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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Chillul Hashem’

Rabbinic Violence

Friday, October 18th, 2013

I can’t even begin to express how embarrassed I am by the case currently getting massive exposure in the United States press and TV about a collection of religious Jews who have been charged with trying to arrange for a man who refused to give his wife a Get to be kidnapped, beaten, and tortured until he capitulated.

A sting operation took place. FBI undercover agents managed to get recordings of rabbis and fixers saying how and what they would do when they got hold of the recalcitrant husband. Graphic descriptions of electric cattle prods being applied to the victim’s private parts was simply icing on the cake of self-incrimination. But I must not prejudge the issue, innocent until proven guilty and all that. Some people have argued that there are worse dangers to be pursued and this was just a politically correct counterbalance to all those stings that have trapped Muslim terrorists. Others say the victim deserves it for being such an evil person.

There are several huge issues here that concern me and should concern anyone who takes the idea of Chillul HaShem, desecrating the Lord’s name, seriously. Maimonides, in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, makes it the first principle of Jewish behavior. This whole sorry story makes for a massive humiliation of Jewish law. Make no mistake about this, any normal average non- Jew hearing all this could not but conclude that Torah Judaism has a problem with violence and corruption, and that Jewish law on divorce makes the Taliban look positively progressive.

Why is it that so many men of limited intellect and capacity around the world carry out continuous and gratuitous rape and violence against women? The answer is that they have such a profound realization of their own inferiority that they have to take it out on someone even more vulnerable and who in many primitive societies is regarded as inferior. So they take it out on women, and the women in turn take often take it out on disadvantaged weaker women, and then on their own children. Violence begets violence.

One would like to think the Torah world is better. In many ways it is. But how else can one explain the amount of petty violence apparent in certain sections of the supposedly Torah world as the product of violence done to them. This year alone the non-Jewish public has learnt of apparently religious Jews setting other Jews on fire because they disagree religiously; Jews killing and sexually abusing other Jews; and I won’t even begin to enumerate the number of charges against Orthodox Jews for corruption, deception, and financial irregularities. What is wrong with these people? Indeed, what is wrong with their rabbis who seem so in love with money that blinds them to their moral responsibility to be seen to be upholding the law of the land? Kohelet was right three thousand years ago when he said, “And money covers up everything.” And the saddest point of all is that any time I come out and say this, instead of addressing the issue, people prefer to blame the messenger, attack me, argue that other societies are worse, anything but face up to the issue.

Torah is supposed to be pure, enlightening, and reviving, says the Book of Psalms. But this makes Torah out to be unfair and discriminatory. This whole episode revolves around the offensive fact that if a husband refuses to give his wife a religious bill of divorce she can never ever, ever remarry. How on earth can God’s law discriminate so against women, leaving them trapped and hopeless? And why do people then resort to violence outside of the law when one would expect the law to defend the disadvantaged?

A thousand years ago Rabbeynu Tam, the greatest rabbi of his day, forbade beating men up as a way of compelling a recalcitrant husbands to grant a Get. Why? Many argue because it created a very negative impression in a Christian world which any way at the time did not recognize or approve of divorce. Rabbeynu Tam was indeed worried about how we would appear to our non- Jewish neighbors. But at least the Christians found a way round it by annulling marriages, usually on spurious grounds. We too have this possibility. There is a principle in Jewish law “Whoever marries does so according to rabbinic law and therefore the rabbis have the right to annul a marriage.” But rabbis have consistently refused to make use of this power. Sometimes I wonder if its either pigheaded stubbornness or just male chauvinism. Sadly it lays women open to blackmail. But if we were really worried about making fools of ourselves and demeaning Torah in non-Jewish eyes, why are we not concerned about doing something about it?

According to Jewish law, if, after I have made a commitment, I discover something about the other party that had I known about beforehand I would never have bound myself in the first place, that agreement is null and void. Wouldn’t any woman say that if she had known what evil her husband really capable of before she married him she would never have married him in the first place? Isn’t that, equally, grounds for invalidating the marriage agreement? If, understandably, one doesn’t want to use this power cavalierly, why not at least occasionally, as a recent Beth Din in Israel did? This whole public relations fiasco would never have arisen if there had been a fair way of releasing a woman legally through the Torah.

