Gentiles and Kiddush Hashem – Rabbi Barry Gelman

July 28, 2009

I have spent the last week in Camp Moshava in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Being here has been a real treat. Camp Moshava is a living breathing “kiddush Hashem”. One of the many outstanding aspects of my experience thus far has been the wide variety of orthodox Jews that work here.

I mention Kiddush Hashem because, except for my experience here this week, my thoughts have been on the tremendous chillul Hashem created by the Rabbis arrested last week for offenses ranging form money laundering to human organ trafficking.

I have no doubt that the actions that these rabbis have been accused of have done enormous damage to the perception of Torah. I am deeply concerned that these actions will create doubt and cynicism in the hearts and minds of young people towards religious leadership. One way to combat these outcomes is for the Modern Orthodox community to clearly state that these actions were wrong and that the greed that led to them is not in keeping with a spiritually sensitive Judaism.

Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein coined the term “glatt kosher hedonism” to refer to the belief (desire) that observant Jews can have it all. Our communities, the Modern Orthodox, pride ourselves on appreciating what is good, wholesome and spiritually fortifying in general culture. In doing so, we run the risk of letting our guard down in the pursuit of having it all. So as not to allow this tragedy to go without any positive outcome, our communities need reiterate the importance of Zniut – modesty in the way we live.

 

I will conclude with two brief notes that were emailed to me recently in reaction to the scandal.

 

Rabbi Riskin mentioned a number of times that when he still lived in New York and was starting his own yeshiva high school (“Mesivta Ohr Torah” in Riverdale), he interviewed 17 candidates for the job of Rosh Yeshiva.   After ascertaining all knew how to learn, he asked them, “Suppose you ordered by mail an electric shaver from Alexander’s Department Store.   And instead of one shaver being delivered, 3 shavers were delivered.   What would you do with the other two?”   Rabbi Riskin reported that sixteen of the seventeen insisted that they keep the other two shavers because stealing for a gentile is permitted.

 

The last applicant (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Sosefsky who is now the Rosh Hayeshivah of Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim) insisted on returning the shaver quoting Bava Metzia Perek 2 Yerushalmi: Rabbi Shimon Ben-Shetach bought a donkey from an arab. When RSBS was removed from the seller, he noticed there was something in the saddle: a valuable diamond whose sale would have put RSBS on easy street for the rest of his life.  But RSBS insisted on returning the diamond to the arab as it would be better for the gentile to bless the G-d of Shimon Ben-Shetach than for Shimon Ben-Shetach to obtain any financial benefit such as this.

 The following, written by Rabbi Moses ben Jacob of Coucy, authoer of the Sefer MItzvot Gadol on positive Mitzvah # 74 is very timely.

And I have already expounded to Galus Yerushalayim in Spain (Sefarad) and the other Galuyos under Christianity (Edom), that now that the Galus has lasted too long a Jew must separate himself from the frivolities (Hevlei) of the world and grasp the seal of Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu, which is Truth, and not lie, neither to Jews nor to non-Jews, nor to deceive them in any matter, and to sanctify ourselves even in that which is permissible to us, as it says

(Tzefani’a 3:13): “The remnant of Israel will not commit foul deeds nor speak falsehoods, nor will there be found in their mouths treacherous tongues.” And then, when Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu comes to redeem us the non-Jews will say that He is just in doing so, for we are men of truth and Toras Emes is in our mouths.

But if we conduct ourselves towards the non-Jews with deceit (Rama’us), then they will say: “See what Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu has done, that He has chosen as His portion thieves and cheats.”

Furthermore, it is written (Hoshe’a 2:25): “And I will plant them in the earth.” Why does a person plant a measure of grain in the earth? In order to cultivate several measures. So too Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu planted Yisroel in the various lands so that converts would join us. As long as we conduct ourselves amongst them with deceit who will cling to us? And, we find that

Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu was upset even by theft from evildoers, as it says(Bereishis 6:11): ” And the land was filled with theft (Chamas).”

Further, I bring proof from the Yerushalmi Chapter Eilu Metzi’os (Halocho 5), where it says: “The elder rabbis (Rabbanan Savi’ai) bought a measure of grain from non-Jews and found within it a bundle of money. They returned it to them, and the non-Jews said: ‘Blessed is the G-d of the Jews.'” Many similar stories of lost items that were returned to non-Jews because of Kiddush Hashem are related there.

