The Closed Boro Park Stores and Possible Chillul Hashem

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(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com)

There are numerous stores in New York City that are facing severe economic disaster.  Although some businesses have been allowed to remain open because they have been classified as essential businesses, others may not be open. Thus, candy stores and convenience stores are all open.They are considered essential.  Clothing shops and shoe stores in Boro Park and Williamsburg are told to be closed. It is random and unfortunate.

Many, in fact, argue that the law should not decide to destroy a person’s livelihood, and that these business owners should at least be given the chance to open safely – mandating masks and social distancing. This is particularly true, when so many other venues have been allowed to be open.

The situation is truly unfair.  Respectfully protesting this inequity is actually a reflection of an admirable quality – being noseh b’ol chaveiro – empathizing with another person’s situation.   Thankfully, the vast majority of those that are protesting are doing so respectfully.  Those who do empathize, should be commended.

However, even when faced with something that is unfair or unjust – we must always maintain kiddush hashem and avoid Chillul Hashem in all our actions and words. We must treat everyone we encounter with the utmost respect. The reason is that every person is created B’Tzelem Elokim. All people are a reflection of Hashem’s Divine Image. Disrespecting any human being is being disrespectful to the Creator Himself. We should also never engage in name-calling.

Sadly, it seems that a one or two people gathered outside did not adhere to this standard of maintaining kiddush hashem when Boro Park stores were visited by the officers from the Sheriff’s Department.  These were public servants just doing their job at the place that they were told to go. It is upsetting that someone may have said, inappropriate.

We need a discussion of the very basics of what is a chillul Hashem. This article will attempt to discuss and clarify these basics – but first, an introduction.

THE GEMORAH IN SHABBOS

The world was created for Torah and its study (See Midrash Tanchuma Bereishis 10).  Since this is the case, there is a difficult Gemorah in Shabbos (31a) that requires explanation.  The Gemorah tells us that the very first question we are asked in the world to come is, “Were you honest in your business dealings?”

Why should this be the first question?  Since Torah is more important than anything else, the next question that the Gemorah tells us is asked  – should rather be asked first, “Did you set times for Torah study?”

The Pri Magadim in his Aishel Avrohom (OC 156:2) cites the Eliyahu Rabba’s grandfather’s answer to this question, that if Heaven forbid he was not honest in his business dealings — his entire Torah learning constitutes a Chillul Hashem!

In other words, this question is a prerequisite for Torah study, because if he is not honest with others in business, the Torah learning is not a source of merit.  It is the opposite.  The Torah learning itself is the source of Chillul Hashem.

This shows how very serious and fundamental the concept of Chillul Hashem actually is.

WHO IS COMMANDED IN IT

Every Jew is commanded not to desecrate Hashem’s Name, as the pasuk states:  “Lo sechalalu es shaim kodshi.”  The Mitzvah is listed in the 613 Mitzvos of the Rishonim and in the Sefer haChinuch 295.  Indeed, if someone causes others to make Chillul Hashems –  the Shulchan Aruch rules that he should be put in Cherem (YD 334).

WHAT CONSTITUTES CHILLUL HASHEM

The Rambam Yesodei Torah 5:4 explains that Chillul Hashem is actually the opposite of Kiddush Hashem.  This is a good rule of thumb to follow when one wishes to explore what exactly is a Chillul Hashem. Nonetheless, it is also important to examine what Chazal tell us specifically.  The lack of clarity on the issue has created a situation where it could reasonably be said that one man’s Kiddush Hashem is another man’s Chillul Hashem.

The Klausenberger Rebbe would often quote what he had heard from Rav Avraham Yehoshua Freund Av Beis Din of Năsăud (see Shefa Chaim rava Derazon Vol. III  p. 126).  When he was visiting the city of Bucharest he was told that wearing a shtreimel on Shabbos in Bucharest is considered a Chillul Hashem.  Credulous, Rav Freund asked, “If so, how do you define a kiddush Hashem here in Bucharest?  The response was, “My next door neighbor just had a baby boy and he was mechabed der komer mit sandeka’us. Dos heist a kiddush Hashem.”

Obviously both standards in Bucharest were wrong.

Another example: Some people think that show of strength is an example of Kiddush Hashem.  Others feel that an abuse of strength is, in actuality, a grave Chillul Hashem.  It is thus important to see what Chazal and Poskim tell us in order to have a better gauge of the issue.

Hopefully, seeing what chazal say will give a number of us greater insights.  For example, before we saw the Pri Magadim that introduced this essay, most of us were of the opinion that if someone is dishonest, it is a bad thing, but not that it converts the very Torah that he had learned into an object of Chillul Hashem.  Now we know otherwise.