Frankly, I’d love to beat up any bastard who so cruelly ruined a woman’s life and made her suffer till her dying day. But I cannot because I fear the consequences, I hate violence, and because it would be a terrible Chillul HaShem.

So I blame the rabbis who refuse to find ways of releasing women whose husbands withhold a Get for this public humiliation of Judaism. It isn’t enough that we have bred a generation of religious toughs who use violence as a way of resolving differences, but that we actually encourage them to do so because the law as currently applied is giving no alternative.

If the Talmud is so authoritative and important, and if there are religious authorities who rabbis simply ignore it when it suits them, how in Heaven’s name can I call them anything else but those who assist in desecrating the good name of Heaven and Torah? The Talmud says in Yoma, only death atones for anyone guilty of desecrating the Name of God. By refusing to act within the law we are only encouraging others to break the law.

Responding to Abuse: Should We Ask Gedolim?

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

As the scandals and the chillul Hashem increase, Rabbi William Handler, in a recent op-ed article on JewishPress.com, attempts to justify not reporting abuse to secular authorities.

He asserts that one should go to a gadol who has “siyata deshmaya.” The fact that there is no evidence that this has reduced abuse in the past is far less significant than its assertion of frumkeit. Not one of the major poskim who analyze the level of certainty needed before calling the police has ever made the claim that he is better equipped to deal with abuse. Victims can only be further traumatized when told to go to the very rabbis who failed to acknowledge their pain and hurt in the first place.

The Talmud in Yoma (83a) discusses the role of doctors in determining whether a person is permitted to eat on Yom Hakippurim. It’s clear the Talmud recognizes expertise and trusts the knowledge of a person in his field. Even non-Jewish experts are trusted to determine taste in a mixture of kosher and non-kosher ingredients.

Most troubling is the argument that there is a group of so-called experts working for the state agency protecting children who are looking to take Jewish children from their parents and have the parents prosecuted. In this scenario, if they don’t find the Jewish parents guilty of abuse they will lose their jobs.

Rabbi Handler apparently is not aware that there are not enough social workers available to deal with the many abuse victims in the general community; this renders moot his claim that social workers are looking for victims because they want to keep their jobs. The reality is exactly the opposite – the child protection agencies in fact need more social workers.

It will be unpleasant for parents when unusual injuries of infants treated in emergency rooms are investigated, but children’s lives will be saved. The police are not quick to arrest, and it takes many such incidents before a child is taken away from his parents.

Even when charges are made by one parent against the other in a divorce dispute – a circumstance ripe for false accusation – the welfare of the child requires that every allegation be investigated.

We do not live in a country where the social agencies or police are prejudiced against Jews. Yes, mistakes are made, as in every judicial system, but the solution cannot be anarchy. We read about faulty prosecutions, but no one has suggested the correct response is to let all offenders go free. Sexual abusers, who often are chronic offenders, have to be separated from potential victims. The proper approach would be for the Orthodox community, especially the day schools, to work with the state agencies.

It is no longer the time for this sterile debate. We do little to prevent abuse and less to help those who have been victimized. The cries of the survivors can no longer be ignored.

Where is the support for those who struggle to overcome the double trauma of having been abused and not believed when they came forward? The recent case in Lakewood where the rabbinic leadership defended an abuser (who was convicted after other victims came forward and he admitted guilt) and hounded the victim’s family has produced not one apology from the rabbis involved.

We have seen case after case, conviction after conviction, but there has been no change. What is needed is a discussion about how to get the Orthodox community to acknowledge the extent of the crisis. We must stop trying to protect our image and start protecting our children.

100 Jewish Teens Kicked off a Plane: a Teaching Moment

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

I will never forget watching my elementary school principal pick food out of the trash and thinking I hope he doesn’t find my lunch. I was a picky eater (I still am) and the principal was a Holocaust survivor.

He was a principal that did not use classroom management techniques to get our attention because he did not need to.  He had a short, white beard, a limp from an injury he sustained shortly before liberation, a steely stare and a commanding voice with a strong accent. If he so much as looked at you, you immediately became quiet. When he walked into the room, you did not have to be told to stand up out of respect.

And, as a man who nearly starved to death at Auschwitz, he did not tolerate wasting food.

