By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
On one hand, his speech patterns and facial countenance remind us of that cutie-pie little boy who was adorably defiant of the teacher and principal back in fifth or sixth grade — a defiance that always exasperated adults. But that cutie-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 heard about him was when he went around with bolt-cutters in hand, opening parks that the city had locked. There were cheers, praises, and ovations.
The park lock cut open with a bolt-cutter. pic.twitter.com/UZTFrQbQyg
— NYC Scanner (@NYScanner) June 15, 2020
But is this what we want to teach our children: to openly defy the law and relish it? And how is it that he has become our de facto leader?
The rallies in Borough Park highlighted the burning of masks. Many cheered; others were horrified. But Don’t masks represent 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 to avoid drawing attention to ourselves — whether for bad or for good. Has our rallying in the streets and our burning of masks earned us new respect among the citizenry? Is America different? What do halachah and Torah sources have to say about all of this? And finally, how did we get here?
Understanding the Frustration
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 nature. 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 or restricted every venue.
We are cooped up in our homes with children — lots of children. They forbade our schools, camps, and local parks. They have chained some parents indoors while other parents scramble to eke out a living. We cannot attend our funerals. We cannot celebrate bar mitzvahs or weddings. We cannot even attend shul or go to school and learn our Torah. They have taken away our lifeblood, our very souls.
In terms of finances, they have shuttered our businesses to such an extent that a once relatively wealthy community is now forced to receive food handouts.
Statements and behavior of our politicians that border on antisemitism. They have done all of this in the name of our safety. They have painted us with the darkest of brushstrokes, depicting us as an uncaring, selfish people concerned only about themselves, and yet they have allowed the BLM protests to continue with no regard to the strictures that they have placed upon us. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill deBlasio have used words and terms that lay the blame of this disease directly upon our doorsteps. Closures were sprung upon us on the eve of a Jewish holiday. Cuomo claimed he had a good conversation with Jewish leaders, but placed more restrictions than were discussed.
The lack of clear answers and solutions from our religious and political leaders. We should have gotten hold of dozens of 10×10 mini-tents without sidewalls and davened outdoors, with masks and social distancing. U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe ordered New York officials to not enforce any outdoor gathering limitations as long as people are following social-distancing requirements. Our leadership did not offer this option, 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 an unconventional leader, we do have a main directive from Hashem Himself that we must all follow. And that is not to create chillul Hashem.
Every Jew is commanded not to desecrate Hashem’s Name, as the pasuk states: “Lo sechalalu es Shem kodshi.” The mitzvah is listed in the 613 mitzvos of the Rishonim and in the Sefer HaChinuch (295). If someone causes others to make chillul Hashem, the Shulchan Aruch rules that he should be put in cherem (Y.D. 334).
The Gemara in Pesachim (3a) cites 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’beheimah asher einenah tehorah — from the animal that is not pure” instead of just saying, “ha’beheimah ha’temei’ah — the impure animal.” 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 comes about because of our actions.
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 constitutes 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 a show of strength is an example of kiddush Hashem. Others feel that an abuse of strength is a grave chillul Hashem. It is thus important to see what Chazal and poskim tell us in order to have a better understanding of the issue. It is not that this examination will resolve any issues between people who are arguing points between each other. But, hopefully, it will give a number of us greater insights.
There are a number of different categories of chillul Hashem that are differentiated in some of the Rishonim. There are aveiros that the pesukim in the Torah call a chillul Hashem. 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.
- When one is forced to violate one of the three cardinal sins for which we must give up our lives. If someone did not do so, this is a chillul Hashem according to Sefer HaMitzvos (#63).
- Whenever one purposefully does an aveirah out of spite; this, too, is considered a chillul Hashem (Sefer HaMitzvos, ibid).
- 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 Gemara explains that greater the person is, the more careful he must be.
According to the Smag #2 and Smak #85, however, category three includes a regular talmid chacham 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” it’s a chillul Hashem.
There is a debate as to the reason for the third category. Is it because the important person must comply with a higher standard? This is what Rabbeinu Yonah (Avos, Mishnah 4:4) and the Rambam (Ma’amar 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.
What are examples of category three? The Gemara (Yoma 86a) gives us illustrations. Rav gives an example of a talmid chacham who doesn’t pay the butcher bill right away. Rav Yochanan gives as an example of chillul Hashem of a talmid chacham that goes without Torah and without tefillin for four amos. Rav Yochanan’s explanation assumed that the onlooker does not realize that the talmid chacham 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 calls chillul Hashem (see, for example, Vayikra 19:12).
- Most of these have to do with falsely swearing (see Rashi Ta’anis 23a), although giving one’s child to the Molech (Vayikra 18:21) is also called a chillul Hashem by the Torah.
- Abuse of justice by judges is also a grave chillul Hashem.
- The Gemara also provides 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 Yonah, Avos 4:4 based on Yechezkel 20:39) is also considered a chillul Hashem.
General Chillul Hashem
Anyone who sins and causes others to sin (choteh u’machti es ha’rabim) is actively being mechalel shem Hashem (Rashi Yoma 86a).
Another form of chillul Hashem is when it is pointed out to the world that Klal Yisrael are not doing their job. The Beis Yosef explains (Y.D. 254) that if a poor person needs to be supported through gentiles, this is a situation of chillul Hashem. It is forbidden for him 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 Rema in Shulchan Aruch in the laws of shevuos (Y.D. 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 Y.D. 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 Yoma 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 so. This is seen from many poskim — for example, the Chasam Sofer (O.C. Vol. I #61).
One such illustration can be seen from the following idea: Even though we no longer have the ability to deal with cases of capital punishment, there are times when a beis din must act out of migdar milsa, especially regarding chillul Hashem. There was such a case where a person “blessed” (euphemism) Hashem and was punished most severely because of the chillul Hashem involved (see Teshuvos HaRosh 17:8 cited in Darchei Moshe C.M. 425).
What is shocking about this example 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. The very term for the prohibition “Blessing Hashem” is used in order to avoid further chillul Hashem. (It should be noted that nowadays this ruling of the Rosh is not applicable at all.)
How Hashem Deals With Chillul Hashem
The Gemara tells us (Kiddushin 40a), “Ein 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 Gemara), but we see from all of this the gravity of chillul Hashem.
It would seem that if a significant minority of the public would perceive something 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 rabbanim whose sense of achrayus to the Torah community is unimpeachable. It should not be done on one’s own authority, no matter how lovable one is perceived to be.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.