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June 10th, 2012
01:40 PM ET

Hasidic NYPD recruit says he was fired over beard length

From Julia Greenberg, CNN

NEW YORK (CNN) - A Hasidic NYPD recruit is planning a lawsuit after being dismissed for refusing to trim his beard for religious reasons, his attorney said Sunday.

Fishel Litzman, 38, was asked to leave the police academy on Friday, his attorney, Nathan Lewin, told CNN. He began the police academy in January, he said, was in the top 1% of his classes and is "highly regarded" by his peers.

The dismissal, Lewin said, is a clear example of "religious discrimination."

"We are planning to bring a lawsuit," the attorney said. "This should not be a practice of the NYPD."

NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said in a statement the department "makes reasonable accommodations in this regard." Beards for religious purposes are to be kept to 1 millimeter in length, he said, adding that there are other Hasidic and Orthodox uniformed members who observe the accommodation.

Litzman "did not comply with the NYPD's reasonable accommodation to keep his beard trimmed," Browne said. "He did not keep it trimmed to 1mm and he stated that it was his intention to never cut or trim his beard."

But as an Orthodox Hasidic Jew "it is absolutely forbidden in my religious beliefs to cut or trim my beard in any way," Litzman wrote in a March 18 statement to NYPD officials, provided to CNN by Lewin.

Litzman has "wanted all his life to be a police officer," Lewin said. "He always worked to help people."

Litzman wrote that after receiving a 97.6% on his entrance exam last year, he "inquired about keeping my naturally short beard intact" and filled out a religious accommodation form. He received a short letter saying the matter would be addressed when he became a recruit.

After being selected for the 2012 class, the father of five said he resigned his job. "Since I had applied for an exemption before I was accepted and had already been photographed, I believed that the NYPD was aware of my religious needs and accepted me knowing I needed to keep my beard intact," he wrote.

While in classes, Litzman three times was told he would have to cut or shave his beard. Each time, he refused, citing his religious beliefs, Lewin said. He was also punished with the loss of two vacation days, according to Litzman's memo.

He notes that other officers have beards, and said he was told repeatedly that if he cut his beard now, he would not be asked to do so again after leaving the academy.

"I cannot, as a matter of religious conscience, follow that instruction because I may not trim my beard even temporarily to complete the academy," he wrote.

"One of the points that has been drilled home during my short time at the academy is the need to represent the NYPD with integrity," Litzman wrote to police officials. "Although not knowing whether I will be punished for maintaining my religious beliefs has been very taxing on me and my family, I will not waver in my firm belief that I can be a successful member of the NYPD and an Orthodox (Hasidic) Jew at the same time."

He said that as his academic and physical scores show, "I am focused on dedicating myself to being the best probationary police officer I can be."

Asked if other factors could have contributed to Litzman's dismissal, Lewin said, "I don't think it's anything else ... He would - will be, I believe - an outstanding police officer."

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said in a statement Sunday he was "deeply troubled" by the reports Litzman was fired for refusing to trim his beard.

"The NYPD has done a commendable job in recent year of building a police force that tries to reflect the populations that they serve," Stringer said. "Fishel Litzman should be no exception. I urge the police commissioner to reconsider this case as well as the NYPD's rules about religious accommodation more broadly and, in so doing, to make a clear statement in support of religious expression for all."

- cnngc

Filed under: Judaism

soundoff (141 Responses)
  1. ABACUS

    I am a christian with the utmost respect for All Jews! however why at age 38 did this man consider to become a cop? I was a cop for 10 years in MA. I started taking the civil service exams at 18 & finally at 22 was accepted. Beards & Mustaches are usually not allowed on most forces. It makes an officer look unkempt, unprofesinal & is against uniform regulations! I think @ 38 he lost business/job & figured he'd "cash in" off the NYPD! It's that simple!

    June 11, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      You're making a gross assumption about the man's character.

      June 11, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  2. WASP

    he failed to maintain the appropriate appearance, so he got the boot. that is waht "boot camp" is about weeding out those that can hack it and those that can't.
    i did eight years in the army, if someone would have shown up to basic with a beard and refused to shave it off they would be sent straight home.......samething here. you want to keep the beard, find another job; end of story.

    June 11, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • anna

      Couldnt agree more, if anyone wants to join the police or any other govt job, they should be made to dress accordingly. Otherwise like you said, find another career.

      June 11, 2012 at 8:17 am |
  3. fred

    This guy's lawsuit is weaker than that of the lady who sued Burger King after spilling hot coffee on herself and stating that she should have been warned. (She won the lawsuit, by the way.) The Police Dept. has rules regarding length of hair and beards and gave this guy warnings. This guy will not win this lawsuit.