He would walk up to the microphone with a half-eaten sandwich in hand and demand, “Whose is this”? The guilty party would walk to the front of the room on shaky legs and retrieve their sandwich along with a strict admonishment not to waste food. And after being called out like that, you learned your lesson: you did not waste food.

Kids aren’t like that anymore. Neither are principals.

In the eight years between the time I graduated elementary school to the time I entered the classroom as a teacher, it seemed things had changed. Teachers were no longer “always right”. And kids were no longer afraid of teachers, principals or parents.

Perhaps it was the advancement of technology–cell phones barely existed when I was in 8th grade; when I walked into my first 8th grade classroom as a teacher, nearly every student had one.  When I was in school, if you dared use chutzpa in front of a a teacher, you sweated all day, knowing the teacher would call your parents and that you would be in hot water when you got home. Now, when every kid has a cell phone in school, they can often call their parents to complain about the “unfair teacher” so that by the time the teacher can get near a phone at the end of the school day to discuss the child’s inappropriate behavior, the parent has already called the principal to complain about the teacher. Accountability is no longer a word that is stressed in homes and schools, and it seems that the plague of self-entitlement has resulted in its stead. And this is not the fault of our children and students, but rather the fault lies with us- the parents and educators.

One of the lead stories this morning is “100 Jewish Teens Kicked Off Plane” and the article goes on to explain how 100 (or 101) Jewish students from the Orthodox Yeshiva of Flatbush (a great school and my mother’s alma mater) were kicked off a flight on their way to a school trip, due to “rowdy behavior.” When you look at other articles, it appears there are different accounts of what actually happened on that flight and whether or not the decision of the airline was warranted. Whatever actually took place, it is clear that some of those students were not acting appropriately on the flight. By all accounts, some did not put their phones away on when they were asked to and had to be told to sit down. I would argue that this behavior is typical of a group of teens flying on a school trip. I don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that they are Jewish.

However, anyone who read this news story probably had the same thought I had: what a chillul Hashem-  a desecration of God’s name. And for me, it brought to mind a memory of Rabbi Friedman.

Before every school trip, from first grade to when I was in sixth grade when he retired, Rabbi Friedman got onto the school bus before we departed and gave us the same speech. “You are Jewish boys and girls. Everywhere you go, people will know that you are Jews. They will be watching you to see how you behave. You have the choice to make a Kiddush Hashem or to make a Chillul Hashem” and then giving us no choice but to obey, he fixed us with his steely glance and said, “Make sure you make a Kiddush Hashem.”

Outreach, Inreach and Insularity

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

One of the most difficult problems facing Judaism today is its own perpetuation. This is not to say that it will not exist into the future. It will. And in fact observant Jewry is growing by leaps and bounds. One need not look any further than the explosion in the numbers of observant Jews in America and Israel since the Holocaust to see that. We were once so tiny a percentage of the whole that it was predicted we would one day be relegated to the ash bin of history. Now Orthodoxy the fastest growing segment (denomination) of all Jewry. But we should not be triumphalist. We have not yet triumphed.

As encouraging as these numbers are, there are far greater numbers of Jews that are not observant. Intermarriage is at an all time high. The Reform movement has had to redefine ‘who is a Jew’ just to keep their numbers up. And the Conservative Movement is struggling to keep attrition to a minimum. Both of those denominations have looked at the successes of Orthodoxy and have tried to take lessons from it.

While we might want to celebrate the triumphs of an educational system that has done so much to add to our growth both in numbers and spiritually – the fact is that we are still a very small percentage of the whole. The vast majority of Jews in the world are not observant… and most don’t care to be.

The sad truth for non Orthodox establishments – is their numbers will probably keep dwindling. The only thing that can help retain the large majority of Jews who are assimilating out of Judaism is outreach. That has to be done by teaching non observant Jews with little or no background or education – the beauty of observant Judaism.

The thesis of an article by Rabbi Ilan Feldman in the most recent issue of Klal Perspectives speaks to this issue and laments its current decline in effectiveness. The once great numbers of Jews who were inspired to become observant has dwindled. He proposes that if we want to reverse the trend back to previous levels of success, we need to change the paradigm. From one where we focus on how to better observe Halacha in virtual isolation from our brethren – to one where we become role models for a life of Torah and commitment to observance. We should practice the precept of Kol Yisroel Areivim Zeh LaZeh – every Jew is responsible for every other Jew. We cannot just look inward. We must look outward and act in ways that are a Kiddush HaShem if we are ever to influence our non observant brothers and sisters of the beauty of Torah.

