By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “The streets of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods have been ablaze across Israel this week. In Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh, Ashdod, and Beitar Illit, young Haredi men have clashed with police trying to enforce the coronavirus lockdown.”

Recently, two of Klal Yisrael’s gedolim, Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Gershon Edelstein, have come out against the violence in anti-police protests that agitators outside of Bnei Brak have caused.

Their statement read:

“Even though it is understood that no one from the congregation of those who are chareidim l’dvar Hashem would participate in violent hafganos (protests) where it is well known that this is not the manner of Torah;

And certainly, no one would ever dream of befriending the provocateurs from outside of our camp who ignite the flames of violence;

In addition, it must be pointed out that no one should approach or come close to these places [of violence] because it involves a violation of “Harcheik min ha’chi’ur—distance yourself from ugly matters” [see Maseches Derech Eretz 1:12];

It is also proper to temper our sense of curiosity in this matter, for the very act of seeing such [violent] behavior damages the soul;

And there should be mercy from Heaven that those who err gain wisdom and walk in the path of Torah.”

Those who encourage the protests are unaware of the repercussions of the actions of the protestors or of the more extreme measures that the protestors have taken up by themselves. Those close to these rabbis have in the past told them that such information is fabrication. But it is not. It is thus incumbent on those who have entry to the rabbinic supporters of protestors to explain the repercussions.

Rav Eliezer Menachem Shach, zt’l, however, was aware of some of the repercussions and the extreme measures that protestors take. He spent time and effort clarifying to his followers that at all times protestors must act with the utmost derech eretz, like true bnei Torah.

The Underlying Issues

There are serious issues involved in hafganot: damage to third parties, danger to both the participants and others, chillul Hashem, possible lifnei iver, bitul Torah, and the possibility of making things worse.

Damage

The first underlying issue is third-party damage. Regardless of what one holds about the issue being protested, it is absolutely forbidden to cause damage to a third party because one wishes to protest, even if the reason for his protest is perfectly correct. No longer is a protest a mere temporary delay, like it once was when gedolei Torah allowed protests in the early twentieth century. Now, the damage is quite extensive. If Reuven is upset with Shimon, he may not damage Levi. The Tur, in the beginning of Choshen Mishpat (chapter 378), writes that it is forbidden to do damage to someone else, just like stealing is forbidden. Damaging is also a negation of the mitzvah of “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha,” according to the Steipler Rav (Kehilas Yaakov Bava Kamma Siman 1), and quite possibly a number of other Torah injunctions.

Danger

A second issue is whether one is permitted to protest in an illegal manner, without a permit. The Belzer Rebbe is cited among other gedolim as forbidding participation in a hafganah unless the protest had a legal permit, on account of the danger of sakanas nefashos—aside from the issue of bitul Torah (Hashkafas HaNetzach L’She’eilos HaZeman p321).

The baser tendency of some human beings is to enjoy violence; this is true on both sides of the fence. Policemen have a tendency to hit, beat, shoot with rubber bullets, and Taser protestors. This is true in America, foreign countries, and in Israel. Most responsible parents do not want their children participating in events where they can end up bloodied, with facial fractures and the like. These things happen.

Shtadlanus, behind-the-scenes activity, is clearly the better way to go. It is also true that the very people picketing also get out of hand. Why are there people throwing rocks at police officers? The answer is because they get in the spirit of things. A hafganah in Israel is as fun as a tackle football game in the snow for Americans.

Chillul Hashem

While the Satmar Rebbe, zt’l, as well as numerous gedolim in Eretz Yisrael, understand the idea of protest as Kiddush Hashem (VaYoel Moshe Shalosh Shavuos Siman 113-114), as did the Brisker Rav, zt’l, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, and Rav Aharon Kotler, zt’l, did not. They were attuned to the possible repercussion of chillul Hashem.

In the 5748 edition of HaPardes (Vol. III p. 9), the views of Rav Aharon Kotler, zt’l, and Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, are cited in regard to the idea of protests. The American Moetzes Gedolei Torah at the time felt that protests were highly counterproductive. Instead, they opted for the time-tested method of shtadlanus. This method has been used effectively for centuries.

In the 5753 edition of HaPardes (Vol. IV p. 25), Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, also came out strongly against the idea of protests in regard to atrocities done to graves by archaeologists, and instructed the Agudas HaRabbanim to send a strongly worded telegram to then PM Yitzchak Rabin. He also stated that strong condemnations should be made from each shul.

On Monday, Sept 2, 1957 (6 Elul 5717), representatives of Agudas HaRabbanim approached the Satmar Rebbe in regard to a protest at Union Square. They told him that it was unbecoming of talmidei chachamim to behave in such a manner and that “hatznei’a leches” should be the operative principle. The Satmar Rebbe rejected this view.

Gezel Sheinah

It is said in the name of the Chofetz Chaim that “gezel sheinah,” stealing people’s sleep, is one of the worst forms of gezel, theft. His reason is that it can never be paid back. The recent hafganot, in many places, were held until the wee hours of the morning, and boisterously so. Babies, children, mothers, and fathers could not sleep. Is this not gezel sheinah?

Rav Shmuel HaLevi Vosner, zt’l, the rav and av beis din of the Zichron Meir section of Bnei Brak, discusses the situation in the seventh volume of his responsa (Shevet HaLevi #224).

