The Bare Facts about Rebuke

1 May

I begin with some self-rebuke for getting away from my weekly blog, and still not being able to keep track of the coming and going of Tuesdays….again, this week Thursday will have to do!

The parasha this week reminds us of the Torah’s built-in system of generating halakhic observance. We who are obligated to follow the mitzvot, are empowered to become the policemen of mitzvah observance as well:

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. Reprove your kinsman and incur no guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Lev. 19:17-19)

Much “ink has been spilled,” , much Torah has been taught focused on defining the precise meaning of these verses, both in terms of context and practical ramifications. This is not my purpose in this blog entry.

Rather, I would like to take this opportunity to “expose” (excuse the pun) the misguided attempts by some of my fellow Israelis who in pursuit of righteousness have once again crossed the line.

On the Monday of chol haMoed (second day of Yom Tov in the Diaspora), a 27-year-old man claiming to be a yeshiva student decided to give his own interpretation to the recent ruling that stores may sell chametz on Pesach if it is not publicly displayed.

To make his point he stripped naked in a Bat Yam supermarket.

The man entered the store and took off his clothes, leaving only a sock covering his private parts. Inscribed on his stomach were the words “This is not [a] public [place].”

He explained that if selling chametz in the store during Pesach was not to be considered a public breach of Israel’s Chametz law, then neither was his act to be considered to be “public.”

As you can imagine, the incident drew much attention – not that it made people think twice about selling chametz (and by the way, most store owners – even the secular ones – do not do so) – but it pointed once again to the fact that our charedi (ultra-orthodox) kinsfolk are out of control.

To bring you up to date, in 1986 the Knesset passed the Prohibition on the Display of Chametz Law. Several proprietors who sold chametz in their eateries or stores last Pesach were brought up on charges of breaking that law, but were exonerated based on the judges narrow reading of the law, limiting the prohibition to public display and sale, not just sale to the public.

A number of members of Knesset were outraged. They have begun to compose a bill whose intention is to outlaw the sale of chametz during Pesach altogether. One MK, Moshe Gafni (UTJ) claimed that the judge left them no choice but to resort to religious coercion.” Boker tov!!!???

The Jerusalem Report carried a very interesting article that analyzed the differences between the charedim and the religious Zionists over the legitimacy of using legislation to enforce religious observance in inherently personal matters, such as selling chametz on Pesach. Interesting, they pointed out that in general, charedei leaders are much more inclined to use legislation as a means of enforcing Jewish law. They are concerned that if they do not do everything in their power to enforce Jewish observance, then they will be held responsible for the sins of their wayward kinsfolk. Religious-Zionist leaders, on the other hand, are more sensitive to the downside of religious coercion, in that it creates a backlash of opposition among secular Israelis who have strayed off the path. (See the whole article at

Here are the real bare facts: legislation does not lead to mitzvah observance among the chiloni population of Israel – it leads only to greater and greater disdain for Torah and Mitzvot.

And in fact, the verses quoted above bear this out quite clearly.

Notice that four different words are used in these two verse to describe the other – the guy who is doing the sinning.

Here they are with the translation I have offered:

Verse 17: achicha – your brother/amitecha – your kinsman

Verse 18: bnei amecha – you countrymen/rei’echa – your neighbor

I would argue that these four words were not randomly chosen for literary purposes, but they come to make a distinction in terms of who and how to rebuke our fellow Jews. (There is evidence to this being the case in the Tanya as well)

In short, the first verse, 19:17, is speaking to the observant Jew with reference to other Jews who have chosen to live observant lives as well, other Jews who have chosen to be “a part of the club.” They are bound by this common bond in terms of their strong desire to be observant. This common cause makes them more like brothers than just friends. When one strays from the path, the other must not become resentful; instead, he must gently rebuke his coreligionist, his kinsman, helping him to get back on the path. And he should do this because no doubt it is what his brother would want him to do, to help him overcome his yetzer hara and get back on the path. Neglecting to rise to the occasion and take responsibility for his brother makes him partially culpable for the sins being committed by the other.