I agree. This is a theme I constantly harp on. And why I scream so loudly when some self-absorbed Jews commit a Chilul HaShem.

Rabbi Feldman had an epiphany as a young man about non observant Jews that I firmly believe to be true and have said so many times. There are a great number of non observant Jews that are in fact ‘religious’. They are proud of their Judaism and want to live a more Jewishly committed lifestyle. Not knowing how to do it is perhaps their biggest obstacle. Opening up our hearts and homes in non-judgmental ways and leading our lives as role models of behavior can have a great impact on many of these people. They most certainly should not be written off, while we pat ourselves on the back about our successes.

Unfortunately the current trend especially among the right is to become ever more insular. Kiruv when it does happen in that community is an ‘out of sight out of mind’ occurrence. There is hardly any cross fertilization between the Kiruv professionals and the rest of the community. Which I think is in part the reasons so many Baalei Teshuva are so disappointed when they try to integrate with the mainstream. It is a fact of life, but a travesty nevertheless when newcomers are often kept at arm’s length instead of being honored for what they have achieved.

But it isn’t only about outreach. It is about in-reach. Like trying to deal with those among us who are at risk. Based on all the ink spilled on the subject even by the right wing, I have to assume that the numbers are quite large, and growing. These kids drop out for various reasons, including dysfunctional families, or having been sexually (or otherwise) abused. Or simply falling through the cracks of an educational system that is too narrowly focused on only one aspect of it (e.g. Gemarah or academics) and does not practice the proverbial advice of “Chanoch L’Naar Al Pi Darko.”

And then there are those who simply ask the “wrong’ questions” about matters of belief or contradictions between science and Torah. These can and often do steer people away from observance and belief.

Rabbi Michael Broyde says in response to Rabbi Feldman’s article that this last item is a problem in outreach that he did not address. When trying to persuade college educated youth to consider a Torah lifestyle, demonstrating the beauty of it may very well not be enough. Their exposure to the scientific knowledge of the day and the contradiction they perceive it to be to the Torah is a huge impediment to them in accepting Orthodoxy. Especially in light of the Slifkin affair. When the right rejects books that try in all sincerity to reconcile Torah and science by calling it heresy, very few college educated youth will be able to buy into that… and in fact will be completely turned off by such talk.

That said, I agree with Rabbi Feldman’s suggestion that we need to change the paradigm from one tending toward insularity to one of connecting to our fellow Jews outside of our own Daled Amos.

There are many ways to do it. Nothing works better than inspiration. When young people are inspired by the way observant Jews behave, they can become inspired to see what Observant Judaism is all about. But that alone will not work. Certainly not in every case. It has to be accompanied by a rational approach to answering difficult questions about science and Torah that will appeal to the educated mind.

I witnessed outreach at work in an amazing way over this past Shabbos. I saw public high school students become inspired over Shabbos – culminating with the classic NCSY Havdalah ceremony which includes stories of sacrifice by their peers standing up for their Judaism.

NCSY International Director, Rabbi Micah Greenland was at his best, infusing his own passion into the stories he told while soulful music was being played in the background. After the Havdalah was completed those kids danced excitedly to Jewish music with breathtaking intensity. Many of those kids were not observant at all. Except for their dress, one would never know they were not Frum. It was a sight to behold.

Inspiring the unaffiliated can be done through inspirational stories or through our own behavior as role models. We should always be thinking about how we look to others whenever we are in public. Or even in private for that matter. On the other hand when a Chilul HaShem is made by observant Jews, it will surely have the opposite effect

Nor can we afford to dismiss Rabbi Broyde’s comments… even at the high school level. As inspired as those kids I saw last weekend, many of them will eventually go off to college and be exposed to questions that may not have anyone at the ready to answer them at that time. There needs to be a paradigm change at both the interactive level as well as the educational level. Insularity must end. And so must ignorance.