Rav Vosner begins his response with the position that the term “theft” can only truly be used when one steals an actual item and the thief either uses that item or benefits from it. He writes that preventing someone from sleeping is prohibited because one person is not allowed to cause damage to another or to prevent another from realizing a benefit, but there is no actual theft involved. Rav Vosner admits that there is definitely a proof from Bava Basra (20b) that preventing someone from sleeping is prohibited, as well as from Choshen Mishpat (siman 156:2 and 3).

The Shulchan Aruch discusses whether someone is permitted to open a commercial store in a residential neighborhood. Rav Karo writes as follows:

“The immediate neighbors may prevent him from opening up such a store and tell him, ‘We cannot sleep, on account of the noise of those who are entering.’ He may only do his work in the house and sell it in the marketplace. However, they may not stop him and say, ‘We cannot sleep, because of the sound of the hammer, or the mill.’ This is because he already began doing this and they did not stop him from doing it earlier.”

Clearly, this would forbid hafganot in residential areas, too.

Although the parameters of what is permitted in a residential area and what is not are somewhat complex, the essential issue that preventing someone from sleeping is generally prohibited can be established from this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, especially in the areas where the hafganot were held.

Rav Vosner concludes his response with the idea that the term “gezel” is somewhat of a misnomer.

We do find, however, that Chazal perhaps define the term “gezel” in a broader fashion. The term is used in the Talmud (Berachos 6b) in a situation that may not quite be considered “stealing an actual item and using or benefiting from it.” Rav Chelbo quotes Rav Huna as saying, “Whoever knows that the other generally greets him, should greet him first, as it says, ‘Seek peace and pursue it.’ If the other gave him a greeting and he did not return it, he is considered a thief, as it says, ‘For you have devoured the vineyard, and the theft of the poor is in your house’” (Yeshayahu 3:14). Likewise, the term is used by Rav Chanina bar Pappa (Berachos 35b) regarding someone who eats and does not recite a blessing. It is considered as if he stole from Hashem and from Knesses Yisrael. And the term is used in Sanhedrin (91b): “Whoever prevents a student from learning Torah, it is as if he stole his inheritance from him.” In these instances, no actual item is being taken and benefited from.

The Midrash Tanchuma (Bamidbar 27) also uses the term to describe someone who quotes a halachah and does not say the name of the one who said it, in violation of the verse “Do not steal from the destitute for he is destitute” (Mishlei 22:22). The Midrash traces this back to the zugos, and ultimately traces it back to Moshe Rabbeinu from Har Sinai.

Similarly, in a Tosfos in Kiddushin (59a), Rabbeinu Tam’s father, Rav Meir, is quoted as understanding that in a case where fisherman A set out his net and fisherman B afterward set out a net nearby with a dead fish inside (to attract more fish), it is considered as if fisherman B stole from fisherman A—even though the fish had not yet arrived. (Fishermen: please note the fishing advice from Rabbeinu Tam’s father.)

We see that the term theft is used more loosely than as defined by Rav Vosner. There is also a responsum from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, shlita, printed in the Av 5762 edition of Koveitz Beis Aharon V’Yisrael, that the case in Berachos 6b (regarding one who does not return a greeting) is considered theft only because it is the negation of a debt. Even though the debt is non-monetary in nature, it is still considered a debt, and the negation of this debt thus falls under the rubric of theft.

Lifnei Iver

The issue of “lifnei iver” is also an issue. Let’s not kid ourselves—the overwhelming masses of people in Israel and elsewhere look at religious Jews as if they are a bunch of hooligans, and such behavior causes a lifnei iver issue of hating—yes, hating—Torah Jews. It is hard to imagine a better way of getting other people to violate “Lo sisneh es achicha bilvavecha.” Behaving in a manner that just gets other people to hate us fosters lifnei iver. This says nothing of the lifnei iver caused to the police officers. And while it is true that Rav Elyashiv dismisses the specific lifnei iver of Shabbos violation involved in Shabbos hafganot, many other poskim do not.

Bitul Torah

Rav Shach (cited in Torascha Sha’ashu’ai p. 441) was approached by two students as to whether to partake in hafganot regarding archaeological digs. He cited the Gemara in Yevamos (63b) that explains that they and their fathers would be punished. What does Hashem want of us? That we not violate bitul Torah!

In Orchos Rabbeinu about the Steipler (page 385), a story is cited concerning the Chazon Ish that when a person had asked him whether there was an issue of bitul Torah in partaking in a hafganah, he responded, “For you it would be a problem of bitul Torah since you expressed concern for it.” Numerous other gedolim forbade going to hafganot because it constituted bitul Torah.

Does It Help Or Hinder?

The last question involves whether it helps or hinders. Has the Israeli government stopped the draft on account of the hafganot? Most people say no, and that it has instead served to infuriate the populace against the chareidim. Others claim that it did help change matters. In this case, it seems that it made things worse.

Whenever there is a question about something helping or hindering, we usually adopt a “shev v’al ta’aseh” approach. This should be done here as well. The leaders of the Peleg Yerushalmi movement used to identify with Rav Shach, zt’l, as well as Rav Elyashiv, zt’l. However, we have seen that the path of the previous leaders was to discourage this type of behavior. The vast majority of the Lithuanian Torah community, including Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, is against these hafganot. It should be stopped.

This article is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice or as a halachic psak. Readers are advised to consult their own physician and rav for guidance.

The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at 5TJT.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. A heartfelt Yasher Koach.
    This is truly one of the best articles I’ve read on this topic.

    It deserves global distribution and reposting, especially in Israel. Must translate in Hebrew.

    Very well done !!

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