was an observant Jew.
“I am being disciplined only because I maintain my religious beliefs and observances,” the March memo reads. “I will not waver in my firm belief that I can be a successful member of the NYPD and an Orthodox Chasidic Jew at the same time. I believe that my love of G-d and my love of the NYPD can coexist.”
The NYPD hired its first Hasidic cop in 2006, and now there are at least two dozen Orthodox Jews working for the police. They are excused from work after dusk on Friday and on Saturday and are allowed to wear yarmulkes under their police caps. They are also allowed to keep neat and trimmed bears not longer than a millimeter in length, just like Sikhs and Muslims.
The adjustments were necessary because the NYPD had been sued before over the matter. In 2002 a Sikh rookie filed a lawsuit after being fired for failing to cut his beard and remove his turban. He was eventually reincorporated and allowed to wear the headgear.