THE DIFFERENT CATEGORIES

Chillul Hashem can be categorized in different ways.

1] There are a number of different categories of Chillul Hashem that are differentiated in some of the Rishonim.

2] There are Aveiros that the Psukim in the Torah call a Chillul Hashem.

3] There are behaviors that, no matter who the Jew actually is, also constitute a Chillul Hashem.

We will begin with the three different categories found in the Rishonim.

One category is when one if forced to violate one of the three cardinal sins that we must give up our lives for.  If someone did not do so, this is a Chillul Hashem according to Sefer HaMitzvos (#63).

A second category is whenever one purposefully does an Aveirah out of spite — this too is considered a Chillul Hashem (Sefer HaMitzvos, ibid).

A third category is when an important person does something that causes people to talk — even if it would generally not be considered an Aveirah (Shabbos 51b).  This is considered a Chillul Hashem because people will learn from him. The Gemorah explains that greater the person is the more careful he must be.

According to the SMAG #2 and SMaK #85, however, category three is even if is not an important person but a regular Talmid Chochom whose actions cause people to talk — this too is Chillul Hashem.  These authorities also say that when a Jew does any action that will cause Goyim to say, “The Jews have no Torah”  — this is a Chillul Hashem.

There is actually a debate as to the reason for the third category of a great person.  Is it because he has a higher standard in which to comply with?  This is what Rabbeinu Yonah (Avos Mishna 4:4) and the Rambam (Maamar Kiddush Hashem) write.  Others understand it because other people will learn from him.  Other Rishonim hold that it is because the Torah will be lessened in the eyes of others because of him (Rashi on tractate Shabbos 33a).

What are examples of category three?  The Gemorah (Yuma 86a) gives us illustrations.  Rav gives an example of a Talmid Chacham that doesn’t pay the butcher bill right away. Rav Yochanan gives as an example of Chillul Hashem of a Talmid Chochom that goes without Torah and without Tefillin for 4 amos.  Rav Yochanan’s explanation assumed that the onlooker does not realize that the Talmid Chochom just had a marathon session of Torah study and did not have the strength to continue further or the strength of intent to wear the Tefillin properly.

There are some observations that can be made from these illustrations.  In regard to Chillul Hashem, according to Rabbi Yochanan, “perception is reality.”  According to Rav, we have established the notion that it also involves a Middah, a character trait, or behavior and not just an actual sin.

WHAT THE TORAH CALLS CHILLUL HASHEM

There are specific Aveiros that the Torah itself specifically calls Chillul Hashem (See, for example, VaYikra 19:12).  Most of these have to do with false Shavuos (See Rashi Taanis 23a), although giving one’s child to the Molech (VaYikra 18:21) is also called a Chillul Hashem by the Torah.  Abusing justice by the judges is also a grave Chillul Hashem.   The Gemorah will also provide Psukim that back up the idea that certain activities such as going to Goyish courts is a grave Chillul Hashem (Gittin 88b).

Anything having to with Avodah Zarah (See Rabbeinu Yona Avos 4:4 based on Yechezkel 20:39) is also considered a Chillul Hashem.

GENERAL CHILLUL HASHEMS CAUSED BY PEOPLE

Anyone who sins and causes others to sin — choteh umachti es harabbim is actively being mechalel shaim Hashem (Rashi Yuma 86a).

Another form of Chillul Hashem is when it is pointed out to the world that Klal Yisroel is not doing their job.  The Beis Yoseph explains (YD 254) that if a poor person needs to be supported through gentiles — this is a situation of Chillul Hashem.  It is, in fact, forbidden for him to do so unless he has nothing to eat.  Regardless, it is forbidden for us, the community, to allow the situation to continue.

If Jews are aware that someone Jewish is going to falsely swear in front of gentiles that he does not owe money, when the gentile knows that he does — this is a situation of Chillul Hashem.  The Jews must stop him from swearing falsely and rather must work it out with the gentile.  This is a ruling in the Ramah in Shulchan Aruch in the laws of Shvuos ( YD 239:1).

Generally speaking, we are permitted to take donations from an aino Yehudi for a synagogue.  However, if he gave it to something specific in shul — we may not change it for anything else because of the Chillul Hashem aspect of it.  One may do so, however, under certain circumstances if the donation was made by a Jew.  [TaZ’s explanation of ruling in Shulchan Aruch YD 259:6]

The Bach in a responsa (#111, old) cites the Sefer Chassidim (#829) that if it is the custom among the gentiles to forbid a certain food because a horrible sin was done with it— then Jews should also refrain from eating it.  This is on account of Chillul Hashem.

Publicizing a previously performed Aveirah that was unknown may also be a form of Chillul Hashem (see Tehillim 32:1 from Yuma 86a.)  Therefore, when an Aveirah is not known publically one should not say a public vidui.

