Trial of Japan Bochur Continues: Judge Asks: “Do You Know What the Olympics Are?”


japan-bochurim1The trial of Yoel Zev ben Mirel Risa Chava Goldstein began this week after the devoted askonim and defense lawyers representing him worked tirelessly for months to prepare him for his trial. Due to Japanese court regulations, Yoel Zev – the third of the three Japan bochurim – did not provide testimony to explain and describe how he was swindled into bringing illegal drugs into Japan. Instead, he is undergoing intense questioning, both from the defense and prosecuting attorneys, and the judge will glean the full story based on his responses.

Askanim involved in the case who are currently in Japan have expressed some optimism following the beginning of the trial yesterday and today.

Rav Levi, the mashgiach of the Satmar Yeshiva in Bnei Barak, took the stand and testified regarding the refined character of the bochurim which he recalled from the period they learned in the yeshiva. He mentioned that they had asked for permission prior to embarking on their trip to Japan.

Rav Levi also portrayed the beauty of the seclusion and detachment of the boys from the rest of the world. He explained that teenagers living in the Torah environment of Bnei Brak have no exposure to drugs, nor can they be expected to suspect someone they trust of using them as pawns to transport illegal substances.

Yoel Zev was then brought to the witness stand and seemed calm as he prepared himself for questioning.

The prosecutors asked Yoel Zev about his knowledge of the secular world, as they tried to determine for the court whether there is a chance that the boy knew nothing about the drugs that were unwittingly smuggled into the country – as the defense has contended – or if he knew in advance of the scheme.

They asked him about sports and music and it was clear that Yoel Zev has very little knowledge of the outside word.

“Do you know what the Olympics are?” asked the judge. Yoel Zev replied: “I think that it is a kind of car.” The judge and the court attendees erupted in laughter, while the defense attorneys responded with inner satisfaction, knowing that the boy’s “ignorance” of this type would only help his cause and demonstrate how little he truly knows of the world outside the frum enclave in which he was raised.

Askanim have related that in recent days, a new judge joined the case and has expressed sincere interest in understanding the story and getting down to the bottom of exactly what occurred at the time of the alleged smuggling.

Yoel Zev’s legal team trained Yoel Zev to provide the appropriate responses for each eventuality. They spent months training him for cross-examination and appropriate responses to the defense’s questions.

Many family members, including Yoel Zev’s mother, are attending the trial together with a small group of Jews hailing from all over of the world who have gathered to show their support.

Yosef Zev’s trial began back in July. As reported here, the trial was initially scheduled to take place on four or five days in total, two days in July and then several days this week.

Keep Yoel Zev ben Mirel Risa Chava in your minds when you daven and perform mitzvos during these critical days.

Yosef Bando, Yosef ben Itta Rivkah, the youngest of the three bochurim, is now in Eretz Yisroel serving the duration of his 5-year sentence in Israel.

The second of the bochurim, Yaakov Yosef ben Raizel Greenwald, was sentenced to six years in prison.

The work is by no means over. The appeal for Yaakov Yosef is scheduled for November 1.

The boys are currently being held in the Chiba detention center. Chiba is the city closest to Narita International Airport, where the boys were arrested and where their court cases were held. Japanese law specifies that prisoners be held in the prison belonging to the court system of the city in which they are being tried. It follows, therefore, that since the appeal is to take place in the District High Court in Tokyo, Yaakov Yosef would have to be transferred to the Tokyo prison, a facility that much, much worse than its Chiba counterpart. All the professionals who were consulted advised the askanim that there could be no getting around this law; at most, Yaakov Yosef would be allowed to stay in Chiba only until the date would be set for his appeals case. 

Every two weeks, the boys undergo a physical check-up; they are examined and weighed, and are given the opportunity to fill out forms outlining any particular requests they might have. They are the only prisoners in the entire facility, and probably in the entire country, who are given this unique “treat.” Just the fact that they can leave their cells twice a month for 45 minutes and speak Hebrew through an interpreter is a treat for them. What would happen in Tokyo, where an arrested Jew was recently forced to go without his yarmulke for two weeks, until the guards finally returned it to him? Never mind tzitzis and tefillin, which the bochurim are able to have with them in Chiba. It would be a whole new jungle for the askanim to navigate, and they were extremely anxious.