    June 11, 2012 at 7:32 am |
  4. Luke

    Have the guy strap on a gas mask. Put him in a tear gas chamber. Believe me when he can't seal that mask he will shave off his beard or quit on his own. A gas mask doesn't seal with a beard under it. Apparently NYPD doesn't have thier recruits experience tear gas training.

    June 11, 2012 at 7:22 am |
  5. barbara

    He knew what the rules were before he applied to the police academy! The academy was already accomodating him... again he knew what the rules were.

    June 11, 2012 at 6:50 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      He also knows that he has the right to practice his religion, and Hasidic Jews are not supposed to shave their beards. It's his first amendment right to practice his religion without discrimination, which is what has happened to him.

      June 11, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • SmokeScreen

      @Rational Libertarian: In that case, given the requirements of the position and the personnel rules in force for ALL members, he should have never applied for the position, unless he was willing to shave his beard and ASSIMILATE.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  6. Atheist2112

    Good! Stupid a.s.shat deserves what he got for being a stupid beleiver in a pantie waste god who doesnt exist. I say we fire all the religious nuts and take their children from them to.

    June 11, 2012 at 4:54 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Yeah, how dare he take advantage of his const.itutional right to practice his religion.

      June 11, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • SmokeScreen

      @Rational Libertarian: No one stopping him from practicing his religion. It's simply a situation where his religious observance precludes him from taking certain jobs. Practice your religion all you want, per the First Amendment, but when you enter the public sector, you are required to assimilate. Just like that Muslim woman in Florida not too long ago that wanted to have her driver's license picture taken with her face covered. Kind of defeats the purpose of a picture ID, wouldn't you say? Sorry, but this guy had no business applying for this job unless he was willing to abide by all the rules of employment. If any rules are contrary to his religion, he has the right to leave the job. He doesn't have the right to have the world revolve around his religion. There are too many of them and too many differences. It's completely impractical in a pluralistic society.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    June 11, 2012 at 4:43 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      June 11, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  8. Wow

    Sounds so preplanned. Is he related to the Kardashians?

    June 11, 2012 at 4:34 am |
  9. Wow

    Sounds like a set up for a lawsuit. You ask for the seat in the academy, you ask for the job, you ask to be trained to NYPD's professional standards.!!! Then you complain when NYPD's training won't bend to your standards. Hey's got the shoe on the wrong foot. No compliance, no job. Simple. NO GRAVY ON THE BUSCUIT. Another whiner. Go tell it to a Marine SGT.

    June 11, 2012 at 4:32 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      The Scopes Monkey Trial was a planned lawsuit to test the law. Should John Thomas Scopes have been punished for not following Tennessee's educational professional standards?

      June 11, 2012 at 7:35 am |
  10. Mirosal

    This guy was in the NYPD Academy. Call it a "boot camp" of sorts, if you will. In military boot camp there are NO beards, NO moustaches, and ALL males get their heads shaved. What would happen if a military recruit goes to basic training, and refuses to get his hair cut? This guy knew the rules going in, and yet he still went. It's his own fault. Did he think his "god" would shake the world from pole to pole if he shaved his beard for the training period?

    June 11, 2012 at 4:23 am |
  11. believer

    I am amazed at some of the comments on here..Putting the beard aside for a moment..Jesus, was a Jew! Not a Christian for starters! It would behoove Christians to GET that already.How ignorant and rude you are.. Next, I suppose it is better to have a "clean shaven" officer who has no morals at all! Though you may not fully understand his reasons,( I assume you never read a Bible), there are indeed reasons why this fellow does what he does..The fact that he would desire to protect anyone of you ill mannered people says more for him than you! But you are to ignorant to appreciate that..We have drug addicted teaches in our schools, yet a beard has you all up in arms! And then all that anti semetic mess comes flowing out of your vile mouths..Here's a news flash for the Christians..If it were not for the G-d of Israel..you would have no hope! Back to the beard..who cares? If he can pass all the requirements..I would be happy to have this fellow on the force! One beard is worth more than half the misfits in the NYPD! Amen*

    June 11, 2012 at 4:02 am |
    • BG

      Participation in an organization, whether it's a police academy, military basic training, or a corporate 'culture' is a test of character and obedience. Can you listen, follow directions, and demonstrate that your loyalty and compliance takes priority over your own needs?

      If not, gtho, and don't let the door hit you in the ass.

      June 11, 2012 at 4:19 am |
  12. NYPD Recruit

    Nice guy, always helping other people. He was the top at everything literally, grades, gym, range etc. I spoken to him on several occasion, he was vehement about keeping his beard, but I never thought he would be fired.

