(The Blaze/AP) -- Just weeks from becoming a New York City police officer, an Orthodox Jew said he has been booted from the police academy because he refused to shave 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 New York Daily News
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.
Because Litzman is a Hasidic Jew, he believes that taking a blade to his scruff is forbidden by God.
“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 received his first citation for his scraggly beard in January. He was a mere 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.
Litzman's attorney argues the termination is the result of religious discrimination, The Daily News reports.
“They knew from when he took the exam and applied that he would not trim his beard,” his attorney Nathan Lewin said. Lewin has actually fought – and won – "beard battles" for observant Jews in the Army and Air Force.
“He said from the outset it was a matter of religious observance. He never made a secret of it," the attorney added.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly ultimately approved the firing on Thursday, however, The Daily News sources say the move was planned several months before.
According to The New York Daily News :
Back in March, Litzman’s instructors recommended he be canned after he was disciplined repeatedly for failing “to maintain personal appearance,” sources said.
Litzman was cited the first time Jan. 27 for his unkempt beard. Then he was issued a command discipline from Jan. 30-Feb. 2 — all for failure to maintain his personal appearance.
While Litzman rocked the tests with scores of 99, 100 and 96, he also got written up for minor mistakes like being in the locker room too early and forgetting his gym gear, sources said.
In a March 18 memo to the NYPD, Litzman defended his performance and stated that “as an Orthodox Chasidic Jew it is absolutely forbidden in my religious beliefs to cut or trim my beard in any way.
“I am being disciplined only because I maintain my religious beliefs and observances,” he wrote, underlining the sentence.
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.
A source familiar with Litzman's performance in the police academy called him a "great recruit" but argued that his beard presented a "potential safety issue." Asked for an example, the source cited the type of masks that recruits wear during counterterrorism training. Seriously.
“You have to be clean shaven so the mask can fit,” the source told The Daily News. “If it doesn’t fit it can be a safety issue — and a liability issue."
Despite his termination, Litzman says he will not compromise his faith.
“I will not waver in my firm belief that I can be a successful member of the NYPD and an Orthodox Chasidic Jew at the same time,” he wrote in a March 18 memo to the NYPD. “I believe that my love of [God] and my love of the NYPD can coexist.”
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.