 Yaakov Yosef himself has said that now is the most crucial time for our tefillos to be heard. Had he been acquitted at his original trial, the prosecution would most certainly have appealed and won their bid for a 13-year imprisonment, which could not have been overturned. Now, it can either remain a six-year sentence or he can go free. The Japanese courts almost never go halfway in the appeals stage.

As has been reported extensively here on, the smuggling story began in April 2008 when the three bochurim from Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak – two under age 20 and one under age 18 at the time – were asked to transport some antiques from Holland to Japan. The ‘friend’ who asked them for the favor offered them $1,000 each and assured them that everything was legal.

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 not antiques, but $3.6 million worth of Ecstasy pills.

{Dovid Newscenter}


  1. It would seem that the Japanese method of testimony aligns with the Torah – in terms of questioning. If I remember correctly from Gemorah Rosh Hashona, we learn how the Beis Din in Yerushalayim questioned the Aiydim as a manner of receiving their testimony

  2. If we all refused to buy Japanese products and stopped leasing Japanese cars boy would that make an impression! But that no more Honda Odysseys and Toyota Siennas. No more Lexus nor Infinitis! The list goes on! That would hurt the Japanese cuz we do own and lease lots of those cars! Could you imagine the news it would make if the word got out in Japan that tens of thousands of people terminated their leases because of this trial? There are more things along this vain that we could do too!BOTTOM LINE! Hurt them in their pocket-book!

  3. To #3, sometime within the last couple of months it was stated on the Jewish news sites that the ‘friend’ was sentenced to only 3 years in prison. I don’t remember exactly why it was only that amount of time & also as of when his sentence will begin.

    But we all have to do our part in terms of storming the heavens as much as is humanly possible with our Tefillos & begging HK”BH to send these innocent bochurim back home to Eretz Yisroel free, and by doing lots of Mitzvos & Maasim Tovim Lema’an that these boys should be able to go back home to their families & begin to lead a normal lifestyle.

    One time when I was coming out of the bank where I have my acct., I held the door open for a couple (I think they were like middle aged people-but not from the Boro Park area.) After they thanked me for the kind deed I’d done for them by keeping the door open for them, they asked where I was from? When I answered that I was from Boro Park, they were in total shock-they thought that I was from an out of town city. Because they felt that they don’t come across that many people in Boro Park who have this mannerism of mentschlichkeit. And I thought to myself wow, how sad it is that this is what the world has come to. Why is it that only people from cities that are out of town are thought of in this manner? What does it take for anyone to do a small act of kindness in whatever shape or form it is which can mean so much to the next person. How much does it have to cost to make someone happy? It can be a kind word, a phone call, a visit, holding the door for another person where ever it may be etc. and the list can go on and on. I think every single one of us yidden has something that we can improve upon in ourselves-if you just dig deep inside of yourself, don’t worry, I’m sure you can figure out something that you can all do so that these innocent bochurim come out with a very favorable judgement & then hopefully be able to go back home to their families once again-hopefully B’korov IY”H!!!!

  4. Are you going to boycott any country that jails and tries drug smugglers? Did you think that they’d find all of that Ecstasy in the luggage and say, “Now, please don’t do that again, okay?”

    Obviously, everyone has no idea what drugs can do to the lives of young people.

  5. Yonah, it’s tempting to just ignore this but it has to be stressed that there are appropriate ways to deal with different countries, Poli Sci 101, and subtlety and respect are what works best with Japan. (And work well in interpersonal relationships too.)

  6. I hope that Yoeli is freed based on ignorance.

    In the future it might be a good example to educate students that they can be arrested for bringing certain things through certain borders. For example, before risking jail in Japan, it might be a good idea to look at the antiques concealed in your suitcase and see if they look like antiques.

    These poor boys were not educated about the risks they were taking. Let’s change that.

  7. THose that are suggesting that we protest against Japan or boycot Japan are showing the same ignorance that these bochurim grew up with. First of all, it’s understandable that Japan would arrest people with drugs in their suitcases. It’t up to the lawyers (with our financial help and tefillos) to convince the judge about their lifestyle. Also, the judicial system has nothing to do with boycotting the country. Use your brains, people. They’re going to get rusty otherwise.