Verse 18 relates to a different scenario. Here the relationship is one of fellow countrymen and neighbors. What they have in common is that they share the same country, or happen to live in close proximity to one another. They see each other on the streets, take the same buses, vote in the same elections. Yet, they are not especially close, perhaps they do not even know each others names. Within this context, says the Torah, there is no place for rebuke – it is in fact not only pointless to rebuke- it will end up being detrimental. Here, the mandate is very different – first, one must remove any sense of resentment or ill-will about the choices the other has made. For the Jew who has chosen to live a fully committed halakhic life, this can be very difficult to do when he sense that the other non-observant Jews do not share the same commitment. Yet, the Torah teaches there is no room to bear a grudge – in fact, the operative approach is to do just the opposite – to show love for that neighbor as if he were kamocha – a “part of your club.”

Most poskim agreed that the well-know concept of kol yisrael areivim zeh bazeh” – that all Jews are guarantors for one another” only applies to cases where protesting or rebuking other Jews has the potential of proving to be effective. Legislating halakhah might prevent halakhic transgressions in the short-term, but it is leading to greater resentment and ultimately to a greater amount of cumulative transgressions in the long-term.

Rav Ronan Lubitz, a teacher and writer here in Israel, has argued that much of the halakhic literature related to Jews who transgress halakha might be considered completely irrelevant to today’s secular or chiloni Jew. In the pre-modern period, when the great majority of Jews lived in autonomous Jewish communities, in which almost everyone was observant, the decision not to observe the mitzvot was generally a sign of conscious rebellion against the Torah and against the community. It was often part of conversion to another religion, and involved some degree of leaving the fold of the Jewish people for another, often competing and hostile, community.

None of this is relevant today, when the chiloni is part of the majority of the Jewish people, and his decisions are generally based not upon a rebellion against Judaism or the Jewish people, but rather based upon modern notions of personal autonomy, and a belief system in which the mitzvot do not play a significant role.

Israelis are definitely yearning today to bring more and more Jewish observance into their lives – but its their journey, and they won’t get there any faster by legislating the route.

A RABBI FOR ALL OCCASIONS…..Please visit my new website at


4 Responses to “The Bare Facts about Rebuke”

  1. Marion Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 5:14 pm #

    This discussion has resonance for me with the fight around abortion here. People who are legitimately against all abortion impose their religious p.o.v. on others who, also legitimately, are not against it to the same degree. A pro-choicenik (and member of the board of my local Planned Parenthood), I have, in fact, opened my mind to the idea that if they think abortion is murder then of course they must stop it. So, if folks think that selling chamatz is sinful, it makes sense that would want to prevent it. HOWEVER. In both cases, we have to step back. Many of the folks who are anti-abortion also promote policies that deny access to birth control – which is just not on the same plane – and in extreme cases have murdered abortion providers. Is there a similar spectrum at work in this question of chamatz? Can we speak of lesser sins and greater sins? And where does the selling of chamatz and berating your neighbor for selling chamatz fall relative to each other and the instructions in Lev. 19: 17-19 for how we behave towards each other?

  2. Morey Friday, May 2, 2008 at 6:53 pm #

    Testing the comment system

  3. Barry Friday, May 2, 2008 at 9:58 pm #

    Regarding secular Israelis – let’s not lose sight of something that stands in their merit over and above even the most religious Diaspora Jew: the secular Israeli observes what is arguably the most important commandment of all – the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, living in the Land of Israel! (According to the Sifri, this is equivalent to all the other mitzvoth.)

    Rav Jonathan Sacks in his Haggadah quotes the Lubavitcher Rebbe who says that in addition to the wise son, rebellious son, simple son, and the son who does not know how to ask, there is a “fifth son” – the one who is missing. Despite our differing attitudes to mitzvoth, the pesach seder demonstrates that we are all at least sitting at the same table talking to one another! Let’s not drive any one away from the conversation!

  4. orishlops Saturday, December 12, 2009 at 8:05 am #

    Fantastic, I didn’t know about this topic up to the present. Thanx!!

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