I realize of course that the vast majority of non-observant Jews will probably still remain non-observant. And that assimilation and intermarriage will still be rampant. We will never reach everyone. But as our sages have told us, it is not for us to finish the job. But neither are we free to refrain from it (Avos 2:21). We can go a long way towards changing the world by changing course. Much further than we are now.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Jews Who Live in Diaspora Houses

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

It seems that the fad at The Jewish Press these days is for contributing writers to declare that Sarah Silverman’s trashy routine is a Chillul Hashem. That may be true, but there’s a bigger Chillul Hashem than Sarah’s. The biggest Chillul Hashem is when Jews choose to live in Chicago, and Dallas, and Los Angeles, and Lakewood, and Brooklyn, when they could live in the Land of the Jews instead.

We learn this from the Hashem Himself, through the words of the Prophet, Ezekiel. The concept of Chillul Hashem appears in Ezekiel’s clear and uncompromising rebuke of Jewish life in the exile: “And when they came amidst the nations into which they came, they desecrated My holy Name, in that heathens said of them, ‘These are the people of the L-rd and they have gone out of His Land’ (Ezekiel, 36:20).

The simple fact that Jews live in foreign, gentile lands brings terrible disgrace to the Name of G-d, far more than a Sarah Silverman video on Youtube. When a gentile sees Jews living in Chicago, or Dallas, or Los Angeles, or Brooklyn, he says, “G-d gave the Jews their own land to live in, yet the Jews prefer to live here with us! What a disgrace!” Others say, “G-d must be weak if He can’t keep His own People in Israel! They have their own Jewish homeland, but here they are, living with us!”

But why listen to me? Let an old writer for the Jewish Press explain it to you – Rabbi Meir Kahane. I turn this blog over to him. Let’s hear what he had to say about Jewish life in the Diaspora:

Rabbi Kahane bases his essay on the words of the Prophet, Ezekiel, who declares that Jewish life in the Diaspora is a terrible desecration of G-d:

“And when they came amidst the nations into which they came, they desecrated My holy Name, in that men said of them, ‘These are the people of the L-rd and they have gone out of His Land.’ But I had pity for My holy Name which the House of Israel had profaned among the nations into which they came. Therefore say to the House of Israel, Thus says the L-rd G-d; I do not do this for your sakes, O House of Israel, but for the sake of My holy Name which you have desecrated among the nations to which you came. And I will sanctify My great Name which was desecrated among the nations, which you have profaned in the midst of them; and the nations shall know that I am the L-rd G-d, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and I will bring you into your own Land” (Ezekiel, 36, 20-24).

“What is this Chillul Hashem which Ezekiel describes? That the nations say of them, ‘They are God’s people and dear to Him, and if He could have helped them not to leave their Land, He would have done it, but He became weak…’ This Chillul Hashem comes through the Jewish People in the Diaspora.

“Therefore, Ezekiel continues: ‘I had pity for My holy Name which the House of Israel profaned among the nations into which they came’ (Ezek. 36:21). When the time for Redemption arrives, God has pity on His holy people, profaned among the nations by Israel’s very presence in exile among them, living under them, subject to and dependent upon them. Even when the nations allow Israel to live in peace among them,Israel still depend on their goodness and tolerance, and that, too, is a Chillul Hashem. The fact that the Jews exists as a minority, constantly dependent on the kindness of the gentiles, this itself diminishes the glory of Israel, and of God, so to speak.

“This is the intent of Targum’s rendering of the verse, ‘There [in the exile] you will serve other gods’ (Deut. 28:36,64): ‘There you will serve nations that worship idols.’ Israel, by being subject to these nations, even if this just means living under their sovereignty as a minority in the territory of the gentile majority, magnify and exalt the gods and culture of the nations, and belittle God’s omnipotence, not to mention the situations where the gentiles humiliate, murder and exterminate the  Jews.

“God, thus, intends to blot out the Chilul Hashem among the nations, occurring through the Jewish People, in the only way that the nations will understand, namely,Israel’s Redemption and their victory over the nations who blasphemed God. Since, in the nations’ eyes, Israel’s weakness and lowliness, and their suffering at the nations’ hands, are interpreted as God’s weakness and inability to save His people, and that is a Chillul Hashem, it follows that Israel’s power, exaltation and victory over their own enemies and the blasphemous enemies of God is a Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of G-d).

