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Hasidic Jew fired from NYPD over beard length

  • Associated Press
  • Published Saturday, June 9, 2012, at 9:24 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, June 9, 2012, at 9:25 p.m.

NEW YORK — An Orthodox Jew who was weeks away from becoming a New York City police officer said he has been kicked out of the police academy for refusing to trim his beard.

Former recruit Fishel Litzman of Monsey was fired Friday after multiple confrontations with the department over the length of his whiskers, he told the Daily News (http://nydn.us/LDIivf).

Litzman is Hasidic and believes that cutting his beard is forbidden by God.

NYPD rules usually require officers to be clean-shaven. The department makes exceptions for beards kept for religious purposes, but even then only allows 1 millimeter worth of growth.

"I don’t understand what the problem would be," said Litzman.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the department’s rules are reasonable and Litzman was aware of them when he signed up.

Litzman was first cited in January for his unkempt beard. He was a month away from receiving his shield when he was fired.

"I always wanted to be a police officer," said Litzman, a 38-year-old father of five who speaks Hebrew and Yiddish and was once a paramedic.

His attorney, Nathan Lewin, said the police department knew when Litzman applied that he would not trim his beard.

And now, said Lewin, it’s a case of religious discrimination.

Lewin did not immediately respond to telephone and emails messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The department hired its first Hasidic officer in 2006 and the force now has at least two dozen Orthodox Jewish officers.

Like observant Muslim and Sikh officers, Hasidic officers are allowed to keep their beards for religious reasons but must keep them neat and trimmed.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer issued a statement Saturday saying he was "deeply troubled" by the firing.

"While the NYPD can exercise control over the personal appearance of its force in order to ensure that all officers are capable of performing their duties, they are also required to make a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs," Stringer said.

He urged the police commissioner to reconsider the case.

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