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. Joshua

    I don't like to see this type of discrimination against people of religion especially from a world that is more and more tolerant of deviant behavior. The world seems to be getting more and more intolerant of Jews and Christians and more and more accepting of all sorts of evil. This was foretold long ago in the NT that in the last days they would call good evil and evil good. I think we are there. I find peace in this insane world through faith in Yeshua/Jesus as my personal Savior. I hope the same for you if you haven't yet asked God to forgive your sins through the atonement of Jesus on the cross. Shalom

    June 14, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  2. ben beiro

    if his religious conviction is so great,why did he choose to be a police officer?The police department has rules that its officer must abide by for just reasons,they have made accomodations for people with strict religious beliefs ex.sabbath observance and allowing to have a beard.also he says he is 38 yrs old it appears they have also bent the age requirement in his favor to allow him to get on,i know he didnot serve in our military,only way to get around that requirement.I think if he wants the job he should comply with the reasonable request..20 yr veteran retired nypd p.s I would nt want him as a partner..if he refuses to shave what would he do in a life and death situation pray for me....

    June 13, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  3. SmokeScreen

    Sometimes you just have to give it up and assimilate. Tired of all the whining...

    June 12, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  4. kindness

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from som other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."

    June 12, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  5. Banma

    My friend has an equally annoying problem with her Episcopalian priest, who is busily growing himself an ugly, straggly Methuselah beard, refuses to shave it, and claims it to be a symbol of maturity and wisdom (really??). Both men, Jew and Christian are insisting the rules be changed to suit and stroke their egos. They both need a kick in the pants to bring them down to earth, as well as a trip to the barbershop. Unkempt beards have nothing going for them!

    June 12, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  6. mickey1313

    Why do some religious folks believe the rules do not apply to them. If he is that much of a zelot, moved to Israel and become a cop there. Americans do not need zi on ists.

    June 12, 2012 at 1:41 am |
    • That's not right

      As an atheist, I ask you- what if the dress code said no wearing a cross around your neck? If someone wears something for religious reasons, then do you think those reasons just disappear when you go on duty? If we say no long beards, and we know all people like the man who is the subject of the article have long beards, then how is that not blatant discrimination. You give them the choice- abandon your HARMLESS religious preference or GO HOME. Hardly a choice for a true believer. NYPD has a long, proud history of pulling this kind of shi+, I look forward to reading the opinion on LexisNexis when they rule against them.

      June 12, 2012 at 5:38 am |
    • Spendlove

      @ That's not right

      "I look forward to reading the opinion on LexisNexis when they rule against them."

      Forward slash caring.

      June 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  7. mickey1313

    If this guy didn't want to follow the dress code, he shouldn't have become a cop. Religion doesn't make you recently from following the rules.

    June 12, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  8. Evangelical

    Sue theh pants off them! This is blatent religious discrimmination and anti-semitism.

    June 11, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Anti- semitism is not real. To think he is above the rules is zio nist. Isreal is the nation that had invaded the second most other nation s in recent history. America is number one on that list. Interestingly, since isreals founding, how many times has Iran invaded another nation, NONE

      June 12, 2012 at 3:57 am |
  9. Scott Tibbs

    Isn't 1 mm a little extreme?

    For some folks, that's about two or three days growth.

    June 11, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  10. pd

    I live in Canada and we have Sikh police and military officers (municipal and apart of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) that wear turbans and have long beards (which are tied up and tucked in to be out of the way) and I've never heard of them not being able to perform their duties at the standards of a clean shaven officer. There are police and military forces all over the world that allow for men to wear turbans and have beards, why is it so hard in America to not only reflect your patriotism for your country and your traditional/religious views? Isn't your country one that stresses growth and progressiveness? Or is that only for a white Christian man?

    June 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • This is an officer safety issue and has NOTHING to do with religion

      I'm a member of the public, expecting the police officer I call to be able to protect me from the horrible person trying to do me in. When the cop arrives, I certainly expect he's going to be able to engage the suspect with the suspect being able to grab hold of the officer's beard and start yanking his head around, back and forth, by the death grip he has on the facial hair.

      It's why cops should never wear a full neckie. It either has to have a break-away or be a clip on. Tacky? Well, would you rather be fashionable then dead?

      Look – if your idiotic religious beliefs get in the way of you being able to handle a job just like everyone else does – then maybe you need to make a choice between your delusions and the reality of life.

      June 11, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  11. Bill

    These posts are true fox quality conservative style hate mongering.

    "Reasonable accommodations". There is no safety issue (lol @ the gas mask claim... when was the last time you saw a cop patrolling in a gas mask).

    What is *not* reasonable is saying "no beards" without citing a real example of how it can cause a problem.

    June 11, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • derp

      Obviously you have never done respirator training. Can't work where I do with a beard. No way to pass respirator fitment smoke test. Can't pass the test, can't work here.

      He knew the rules.

      June 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • This is an officer safety issue and has NOTHING to do with religion

      Let me grab hold of your beard with both hands and start yanking your head around and you tell me it's not a safety issue.

      Besides that – police are supposed to look sharp, consistent, and uniform. You know that before you take the job. If you don't like it – then you should be looking for other employment.