“Therefore, although Israel are unworthy of Redemption in terms of their deeds, which are insufficient, still, a certain time arrives in God’s calculations when He has compassion for His holy Name, profaned among the nations. The Prophecy continues: ‘Therefore, say unto the House of Israel: Thus says the Lord God, I do not do this for your sake, O House of Israel, but for My holy Name, which you have profaned among the nations into which you came’ (Ezek. 36:22). Not for their sake, not because they deserve it, for they have not repented properly, but for the sake of God’s holy Name.

“Thus, God decides to erase this terrible disgrace: ‘And I will sanctify My great Name which was desecrated among the nations, which you have profaned in the midst of them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.’ (Ezekiel, 36:23-24).

“Rashi comments, ‘What does this Sanctification involve?  How does it come about? The answer is in the following verse: ‘I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and bring you into your own Land.’

“The non-Jew understands Israel’s existence in exile, and dependence on them, as God’s inability to help His People, or, Heaven forbid, as proof of God’s nonexistence. This is the greatest Chillul Hashem there is. It follows that only through Israel’s return to Eretz Yisrael and their being exalted, and gaining victory over the nations, will those nations understand that, indeed, the Lord is God, Supreme, Omnipotent King of Kings, and accept His sovereignty.

“The exile, itself, in the eyes of the nations, is the pinnacle of Chillul Hashem, whereas Israel’s return to Eretz Yisrael, the Land from which they were exiled, and the establishment of a sovereign state triumphantly, is the pinnacle of Kiddush Hashem; the proof to the nations that, indeed, a God exists in Israel, and He is the Supreme Master and King of Kings. Thus, His might, valor and victory are revealed through the might, valor and victory of Israel in their return to the Land of Israel.

“Therefore,” Rabbi Kahane concludes: “Depart the corrupt exile, the source of Chillul Hashem! Return to Eretz Yisrael so that you can live and sanctify God’s Name, for it is only through Israel’s return to Eretz Yisrael, and through the exile’s liquidation, and Israel’s revenge and victory over its enemies, that the nations will understand that the Lord of Israel is the One and Only God.”

[Excerpted from “The Jewish Idea,” Vol. 2, Pgs. 800-803.]

Loving Parking Tickets: Wearing The Right Glasses

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Is it really possible for any self-respecting New Yorker to love parking tickets? I have seen those orange rectangular pieces of paper become the nemesis of society. As a result, those trying to earn a meager living giving out these tickets have become Public Enemy Number One. We view them as “out to get us,” deliberately attempting to make our lives miserable. I have often seen people wearing frowns for hours because of the audacity of the meter maid – or the city at large – to cause them this needless expense and for not respecting their freedom to park their car. I have witnessed people yelling at the top of their lungs, to no avail, at a blue-clad individual who is writing a summons, when it is obvious that their hysteria will not only not prevent the ticket from being written, but is probably not good for their mood or blood pressure (not to mention the unjustified Chillul Hashem they are causing). So how is it possible that these perceived menaces of society could actually be appreciated?

Chazal tell us that patience is one of the best ways to regulate our middos, and help us gain the proper perspective on life. The tefillah of the patient person is accepted—perhaps, as a result of his patience towards others, Hashem is “patient” with him and gives merit to his prayers. Not only are his prayers accepted, but he also gets forgiven for his sins. The Gemara relates that when you forgive others, even when they are not deserving of your forgiveness, then Hashem forgives you even though you may not be worthy of His forgiveness. And as we can all use the gracious forgiveness of the Almighty, it is worth finding a way to give others a pass for their indiscretions.

Additionally, one who remains silent when he is attacked gives existence to the world; by remaining silent, he is reducing the interpersonal conflict and conflagration that can destroy the world at large – and the peace of our individual worlds. YES, it is very hard to stay in control when we are attacked, but if we make the effort to restrain ourselves, we are given siyatta d’Shmaya (Divine assistance). Furthermore, refraining from responding – even when it may be allowed and justified – allows us to access the greatest heavenly blessings of forgiveness and goodness. The reward is immense for an act that is difficult, yet takes only a few seconds to accomplish.

