Halachic Musings

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

In recent months, the observant Jewish world has been inundated with incidents, occurrences, activities, and statements that clearly constitute chillul Sheim Shamayim. Yet, to the dismay of many, there are members of our community who do not see it that way. They view the revelation of such incidents and activities as merely a manifestation of anti-Semitism or even view some of what has occurred as a kiddush Hashem. This examination may not resolve any issues between people who are arguing points among each other. But, hopefully, it will give a number of us greater insights.

A somewhat appalling incident comes to mind. Apparently, a Hispanic bicyclist was riding in the middle of the street in such manner as to not allow cars traveling faster to pass him. A Chassidic driver was rather incensed at the actions of the cyclist and blocked the cyclist from moving forward. Is this a kiddush Hashem–a display of strength and power to not let someone get away with abusive cycling? Or is it a chillul Hashem–exhibiting obnoxious behavior? What would Aharon HaKohein have done in a similar situation? The likely response would apply in this case as well.

A Difficult Gemara

The Gemara (Shabbos 31a) 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? The world was created for Torah and its study (see Midrash Tanchuma Bereishis 10). Since Torah is more important than anything else, the next question that the Gemara tells us is asked–“Did you set times for Torah study?”–should rather be asked first.

The Pri Megadim in his Eishel Avraham (O.C. 156:2) cites the Eliyahu Rabbah’s grandfather’s answer to this question: that if Heaven forbid one was not honest in his business dealings, all of his Torah learning constitutes a chillul Hashem! This criterion is a prerequisite for Torah study, because if one is not honest with others in business, his Torah learning is not a source of merit. It is the opposite. This shows how 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 sechalelu es Sheim Kodshi.” The mitzvah is listed in the 613 mitzvos of the Rishonim and in the Sefer HaChinuch 295. If someone causes others to make a chillul Hashem, the Shulchan Aruch rules that he should be put in cherem (Y.D. 334).

What Constitutes

Chillul Hashem

The Rambam in Yesodei Torah 5:4 explains that chillul Hashem is 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 a show of strength is an example of kiddush Hashem. Others feel that an abuse of strength is a grave chillul Hashem.

The Different Categories

Chillul Hashem can be categorized in different ways:

1. There are a number of different types of chillul Hashem that are differentiated in some of the Rishonim.

2. There are aveiros that the pesukim in the Torah call a chillul Hashem.

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

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

– When one is forced to violate one of the three cardinal sins that we must give up our lives for, this is a chillul Hashem according to Sefer HaMitzvos (#63).

– Whenever one 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, even if it is not an important person but 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,” this is a chillul Hashem.

There is a debate as to the reason for the third category, a great person. Is it because he has a higher standard with which to comply? This is what Rabbeinu Yonah (Avos 4:4) and the Rambam (Maamar Kiddush Hashem) write. Others understand that it is because other people will learn from him. Other Rish-onim 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 this third category? The Gemara (Yuma 86a) gives us illustrations. Rav gives an example of a talmid chacham who doesn’t pay the butcher bill right away. Rav Yochanan gives the example of a talmid chacham who 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. With 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 shevuos (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 the judges is also a grave chillul Hashem. The Gemara will also provide pesukim that back up the idea that certain activities, such as going to secular 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.

Additional Types

Anyone who sins and causes others to sin–choteh umachti es harabbim–is actively being mechallel Sheim Hashem (Rashi Yuma 86a).

Another form of chillul Hashem is when it is pointed out to the world that Klal Yisrael is not doing its 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 to do so unless he has nothing to eat. Regardless, it is forbidden for us, the community, to allow the situation to continue.

Generally speaking, we are permitted to take donations from a gentile for a synagogue. However, if the gentile gave it for something specific in the 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.)

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 Rama in Shulchan Aruch in the laws of shevuos (Y.D. 239:1).

The Bach in a responsum (#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 an aveirah that was previously unknown may also be a form of chillul Hashem (see Tehillim 32:1 from Yuma 86a). Therefore, when an aveirah is not known publicly, one should not say a public vidui.

Sexual relations with gentiles is also considered a chillul Hashem (Rambam Issurei Biah 12:6).

Minimizing Chillul Hashem

Whenever it is possible to minimize a chillul Hashem, we should do so. This is seen from many poskim, for example, Chasam Sofer (O.C. 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 punishment, there are times when beis din must act out of migdar milsa, especially when chillul Hashem is involved. There was such a case where a person “blessed” Hashem and he 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 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 Gemara tells us (Kiddushin 40a), “Ein makifin b’chillul Hashem”–this means that Hashem pays back (in punishment) a chillul Hashem right away. Subject to some interpretation (two views even being found in the Gemara), we see from all of this the gravity of chillul Hashem. v

The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

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