Unwittingly Desecrating G-d’s Name by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

How should we act as Orthodox Jews?

Today I was talking to a congregant who told me that her in-laws who are Reform and not observant, asked her why Orthodox Jews are badly mannered.   They said, “so and so’s son became a baal tishuvah (newly observant) and now he is mean to, and rejecting of, people who are not orthodox.”

She responded to her in-laws that the baaley tishuvah in her shul are not at all that way, and that perhaps this bad mannered impression is one not caused by Judaism but by the cultures of specific orthodox communities or types of people who tend to become Orthodox.  I wondered if this was a common stereotype and was told it is.

Though stereotypes are often unfair generalizations about the many from the few, there is often something to them.  I offered her a suggestion.  Perhaps insular communities unwittingly cultivate the sense that those in their community are virtuous and those outside of it are not.  This might lead to the unsaid sense that others on the outside might feel that those inside reject them or are rude to them.

I mentioned that we must be vigilant to avoid such feelings since the Talmud (Yoma 86a) says the following:
“What is a chilul hashem (A desecration of god’s name)?  …Isaac, of the School of Rabbi Jannai said: “If one’s colleagues are ashamed of his reputation that constitutes a profanation of the Name (chilul hashem).” Abaye explained:  If someone studies Torah and Mishnah, and attends on the disciples of the wise (talmidey chachamim), is honest in business, and speaks pleasantly to persons, what do people then say concerning him? ‘Happy the father who taught him Torah, happy the teacher who taught him Torah; woe unto people who have not studied the Torah; for this man has studied the Torah look how fine his ways are, how righteous his deeds! . Of him does Scripture say: And He said unto me: Thou art My servant, Israel, in, whom I will be glorified.  (That is a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of G-d’s name)

But if someone studies Scripture and Mishnah, attends on the disciples of the wise, but is dishonest in business, and discourteous in his relations with people, what do people say about him? ‘ Woe unto him who studied the Torah, woe unto his father who taught him Torah; woe unto his teacher who taught him Torah!’ This man studied the Torah: Look, how corrupt are his deeds, how ugly his ways; of him Scripture says: In that men said of them: “These are the people of the Lord, and are gone forth out of His land.” (This is a desecration of G-d’s name)”

5 Responses to Unwittingly Desecrating G-d’s Name by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

  1. Michael Stein says:

    I concur wholeheartedly with Rabbi Shafner’s comments. When I first became a ba’al teshuva 25+ years ago, I was guilty of the behavior he describes, and it did permanent damage. Over the years I became softer, and I hope a bit wiser. I observed many other people in similar predicaments, and I have observed many other instances of the Orthodox community’s insularity resulting in hillul Hashem. I think if Isaiah came back and observed the present day situation in the Jewish people, we would all be in for a rather severe rebuke.

    I cite the Midrash Rabah in this regard — the source of the concept “derekh eretz kadmah l’Torah” — the story where Rabbi Yanai invites someone he thinks is a talmid chacham to his table, and insults him cruelly when he finds out the person is an am ha’aretz. But the ignorant person’s fine middot carry the day, and Rabbi Yanai comes out looking like a real boor, despite his Torah knowledge. Of course, this story isn’t about level of observance, but rather about level of learning. But the principle is similar.

  2. pierre says:

    There may be counsel from our tradition against the attitude, but there are definitely contemporary schools of thought that do not deter students from formulating such attitudes – it’s a simin that a newly-observant person has the ‘proper’ perspective on their previous life and the life of those who WERE peers. In SOME ways it is a naturally occuring attitude, especially under the pretense that regnant Orthodoxy is that which The Others have deviated from – in fact it grows best in soil that denies history and knows only its own ‘zachor’ of events and processes – among those who know “only Torah” (or those who use the resources of those who claim thus) -a Torah which explicates “clearly” and unambiguously both past, present and future.

  3. David S says:

    I love this blog. It gives me a sense of hope that things will turn out all right with Judaism rather than that we will try in vain to turn back the clock and as a result become a marginal Amish like group.

  4. David Sher says:

    Mind you, I mean no disrespect to the Amish. They are good people, but its hard to be a light unto the nations if we hide that light.

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