The Gemara relates (Rosh Hashanah 17) that Rav Huna was very sick, to the point that the other Sages thought he would die, and requested that his shrouds and coffin be prepared. In the end, however, his life was spared. Rav Huna explained that he was granted life because he did not stand on ceremony and defend his honor. He showed patience and respect for others; in return, he was granted a miraculous recovery. Is it not worth a long life to keep it quiet at difficult moments?

There is a well-known story of a couple that had been childless for 20 years and went to a Gadol for a bracha. The rav told them that they should seek a blessing from someone who does not respond to insult; such a person is clean of sin and eligible for miraculous life—in this case, in the form of a child for the childless couple. At a wedding the following week, the couple observed as someone remained silent as insults were being heaped upon him. As per the rav’s suggestion, they requested a blessing from this righteous person. Within the year, the blessing was fulfilled; after two decades, they were finally parents.

The enormous restraint and patience on the part of the man who was being insulted resulted in the fulfillment of a blessing, of miraculous life. The magnitude of exhibiting self-control in the face of humiliation has rewards beyond comprehension.

Traditional advice to the newlywed is to refrain from going to sleep while in a state of anger at one’s spouse. When you go to sleep while the marriage is not in balance, it demonstrates a lack of regard for harmony, for how could you sleep in such a state? Additionally, by allowing the anger to remain and simmer, it becomes internalized; you become an angry person. At the beginnings of a dispute it may be simpler to retreat and prevent conflict. As time goes on, however, each party may ruminate about the incident until they are each able to view it in a way whereby each one believes that he/she is 100% correct. A moment of patient forgiveness, a moment of “letting things slide,” is the building block of both harmony and personal strength. The Gemara (Megillah 28) relates that Rav Zeira was asked why he merited a long life. He responded that he was not makpid in his house – he was forgiving and did not stand on ceremony with his loved ones. Thus, anger management and self-control have direct effects on our physical and spiritual planes of existence.

People’s Court-Ing Disaster

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The recent episode of “The People’s Court” featuring an Orthodox couple suing a laundry service for washing and ruining the woman’s wig has once again put Torah Jews in a negative light. In addition to the show’s regular viewers, countless others have seen a video of the trial and decision on the Internet.
 
A short review of the facts is in order: By all accounts, the couple’s child had accidentally put a wig in the laundry bag, which was delivered to the cleaning service that washed it – whether authorized or not is disputed – and rendered it unwearable to all but the most stylistically challenged. The wife testified that as a pious married Jewish woman she wears the wig for religious reasons, and that the destroyed wig was valued at $3,000.
 
The defendant claimed to have been authorized to wash it – but that wasn’t the real issue.
 
The judge ascertained that the plaintiffs had not received any repair estimate but on their own claimed the wig as a total loss. This was a serious deficiency in satisfying the plaintiff’s burden of proof, but the judge investigated further, allegedly calling Georgie the wig company, maker of the wig in question. She discovered, much to her distress, that the receipt for $3,000 applied to the beautiful wig the women was presently wearing in court, rather than to the bird’s nest the woman had submitted into evidence. In other words, the judge accused the couple of lying – of claiming the damaged wig was worth far more than it actually did – and she dismissed their case.
 
The couple was asked to respond, and looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights. The flabbergasted husband just lamented that “the judge called us liars,” but had no credible retort. The wife was equally dumbfounded. When, as a trial lawyer arguing cases before juries, I would impeach the credibility of witnesses for their inconsistent statements, I would always quote Mark Twain, who used to say that “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
 
If the couple could not think of an answer on the spot to account for the discrepancy, there is really nothing left to say. You can’t show up in court without evidence – or answers – and hope to look good. The truth is only one story; it should be fairly easy to recall.
 
It was a cringe-worthy moment – on national television, religious Jews were accused of telling a bald-faced lie in order to win money from struggling Hispanic businessmen. Subsequently, the couple mounted a defense in the Jewish media – that perhaps the judge had not called Georgie or had called the wrong Georgie, that they had been unsettled and frightened and did not defend themselves adequately or quickly enough. Some even suggested they would and should sue “The People’s Court.” 
 
