N. Y. Rabbis Insist on Releasing Policemen from Duty on Yom Kippur

The New York Board of Rabbis today renewed the controversy over New York City Police Commissioner’s Stephen Kennedy’s dispute with Jewish members of the police force by sending a telegram asking the Commissioner to allow time off to Jewish police officers for Yom Kippur.

The executive committee of the rabbinical group said in a statement that the commissioner’s explanations that he meant no offense to the Jewish community “thus far are unacceptable.” The furore was touched off by the commissioner’s appearance on a television program on September 18 in which he indicated doubts about the religious sincerity of Jewish police who wanted time off for Rosh Hashanah observance.

The Commissioner said he had been forced to mobilize the entire 23,000-man force because of security problems arising from the attendance at the current General Assembly of the United Nations by many leaders of the Soviet bloc including Soviet Premier Khrushchev. Under pressure, Commissioner Kennedy later agreed to permit Jewish policemen to arrange swaps of duty tours with Christian policemen. It was reported that 335 of the city’s 1,300 Jewish policemen arranged such swaps for Rosh Hashanah.

Mayor Wagner apologized on behalf of the Commissioner and asked him to apologize as well. The Commissioner refused, asserting that anti-Semitism was abhorrent to him and that he did not consider an apology necessary. Former Senator Herbert H. Lehman came to the Commissioner’s defense.

Asserting that the New York Board of rabbis “did not level the charge of anti-Semitism” against the Commissioner, the rabbis’ statement expressed the hope that the Commissioner “would find it in his heart to express regret to Jewish policemen whose religious sincerity and devotion to duty he questioned in his ill-considered remarks. His explanations thus far are unacceptable.”

The rabbis said they were grateful to Mayor Wagner “for his conciliatory efforts” and added that they accepted the Mayor’s apologies “in the name of the city administration.” The rabbis also expressed thanks to the non-Jewish policemen who increased their tours of duty “to enable their Jewish colleagues to worship at services for the New Year, even as Jewish policemen have made it possible for their Christian colleagues to worship on Christmas and Easter.”

The statement said the rabbis were fully aware of security needs but felt that, through vacation leaves and “other available means,” there will be sufficient replacements” for Jewish police to be permitted to attend services on Yom Kippur, “and are so requesting in a telegram to the Commissioner.”

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