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Three Yeshiva Boys on Trial in Japan

The trial of one of three yeshiva boys charged with smuggling drugs into Japan – inside a suitcase a “friend” asked them to take – has begun.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 2/11/2009, 5:51 PM / Last Update: 2/11/2009, 11:51 PM

The trial of one of three Israeli yeshiva boys charged with smuggling drugs into Japan – inside a suitcase a “friend” asked them to take for him – has begun, and the other two are to begin within weeks.

Efforts to give the three legal aid, financial help and prayers have been stepped up in Jewish communities around the world.

The story began last April when the three Chassidic yeshiva boys from Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, all under age 20 and one under age 18, were asked to transport some antiques from Holland to Japan. The three were part of an “acts of charity club,” and the friend who asked them for the favor, offered them $1,000 each, and assured them that everything was legal, was the coordinator of their group. They therefore suspected nothing.

Once in Amsterdam, they were given the “antiques” – concealed inside false-bottomed suitcases. Told that this was a precaution against theft, they once again suspected nothing, and flew on to Tokyo. In Japan, the false bottoms were quickly detected and broken into by customs officials – who found there not antiques, but $3.6 million worth of Ecstasy pills.

The boy's ensuing detention period has been "very difficult, to say the least," sources close to the case say.  Japan is known for its no-nonsense approach to drug-trafficking and other crimes, and in view of the severity of the charges, the boys have been separated from each other, grilled by interrogators, and forced to subsist on vegetables, fish and the like – so as not to eat non-kosher food. 

Fears That It Will Get Worse
Held in conditions that are diametrically opposed to the culture and sheltered conditions in which they grew up, they are likely to face even more difficult conditions for untold years in Japanese prison if convicted. Japan and Israel do not have a mutual extradition treaty.

Actively helping out in procuring legal help and visitors are Rabbinical Court Judge Chaim Yosef Dovid Weiss of Antwerp, Belgium; Attorney Mordechai Tzivin of Israel, who deals in international law and specializes in cases of Israelis incarcerated overseas; Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Bleich; and Rabbi Aron Nezri of London. In addition, Japanese lawyers have been hired to defend the boys – and they recently flew to Israel to see first-hand the environment of trust and kindness in which their clients grew up. 

Points in Their Favor
The sources say that though criminal cases in Japan almost never end in acquittal, the boys’ exemplary behaviour, as well as extenuating circumstances as they were carrying out their “crime,” have been noted. For one thing, all three have passed lie-detector tests showing that they were unwittingly taken advantage of by someone they trusted, and that they did not know what they were carrying. In addition, their behaviour before and during their trip to Japan indicated that they felt not at all self-conscious or secretive about their intentions.  

“Their incarceration in Japan is very difficult,” one source emphasized, “physically, emotionally, and legally – and it can get intolerably worse if they are convicted.”  The boys spend whatever hours they have studying Torah and praying, and try to fulfil whatever Torah precepts they can. Rabbi Nezri said that one of them told him, “No matter how much you think you understand what emunah [faith in G-d] is, you can’t really know what it means until you’re in my position.”

Prayers
The families ask for prayers for their sons: Yaakov Yosef ben [son of] Raizel, Yoel Zev ben Mirel Risa Chava, and Yosef ben Ita Rivka.

A letter from one of them, Yaakov Yosef, several months ago, was replete with words of inspiration and faith. He wrote that he did not want to write about his personal situation, “because this is not the time, and especially since I didn't want to break you too much, for there are things that are above nature, and they happen every single day, without exaggeration.” 

He also noted that he had “received letters from people we don't know, because all Israel is responsible one for another; 'Who is like Your nation Israel!'... and just as you [plural] wish to know about our reception of your letters, so too and even more I want to know how you [will accept] this letter, to which I have dedicated more than a week... and also, I saw your letter only a month after you sent it, and who knows how long it will be before you receive this.  I will sign off here, with G-d's help... saying, 'Even if I walk in the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me, Your staff and rod will comfort me.'”