What do a far-left former Meretz leader and a certain Satmar-associated media organization have in common? They both Tweet and call other people Nazis. And they both need to stop.
It happens pretty much every year during yeshiva week (the time when many yeshivos give off). There is some incident with an airline representative or flight attendant. The airline rep reacts, possibly in a discriminatory manner. And we decide to make an issue of it.
There is nothing wrong with standing up for one’s rights, as long as it is done properly and respectfully. But there is something wrong with name-calling and throwing around accusations of anti-Semitism. Often, the name-calling is someone in the media or someone posting a comment on a website.
A video went around on Tuesday this past week regarding a Monday Delta Airline flight from Fort Lauderdale to LGA wherein a flight attendant informed someone that he had too many carry-ons and he needed to check some of the bags. In this case, the preliminary indication is that the stewardess was in the wrong. However, a Twitter account allegedly associated with a Satmar [Aroni follower] feed that reaches 15,000 people called for a boycott of Delta Airlines until they fire the “Nazi” staff member.
It happened on Wednesday in Israel, too. Former MK Zehava Galon, once the chairwoman of the far-left Meretz party, tweeted a photograph of Israel’s National Security Minister Ben-Gvir raising up his arm, and compared him to Nazis. Shortly after the Tweet was posted, Galon came under fire for the Nazi comparison; even some on the left castigated her comment.
She was unapologetic. “I deleted the tweet,” Galon wrote in a follow-up post. “I am still waiting for racism to be erased from the Knesset.”
Ben-Gvir responded, “The daughter of Holocaust survivors is cheapening and ripping up the [memory] of the holy six million. Zehava, what would your mother and father say about this?”
What follows is pretty obvious and would seem that it does not even need to be said: we should never, ever label someone a Nazi. This is true for a number of reasons:
It desecrates the memory of the six million kedoshim by equating the implementation of a harsh rule or policy with the murder and gassing of innocent people. It is just very, very wrong.
It causes immense pain to Holocaust survivors and their family members by minimizing their traumatic and horrifying experiences. Indeed, it is highly likely that it is a negation of “nosei b’ol chaveiro.”
It also contributes to something called “terminology inflation.” Just like in a school, when someone who deserves a mark of an 83 instead receives a mark of 99 or a 100, then what can one give the A-plus student who did get a 99 or a 100? Ultimately, it renders his or her mark meaningless. By the same token, calling just anyone a Nazi makes it so that a truly murderous person can no longer be called anything.
Such excessive descriptions actually cause additional anti-Semitism.
The Gemara in Bava Metzia (58b) states that all the people who descend to Gehinnom arise from there with the exception of three kinds: adulterers, those who affix a pejorative name to another, and one who embarrasses his friend in public. These three never arise. This halachah is stated in Shulchan Aruch regarding other bnei bris (Choshen Mishpat 228:5) and is nogei’a, practically applicable. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:14) lists these as one of the 24 categories of people that have no share in the World to Come.
Calling someone a murderer, a moiser, or a Nazi is also the ultimate insult or embarrassment. Rabbeinu Yonah in his Shaarei Teshuvah (3:139) explains that embarrassing someone is abizraihu of murdering. He refers to the incident of Tamar and Yehuda and explains that Tamar preferred to be burned with fire rather than embarrass Yehuda publicly. He implies that this is an actual halachah. Rabbeinu Yonah, citing the Gemara in Bava Metziah 59a, states, “L’olam yapil adam es atzmo l’kivshan ha’aish v’al yalbin pnei chaveiro b’rabim—a person should always throw himself into a pit of fire rather than embarrass his friend in public.”
There is, of course, another understanding of Rabbeinu Yonah’s citation. The text in our Gemaras (both B.M. 59a and Sotah 10b) is different than that which Rabbeinu Yonah quotes. Our text states, “Noach lo l’adam she’yapil—it is preferable for a person to throw himself, etc.” The wording of preferable indicates that doing so is a stringency rather than a requirement.
Indeed, this seems to be the indication of the Meiri in his comments on the Gemara in Sotah where he writes, “A person should always be careful not to embarrass”—the indication of his language and the fact that he refers to the throwing oneself as a he’arah, a suggestion, is indicative that he holds it is just an act of preference—a chumrah, so to speak. The Baalei Tosfos in their comments on the Gemara in Sotah, however, pose the question as to why this concept is not listed in the Gemara in Pesachim (25a) among the three sins for which one must forfeit his life to avoid transgressing. The Baalei Tosfos answer that this concept is not explicitly written in the Torah. The implication of Tosfos is that they agree with the position of Rabbeinu Yonah that it is a full halachic obligation.
There is a third possibility we can suggest. Could it be said that our sages are indicating how very severe it is to embarrass someone by speaking in hyperbole? We find that Chazal will occasionally speak in hyperbole in order to bring home the point that this is an action from which we should stay far away. Regardless of the actual understanding of the Gemara, we really need to upgrade our method of conversation and stop calling people Nazis. The Twitter feed should remove its declaration and explain things in a calm, cool, and collected manner. And Zehava Galon needs to issue a full apology
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.