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An Open Letter to My Chareidi Brothers and Sisters in Israel

July 22, 2009

Rabosai,
First I want to congratulate you for your fervor and unity in responding to those who are violating Shabbat by driving to Jerusalem on Shabbat and those who are intervening in family life in the Toldos Ahron community by treating children in the hospital when they are emaciated and weighing 7 kg at two years old.
But, secondly, I want to tell you that from a Torah True perspective your reactions are the very opposite of what you should be doing. Your commitment to Torah and current events gave you an opportunity for a great Kiddush Hashem, and instead you have distanced thousands – if not millions – from Torah. Didn’t you consider that Chilul Hashem B’farhesia, publicly profaning God’s name, is such a great sin that it outweighed going out on a limb to protect parking lots from cars on Shabbat, or to protect a family that really seems like it was abusing its children? Do you think that there could never be child abuse in your community? And was it not worth bringing an emaciated child – even you agree that he was dangerously emaciated – to one of the world’s leading hospitals for a check-up? Do you agree that doctors’ have a role in our lives in making some physical and psychological determinations?

Rather than resorting to violent riots that have turned off even people sympathetic to your love for Shabbat and the integrity of the family, you should have copied God the way we are supposed to: with love and kindness – midot hachesed – the loving traits of God. Wouldn’t it have been far more effective to have shown up at the parking lot on Shabbat with grape juice and challah rolls and offered people driving into Yerushalayim the ability to celebrate Shabbat just a little? Had you offered them cholent and kugal, don’t you think word would have gotten out that Shabbat is a beautiful thing? After all, these people driving into Jerusalem are choosing to spend Shabbat in the Holy City, not at the beach in Tel Aviv or Ashkelon! We all need to think of how we can reach out to our brothers and sisters even when they are sinning in our eyes, and rather than making them park dangerously all around Jerusalem, endangering pedestrians who are not violating Shabbat, make them realize that you are willing to interrupt your Shabbat to spend some time with them! Maybe the next time some of them would be willing to drive into Jerusalem on Friday night, spend the night in a hotel – even an Arab hotel in the Old City! – and experience a full Shabbat in Jerusalem. Why didn’t you suggest to the city that parking overnight in Jerusalem – from Friday night till Shabbat is over – should be made free, to encourage people to drive in before Shabbat? All these moves would have made Jerusalem, Shabbat and the religious way of life something beautiful, not ugly – God’s name would be glorified, not sullied by the dirty rubbish that you have been throwing at city workers.

Rather than rioting against what seems to be saving of a child’s life – piku’ach nefesh – didn’t you question for a moment what is going on? What are the names of Chareidi organizations that protect children – and spouses – from abuse? The Chareidi community in America has such organizations which serve the entire Jewish community – have you set up yours? I haven’t seen them involved or consulted. No, instead of blaming Hadassah hospital, the doctors and the media of a conspiracy, maybe you should begin a process of coming clean and accepting that domestic abuse occurs in all types of communities – from the most religious to the most secular, Jewish and non-Jewish. And that sometimes the police and the authorities have to be brought in to protect children and spouses. That would be the appropriate response, one that would be a Kiddush Hashem, which would win the respect of Jews and non-Jews for Torah and for Judaism.
My brothers and sisters in the Chareidi community: God’s name is not sanctified by you showing how much political muscle you have to close parking lots, to maintain the ‘status quo’, or to show that you can do whatever you like to your kids without the authorities intervening: that’s not the way to sanctify God’s name, or even your name. The way to Kiddush Hashem is for all of us to place God and God’s kindness above our own agendas, and to show that we are willing to sacrifice even your own serenity on Shabbat, our own control over our families, in order to protect the weak and make God’s name something beautiful and desirable, not something which people cannot run away from fast enough.

Asher Lopatin


A Vacation From Ideology – Rabbi Barry Gelman

July 14, 2009

I am on vacation in New York and whenever I visit New York I try to make time to visit my favorite Jewish book store, Biegeleisen. You see, I am a seforim junkie and I must get my fix every year. To my mind there is no better dealer that the good people of Biegeleisen. 

 

WARNING: Do not confuse Biegeleisen with a Judaica store for there are no fancy havdallah sets, no cookbooks and no jewish music for sale there. Beigeleisen is seforim only (almost all hebrew with a few englsih books floating around).

 

The store is located in Borough Park, Brooklyn, a well known chareidi community. The streets are lined with kosher food stores, clothing stores for women with clothes that meet the modesty standards of that community and many yeshivot and shteibels (small one room synagogues).

 

Sometime visiting communities like Borough Park makes me feel like I am on a different planet. The ways and customs of that place are so different in so many fundamentally important ways from those that I and my community practice. I have often felt bad about this reality and naively hoped that it could be different. Sort of my own little, “can’t we all just get along” dream. 

 

For some reason this year’s pilgrimage to my seforim mecca left me feeling differently. Read the rest of this entry »