Jewish Journal


December 4, 2009

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


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)”

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