I hope not. The question that presents is this: If what they are saying is true, then why didn’t they scream when accused that “it can’t be…you’re making a terrible mistake,” much like Yehuda did when confronted with evidence of Binyamin’s guilt. He didn’t wait to investigate or mull over possible retorts because he knew Binyamin was innocent and that something else was afoot. If the couple knew then what they claim to know now, they should have said it then. Post-conviction (here, post-liability) assertions carry zero weight. If you know it can’t be, then say so. It would make for great television, which is what the producers want anyway.
 
Unfortunately, the post-facto defense does not really matter, and once the public trial ended, the real facts and the winner/loser of the court case paled before the Chillul Hashem, desecration of God’s name, that was engendered. The actual truth or justice or whether the couple was indeed right or wrong, deserved compensation or not, is now irrelevant.
 
“It matters not whether Chillul Hashem is intentional or unintentional” (Avot 4:4); the effect is the same. A Jew has to be extremely careful of his/her public persona, deeds and appearance because desecration of God’s name is a horrendous sin even if it is unintentional and inadvertent – even if it was involuntary. The impression left that religious Jews – scrupulous in their observance of the laws of modesty but cavalier (or worse) about other people’s money – is one that is difficult to dispel. And for hundreds of thousands of viewers, rightly or wrongly, it will never be dispelled.
 
Chillul Hashem is not a deed;it is the result of a deed.
 
Certain conclusions need to be drawn. One of my most cherished colleagues suggested that our religious Jewish communal organizations should henceforth ban Orthodox Jews from appearing on reality shows. We don’t need the world to see Orthodox Jewish litigants, fashion models, apprentices, et al – it never turns out well. I agree.  All these shows feed on human venality and dysfunction, and elicit the worst facets of our character.
 
The Talmud (Yoma 86b) states that we are obligated “to publicize the deeds of hypocrites because of the desecration of God’s name that is caused,” and Rashi comments that we do that because people will see their deeds, assume their righteousness, and be misled. That’s not to say that this particular couple – strangers to me – are hypocrites; it does say that we have to be very careful never to put ourselves in a position where even our appropriate actions can be misinterpreted and misunderstood, and put the Torah in a negative light.
 
Further, it should never be satisfactory to console ourselves that “it’s just a few people, the majority of us are righteous, etc.” That trope might work for others, but it should never satisfy us. We are part of a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” to whom the Creator of the universe revealed Himself at Sinai and in the Holy Temples. No one is impressed by disclaimers, nor should we be impressed. If one wants to appear on TV, then do so to defend the Jewish people or do something positive for humanity – don’t do it for money or fame.
 
Rav Shlomo Aviner once wrote that it is more important to teach a young child love of humanity even before we teach that child about love of God. A young child cannot fully comprehend “love of God” anyway. Love of humanity has to come first, because whoever is personally corrupt, and grows up with a distorted character will just have his mature “love of  God” and his advanced knowledge of Torah built on a crooked foundation. Then one can wear a yarmulke and steal – and all for a good cause.
 
But if one loves and respects people, then it is impossible to steal from others or to harm them. If we perceive that all others are created in the image of God just like we are, then it becomes nearly impossible to mistreat or defraud them. Rav Kook added that when love of God is built on a foundation of love of humanity, then even our love of humanity will be enhanced.
 
            We must also tread very carefully, and remind ourselves that – like Avraham of old – we are both strangers and residents in the land. We do not have to suspect there is a Nazi lurking behind every bush to realize that exile is still exile – that history repeats itself, but never exactly the same way, for good and for not so good. To continue to put an unattractive face forward – with a new horror story about Orthodox Jews seemingly every month – courts disaster.
 
             The Torah records the stories of our forefathers and foremothers because they taught us about the proper responses to life and its challenges, about keeping the faith even amid turmoil. When we follow their path, we are distinguished for our goodness, and when we do not, we stand out in less savory ways.
 
This episode – which teachers have shown to their classes in order to provoke discussion and draw conclusions – is a chilling reminder of what can happen when we become too comfortable with ourselves and do not project the possible consequences of a particular course of action. We can undo the damage – whether intentionally inflicted or not – by reinforcing to ourselves the Torah’s notions of ethical conduct to all man, not insisting on every claim we might have, and focusing on what is holy and upright. Then we will be a truly great nation, worthy of the standards that God has set for us.
 

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2009).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/peoples-court-ing-disaster/2010/12/30/

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