      June 11, 2012 at 4:45 pm |


    June 11, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  13. polemicist

    If you choose a job where you cannot follow the safety codes, expect to get fired.

    June 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Bill

      Safety codes?

      Do police officers regularly work with heavy machinery that can suck your 2mm long beard in?

      Sorry, do they work with machinery that can hurt a Jewish 2mm beard, but not a Sikh's 2mm beard, which is allowed, as required by the courts after 2 Sikh police officers successfully sued the NYPD.

      "Reasonable accommodations" must be made to allow for people's religious beliefs. That means you have to come up with a "reasonable" reason to disallow the beard.

      June 11, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  14. DavidinLA

    When you put on a uniform, you are not black, white, hispanic or asian. You are not Italian-American, Mexican-American or fill in the blank american. You are not a republican or democrat, jew or muslim, christian or athiest. You are a police officer. When you put on that uniform you set aside your individual set of bias and opinions and to all observers represent that you are neutral. This guy can not set aside his personal beliefs and opinions, he is incapable of appearing neutral and thus creates an obstacle to policing a segment of his community. You show up in a uniform, clean shaven, without any visible tattoos and you are communicating that regardless of who I may be at home...right now, at this moment that I am providing you service, I am a professional who will execute my duties faithfully and without bias. He shows up in a yamaka and beard and the only conclusion that can be drawn is that this person is incapable of separating his personal beliefs from his professional obligations. This is not the job for him and the only mistake the NYPD made was not sending him home the first day he showed up out of uniform.

    June 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • RetiredLE

      Well put. No one forced him to apply for a job that he is clearly unsuited for anyway.

      June 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm |


      June 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • This is an officer safety issue and has NOTHING to do with religion

      Couldn't have said it better, myself. Thank you for showing there ARE intelligent people out there, capable of thinking two inches past the front of their nose.

      June 11, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • David

      Thats where you are wrong! Being an American ISN'T about assimilating, conforming to the beliefs of the community; being an American is about being an individual, who you are, while simultaneously realizing that everyone around us has the right to be who they are.
      As Americans, we must realize that there is a dignity in difference which must never be disallowed as long as we remain a democracy.

      June 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  15. Total Disbelief

    He wanted all his life to be a cop but started the academy in his late 30s?!?!? Uh...hmm...no.
    So long, sir. enjoy your $10K or less of "go away" $, but you're done.

    June 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  16. Woody

    When you join an organization, any organization, you play by the rules, or you play somewhere else. It's akin to a hockey player signing with the New Jersey Devils and then telling management that his religious beliefs don't permit him to wear a jersey with the symbol of a devil on it, so they'll have to change their logo just for him. Unfortunately, the police department is not just any organization. They have to deal with the scu-m of the earth on a daily basis, especially a big city police department. Trying to prove a point, for the sake of proving a point, may get someone killed. Police departments deal with reality, they can't let ancient religious mumbo jumbo get in the way of successfully doing their job. I can see it now. Right in the middle of a major drug bust, with the police calling for backup, the Jewish cop gets on the radio and tells them "sorry, it's Friday, the sun's almost set, I can't help you for another 24 hours."

    June 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Gerald -- who truly is smarter than you are

      Good Point about working on the Sabbath. If he is that zealous, what's to prevent him from refusing to answer a call on a Saturday?

      And, what would prevent another recruit from wearing a turban or some head covering other than the standard police cap? What a about a female Muslim police officer who wants to wear a hijab and face veil? What if a police officer creates his own religion that demands that its followers wear a miniskirt and fishnet stockings?

      Maybe it's best if only Christian men are allowed to be cops and serve in the military.

      June 11, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Cross

      Gerald, you just showed that you are not smarter than me.
      I am free of all religious bias and can be trusted to not be some fundamentalist extremist with a bomb in my underwear, but you? Not so much.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  17. Sy2502

    Why do people insist in doing jobs that conflict with their religion? You know that to be a cop you have to conform to specific standards of appearance. If you don't intend to conform to them, find another job. It's like the Muslim taxi cabs who refuse to give a ride to customers if carrying alcoholic beverages, or Catholics who insist in working in a pharmacy and then refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control. Seriously folks, get a grip.

    June 11, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  18. Spidey-Man

    Almost total agreement Just. I was going to say almost the same... He was warned a few times and ignored them. But it does look like his attorney may have found a sucker. He'll get paid either way.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  19. Tim

    Either you want to be a cop, or you don't. There is no logical reason for the man not to cut his beard, everyone else has to do it, and he is not different (though he wants to be treated differently). Citing some ancient religious dogma is ridiculous.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:40 pm |

    Here's my take: You knew when you enrolled the situation of your beard...WHY ENROLL? this is the problem with this country, people are just plan sue happy. His religious belief would not have been a factor had he NOT enrolled. You knew because they told you and they kept telling you so why not fix the problem or just leave the academy? No he wants money so he enrolls now it's time to sue. They accomadate everyone by giving you the mm in which your beard can be but noooo that's not good enough?! This is called disobeying an order and failure to comply with standards so he shouldn't be allowed to stay anyway.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
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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.