By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
On the one hand, he is perceived by many asboth lovable and adorable. His speech patterns, his angelic and child-like facial countenance, remind us all of that cutey-pie roly-poly little boy who was cutely defiant of the teacher and principal back in fifth or sixth grade – a defiance that always exacerbated both of them. It is just that that cutey-pie little boy is now 58 years old.
On the other hand, his antics and statements have inspired hundreds to openly defy authority. The first time that most Jews outside of Boro Park really heard about him was when he went around with bolt-cutters in hand, opening parks that the city had bolted shut. There were cheers, praises, and ovations.
But is this what we want to teach our children – to openly defy the law and relish it? And how is it exactly that he has become our de-facto leader? The rallies in Boro Park highlighted the burning of masks. Many cheered, others were horrified.
Do not masks represent the very symbol of protection against a disease that has killed thousands and thousands among us? One frum journalist was called a Nazi by the adorable cutie-pie, and, according to many counts, he encouraged a crowd of people to chase him down. Are these excesses or is this person an emerging Jewish leader among us? If they are excesses, why has no responsible Jewish leader come forward to say enough is enough?
The ways of our parents and grandparents have always been not to draw attention to ourselves – either for bad or for good. Has our rallying in the streets, and our burning of masks, earned a new respect for us among the citizenry? Is America different? Has Boro Park become the new Peoria, the traditional test-marketing venue for America?
Also, what do halacha and Torah sources have to say about all of this? Finally, how did we get here?
UNDERSTANDING THE FRUSTRATION
First of all, we must understand that such a situation has emerged through the combination of three unique factors and circumstances:
- Unprecedented pressures of both a financial nature and a socio-religious/spatial nature.
- Openly hypocritical statements and behaviors of our politicians that border on anti-Semitism.
- The lack of clear answers and solutions from our religious and political leaders.
Let us briefly discuss each of them.
THE FIRST FACTOR
The authorities have closed down our businesses, and have prevented us from making a living. Now, in the second wave, they are randomly and unfairly closing down our businesses once again, devastating our incomes, and are randomly and unfairly limiting our social activities. We cannot even take our children out to play – because they have removed and restricted every venue.
We are cooped up in our homes with children, with lots of children. They forbade our schools, our camps, our local parks. They have chained our women indoors while the men scramble to eke out a living. We cannot attend our funerals. We cannot celebrate Bar Mitzvahs. We cannot celebrate our weddings. We cannot even attend synagogues or go to schools and learn our Torah. They have taken away our life-blood – our very souls.
And in terms of finances – they have shuttered our businesses to such an extent that a once relatively wealthy community is now forced to be receiving food-handouts.
THE SECOND FACTOR
This seg-ways directly into the second factor. They have done all of this in the name of our safety, they have painted us with the darkest of brush-strokes, depicting us in Der Sturmer-like caricatures, an uncaring selfish people concerned only about themselves, and yet they have allowed the BLM protests to continue among it all with no regard to the strictures that they have placed upon us. The governor has used words and terms, laying the blame of this disease directly upon our doorsteps. He has also sprung all of this upon us during a Jewish holiday and has placed a $15,000 fine upon any that do not comply. He claimed he had a good conversation with Jewish leaders, which was actually a one-way diktat – not a conversation at all. And to add fuel to the fire – the picture that he had initially used of religious Jewish non-compliance was an old one that pre-dated COVID.
Some have accused Governor Cuomo as doing all of this to eclipse his March 25th directive. They have said that Cuomo has not flattened the curve – he has increased it dramatically and has suppressed the accurate reporting of how many deaths of NURSING HOME RESIDENTS occurred because of his directive. Those that were transferred out of the NURSING HOMES to the hospitals before they died, were not counted.
That directive stated, “During this global health emergency, all NURSING HOMEs must comply with the expedited receipt of residents returning from hospitals to NURSING HOMEs. Residents are deemed appropriate for return to a NURSING HOME upon a determination by the hospital physician or designee that the resident is medically stable for return.
Hospital discharge planners must confirm to the NURSING HOME, by telephone, that the resident is medically stable for discharge. Comprehensive discharge instructions must be provided by the hospital prior to the transport of a resident to the NURSING HOME.
No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NURSING HOME solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. NURSING HOMEs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”
THE THIRD FACTOR
The lack of clear answers and solutions has also not helped. The fact is that we should have gotten hold of dozens of ten by ten mini-tents without sidewalls and have davened outdoors, with masks and social distancing. Indeed, federal law forbade the governor from restricting this (See Judge Gary Sharpe’s ruling of June 26th pp 37 and 38, #2). Our leadership, for some reason did not offer this possibility, perhaps out of a fear that we would be painted once again as selfish and placing others at risk.
While we can understand the factors that have led to the rise of the adorable and lovable newly emerging leader, we do have a main directive from hashem Himself that we must all follow. And that is not to create Chillul Hashem.
And, make no mistake, this person has created one chillul Hashem after the other. His actions and comments have become the source of unprecedented anti-Semitism as well. We will not discuss the details, the name-calling, the Nivul Peh. Let us just learn some Torah.
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).
The Gemara in Pesachim 3a cite Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: A person should never allow an unseemly word to come out of his mouth, for the Torah went eight letters out of its way to avoid writing something unseemly (Bereishis 7:8). The Torah states “min ha’beheima asher einena tehorah” — from the animal that is not pure” instead of just saying, “Ha’beheimah ha’temei’ah — the animal that is impure.” Many extra words are used by the Torah to teach us this important lesson — not to sully our neshamos in this manner.
Clearly, we should carefully weigh whatever we do to ensure that no Chillul Hashem come about because of our action.
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.
For 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. It is not that this examination will resolve any issues between people who are arguing points among each other. But, hopefully, it will give a number of us greater insights.
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.
It seems that there are 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).
THE IMPORTANT PERSON CATEGORY
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.
DEBATE AS TO REASON FOR THE “IMPORTANT PERSON” CATEGORY
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).
This author would venture to say that, nowadays, with the growth of social media, the important person category can be expanded to include “frum person” too – especially when no Rabbi or Torah leader denounces the behavior.
EXAMPLES OF CATEGORY THREE
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 falsely swearing (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 also provides 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 a gentile for a synagogue. However, if the gentile 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 publicly known – one should not say a public vidui.
Physical relations with gentiles 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.
It would seem that if even a significant minority of the public would perceive it as a Chillul Hashem – then it is – even if we personally do not think so. But regardless of our perception, it is clear that every activity or endeavor that is in the public eye should be carefully weighed to ensure that we do not violate this most fundamental principle. This should be done by asking responsible Rabbonim whose sense of achrayus to the Torah community is unimpeachable – it should not be done on one’s own authority – no matter how lovable and adorable we are perceived to be.
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