    June 11, 2012 at 1:47 am |
    • Wow

      What part of NO, do you and he not understand?

      June 11, 2012 at 4:38 am |
  13. blondie

    OYYY!

    June 11, 2012 at 1:27 am |
  14. thecollegeadmissionsguru

    Here's how I see it. If you want the job and it requires that you be clean shaven, or trimmed, then you accept the requirements; otherwise, look for a profession that accepts the way you look. Stop whinning!

    June 10, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      @thecollegeadmissionsguru: Seeing as how most of the industries in the US are dominated by redneck rule-makers (your cronies guru), making it almost impossible to land so many decent jobs, then i'd say it's a civil-rights issue.

      Go get 'em Hasid!!!

      June 10, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So, bigfart, you're out of work? What a shame.

      June 11, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  15. The Detective's Wife

    I think getting a cop on the street, untrimmed beard and all, is a win for the people NY.

    June 10, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Aint that the truth!

      June 11, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  16. reformed_amish

    i smoke pot and trip on acid for religious purposes. i wanna be a cop too. i'm gonna sue!

    June 10, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  17. Joe Linard

    This guy has a strong point, why did they let him through knowing he had a beard? Seems like Isreal have gas masks that fit beards so why cant he?
    Seems like this guy will kick some a** and win the lawsuit. Im rooting for you Litzman!

    June 10, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Ralph M

      There is a dress code just like everywhere else like it. Why fan the flames of a simplistic self absorbed narciissist? His 15 minutes amounted to about 8. Sorry, f a i l.

      June 10, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Steve

      Aparently you missed the part where he was in the ACADEMY. IE School. He shows up, looking like rip van winkle, they say shave it, he says no, they say yes, he says no..they say Bye. Pretty simple. HE knew the standards its HIS responsability to either not apply for the job or amend his habbits. Should we allow pilots who are blind? I mean we cant discriminate vs disabilities and religion right? How about a Doctor who is a Jahova and refuses to administer medications or blood to patients...I know its hard for liberals to do..but use your brain and common sense.

      June 10, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Retired Cop

      "Since I had applied for an exemption before I was accepted and had already been photographed, I believed that the NYPD was aware of my religious needs and accepted me knowing I needed to keep my beard intact,"
      He was weeks away of graduating if they didnt want him they should have dismissed him right away!
      I think our city needs people like Litzman who are firm in their beliefs!

      June 11, 2012 at 1:40 am |
  18. Harley Davidson

    Real men wear beards!

    June 10, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Exactly Harley. In fact, for the first 4000 years of civilization it was that way. It wasn't until the Roman Empire that it changed, and of course the leaders of modern Western Civilization are totally infatuated with the whole Caesar (read redneck a-ho le control-freak) thing.

      June 10, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  19. New Yorker

    Iv spoken to many cops and they said this whole beard thing is very silly there are cops in the NYPD that have longer beards then him. Someone needs to fight this law this just like the yarmulka was fought and won in NYPD.
    And BTW what about those woman officers who have there hair in a ponytail thats not a safety hazard? Its time for them to wake up and except the fact that they will have bearded POs just like the sheikhs can wear their turban's in the NYPD.

    June 10, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  20. ninja guy

    They should just work out a deal.hire him and just make him trim it more.and hopefully all you bored people on here will shut up about religion.for 100000 years that's all u people have been doing .its been one long annoying ride for us athiests

    June 10, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Nothing fails like atheism

      live on another planet? Create an atheist country? Shut out world?

      Oh wait that describes North Korea

      June 10, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • ninja guy

      How does atheism describe north Korea? See people Religion can come up with some great arguments but its followers nvr seem to themselves.as ghandi said I love the Christ,just not the Christians

      June 10, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      WEll said! It's time to put religion in the history books, mythology books, where it belongs.

      June 10, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • Never u mind...

      im not really on here for a whole religious argument or anything like that but maybe if u learned to accept that religon has, is, and will always be in this world like ive accepted your choice not to believe in it then maybe this world would be just alittle more better of a place to be in 🙂

      June 10, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      Ummm there's a slight problem with that logic. There are two billion Christians who want to turn the world into a Christian theocracy. In the United States it's becoming an epidemic. Sorry, IF we who believe that religion is a dead way of thinking, that Christianity and Islam are both based on a MYTH, keep quiet we are being dishonest.

      June 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Nothing fails like atheism

      its funny how atheists think they know "2 billion Christians" and how we all think feel etc.

      It's impossible.We all want a theocracy? Does that include all the "branches of Christianity" or just Christianity by itself?

      So pretty much even atheists have their own delusions.

      June 11, 2012 at 6:30 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.