Arayos with an aino yehudi is also considered a Chillul Hashem (Rambam Issurei Biah 12:6).

Whenever it is possible to minimize a Chillul Hashem we should do this.  This is seen from many Poskim, for example, Chsam Sofer (OC Vol. I #61).  One such illustration, an extreme one, can be seen from the following idea:

Even though we no longer have the ability to deal with cases of capital punishments — there are times when Bais Din must act out of Migdar Milsa, especially out of Chillul Hashem.  There was such a case where a person [warning: impending euphemisim]  “blessed” Hashem and he was punished most severely because of the Chillul Hashem involved (See Teshuvos HaRosh 17:8 cited in Darchei Moshe CM 425).

What is shocking about this latter illustration is that nowadays we cannot perform capital punishment and if we do, it would constitute a capital offense on us as well.  And yet to prevent Chillul Hashem, Beis Din allowed it in that instance, in order to minimize the Chillul Hashem of someone “blessing” Hashem.  It is this author’s belief that the very term for the prohibition is referred to by the sages as “Blessing Hashem” in order to minimize the Chillul Hashem of the entire idea.  [It should be noted that nowadays this ruling of the Rosh is not applicable at all.]

HOW HASHEM DEALS WITH CHILLUL HASHEM

The Gemorah tells us  (Kiddushin 40a) Ain Makifin b’Chillul Hashem — this means that Hashem pays back (in punishment) a Chillul Hashem right away.  What this means is subject to some interpretation (two views even being found in the Gemorah), but we see from all of this the gravity of Chillul Hashem.

The officers involved were polite and well-mannered.  This incident was not our proudest moment.  Hopefully, we will learn to always be mekadaish shaim shamayim and think very carefully in the way that we deal with others around us.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)




20 COMMENTS

  1. Yasher koach to Rav Hoffman who has been a singular source of wisdom during this entire ordeal. Even when I find myself in disagreement with his conclusions, I’m in awe of how he is able to communicate his analysis of the facts and halacha and lead us through his reasoning. Most importantly, he always displays the highest levels of derech eretz and respect for those with whom he disagrees .
    The sad reality is yidden are held to a different and higher standard and even a few episodes of thuggish behavior are quickly pounced upon by the media and certain politicians as “the norm” and become the stereotype we see invoked repeatedly. Yes, the rules are unfair and in some cases illogical, but screaming at first responders doing their jobs is a big chillul hashem

  2. “ Clothing shops and shoe stores in Boro Park and Williamsburg are told to be closed. It is random and unfortunate.”

    It’s not random, stores that sell food are open because you need food to live. Shoe stores are closed because you don’t need a new pair of shoes to live or a new hat or dress or suit. What is so hard to understand.

  3. Yidden trying to feed their families with the little stores they rent. The chillul H is when you so called leaders tell everyone to vote for toeiva democRATs. Don’t cry when the democrats close your shuls,Yeshivas and businesses.

  4. And this democRATic liberal attack started way before corona. This evil DemocRATIc governor and mayor outlawed normal things. Yeshivas are going to be forced to teach toeiva and evolution. Stores will have to stop giving bags. Everything is being done to close up Torah Judaism. No wonder so many frum couples are running from New York as yeshivas are losing 20 to 30 per cent new students.

  5. @Commonsaychel
    Have you even read the entire article?
    Assuming you have not: In a most respectful way, Rabbi Hoffman explained the way the Torah – meaning HaShem – determines whether an action is a chillul HaShem.
    Unfairness on behalf of a misguided government does not do away with the parameters of chillul HaShem! Civil disobedience, which may even eventually accomplish a worthwhile cause is not carte blanche to override a whole list of issues that HaShem says cause dishonor to His Name. There was crowd of people clad overtly to express their unabated, proud obedience of the Torah, and awe of the HaShem. And it would be charitable to say that quite a few acted childishly in a very public domain. Dressed as G-d fearing Yidden, who can not fathom missing a minyan, or the inability to be melave a mes, too many of them displayed despicable midos on camera, both visually and audibly. If you were among that crowd, and do not condone such behavior, you had a chiyuv to give your fellow yirei shamayim mussar, or WALK AWAY.

    @ WgFPD2 “Unfortunate” is a description on behalf of those whose shops, and parnassa have been shut down UNFAIRLY. Food may be a necessity, but most convenience stores are not the source of anyone’s regular grocery order. Can we live without lottery tickets and magazines in an emergency?! How “essential” is an ice cream parlor? If the shoe store starts selling candy bars, it can now be considered essential. If in the past 2 1/2 months, a teenage boy grew a few inches (this really happens), if you go to buy him pants that fit, BY APPOINTMENT, wearing a mask, in a store that will not allow anyone else in at the same time, you are committing a CRIME! But if you run out of screws and nails, that counts as an emergency. Tell that to every woman whose husband has procrastinated fixing their pesky doorknob, leaky sink and, and broken light switch for months, or even years and survived just fine. The pandemic has apparently now clarified that her “nagging” is an emergency. (Actually, maybe that IS a shalom bayis emergency. But so is buying clothing that fits properly while couples are spending 24/7 together).

    That is hard to understand.

  6. To “WgFPD2”: Maybe you like to wear ripped clothing and shoes while you consume large amounts of essential candy and alcohol, but apparently not everyone has those same preferences. And anyhow, if these stores are forced to remain closed, how will those store’s owners afford the essential candy and alcohol?

  7. @ BaltimoreMaven: Huh? Too bad Rabbi Hoffman wasted all that time writing this whole article when you knew better and were able to say it so short and clear!

  8. Publicizing a previously performed Aveirah that was unknown may also be a form of Chillul Hashem (see Tehillim 32:1 from Yuma 86a.) Got that YWN

  9. Opening stores was definitely civil disobedience and was fine. The chilul Hashem was from the rabble on the street yelling at the cops. Don’t confuse the rabble with the store owners.

  10. Saul: בין המקצר בין התאריך – רק לבו מתכוון לשמיים. I think I properly summarized his excellent article for those who couldn’t follow it.

  11. @BaltimoreMaven: I think you missed the point of the article. It is HOW IT WAS DONE that was, in the opinion of the author, a chillul Hashem. Not opening the stores in and of itself. (i am not trying to imply that i disagree with the author but i havent seen any of the footage, so i am saying it his his opinion),

  12. I am of course against Chiillul Hashem and have told people near me to wear masks because not doing so is a chillul Hashem. That Being said, one should take a step back before we start criticizing those that opened their stores. You have people who besides having no income, have the extra expense of their store, rent inventory etc. You cannot understand the pressure unless you are in their shoes. Unfortunate?? I would like the Rav to go two months with no income, don’t pay your rent or mortgage and then say it’s unfortunate. The large box stores can open but not yankel? The mayor led the way putting the onus on Jews, followed by the police. A Jew walks without a mask gets a ticket but others are just nicely told. Here again Police came to Boro Park because a frum person posted on twitter how unfair it was and that post went viral!! Next day, here comes the police. Sorry, at a point one must stand up and let them know we know what’s going on and will not stand for their actions. Here in Israel, things began to open up after voices were raised that Ikea could open but nor small stores.

  13. Really?

    Grows 2 inches in a month requires new clothing? If that even happens
    Ripped cloths? Like people only have one set of clothing.

    If for some reason you only have one pair of pants and need an emergency replacement order online.

  14. It’s not random, stores that sell food are open because you need food to live. Shoe stores are closed because you don’t need a new pair of shoes to live or a new hat or dress or suit. What is so hard to understand.
    —-+————————————
    “What is sohard to understand?”
    I have an idea for you.
    Since Walmart and target are considered essential because they sell food , they should not be allowed to sell clothing, because clothing is not essential. This way yankkels suit store and Walmart will be equal and no one can complain. Why does Walmart and target have the green light to sell essentials but the small clothing stores must remain closed. Make a petition to force Walmart and target to stop selling non essentials!

  15. commonsaychel, the key word in civil disobedience is civil. Yelling at the cops is anything but.

    Also, civil disobedience, as explained by Thoreau, requires that you be willing to pay the penalty. The whole point of civil disobedience is that you acknowledge that the society has the right to make and enforce its laws, including the law to which you object, but you nevertheless refuse to obey it, accepting that you must therefore be punished. These store owners don’t accept that; they engaged a very good lawyer to fight the tickets. Thoreau didn’t do that. So the word for their actions is not civil disobedience, it’s resistance. Which is fine. There’s nothing wrong with resistance. But call it by its name.

    WgFPD2 and Baltimore non-mavin, how is opening stores a chilul hashem? You clearly have no idea what that term means, even after reading the article that explains it at great length. Chilul Hashem does NOT mean making the goyim unhappy. On the contrary, it means making them happy by doing the wrong thing. Kiddush Hashem means doing the right thing no matter how angry and upset it makes them.

    The American people are rising up, and these store owners are part of that revolt. They are resisting tyranny, which is the essence of what America is about. And those condemning them are un-American, siding with tyranny, just like the Tories of old.

  16. Can we also have articles from the Chillul Hashem police about scrolling on a smartphone through news items ina Beis haknessess and Beis Medrash.

    Especially appropriate since we’ve been expelled from them.