Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Ethics of Protest: A Play in Three Acts – Act Three

For an explanation of what this is about, please see Act One here.


Act Three.
Sometimes our concerns are not about correcting other people's conduct as in 922, or preserving the honour of Gd as in 1655. Sometimes our problem is that Jews are targeting other Jews physically, and harming them. What are we licensed to do?
It's the summer of 1983, and we are in New York. On the streets of the Crown Heights neighbourhood, Lubavitcher chassidim are attacked on numerous occasions, their beards cut and their bodies beaten. The Lubavitcher Rebbe himself claims that these attacks are coming from Satmar chassidim. Satmar chassidim deny the charges. Brawls are reported in the international media and Lubavitch spokesman Yehuda Krinsky writes a letter to Time magazine denouncing the Satmar chassidim.
Here, two young Lubavitch chassidim, Avi and Yoni, are discussing the events of the summer, and what to do next.

[Avi and Yoni come on-stage; Avi is holding a rolled-up copy of Time magazine. They sit at the table]

A: Did you see what Rabbi Krinsky wrote? And in Time Magazine of all places?

Y (sarcastic): You want his autograph, Avi?

A: I want to ask him what he thinks he's doing!

Y: What do you mean? He's calling out the Satmar for attacking us!

A: But in the newspapers? A shanda! Ess pas nischt, we don't do that! It's like mesirah, we don't rat each other out!

Y: I disagree – remember Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai at the end of the second Beis haMikdash? He went to the Romans to hand over the zealous biryoni Jews in a peace deal because they were a threat to the Jewish community. This is no different.

A: That was one case, and the Romans were going to take the city with or without his help.

Y: It's more than just that case. The gemara says that where Jews are נותן חיתיתם בארץ חיים, where they intimidate other Jews, the courts can do what they need to do to get rid of them.

A: But we learned that Rabbi Elazar told Mar Ukva not to go to the authorities when he was being tormented by other Jews!

Y: That was an individual being hurt, not the entire community. Look, you know this – the Rif, Rambam, the Rosh, the Tur and Shulchan Aruch all say it: If a Jew is harming the community, we are allowed to turn him over to the government to handle him. It's part of protecting the community. So why shouldn't Rabbi Krinsky turn the Satmar over to the police?

A: Because there are other ways to handle this.

Y: Like what?

A: Like a boycott.

Y: What – we should stop buying their pareve ice cream? Stop buying products that have their hechsher? Stop giving to their tzedakos and mosdos?

A: Yes, exactly. We've always done that – when Jews hurt other Jews, we hit them where it hurts most, in the pocketbook.

Y: That is such a Jewish stereotype – all the Jews care about is money.

A: But it works! When bird merchants raised the price on the birds women needed for their korbanos, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel changed his ruling and on korban obligations and greatly reduced the demand for birds. And when fish merchants gouged on the price of fish for Shabbos, rabbis banned gefilte fish. We do it, and it works.

Y: You really think that will help?

A: Better that than writing letters to newspapers to talk trash about other Jews. We don't need to air our dirty laundry in public.

Y: You know that the Rebbe doesn't agree with you, right?

A: What do you mean?

Y: Did you miss the sichah last week? Haven't you heard? The Rebbe went to town on them, and said a Jew is obligated to reveal the names of the people who committed these attacks, even though they will be tried in secular courts. Turn 'em over to the government!

A: Wow. [drops the Time Magazine] Guess I didn't realize how far we could go – we should go – when this sort of thing happens.

Once again, we see that there are good arguments on both sides. We do have license to go to secular police and courts if Jews are harming the community. On the other hand, Avi is right: We would be better off handling this internally, perhaps with economics.

At the end, we noted a few last pieces of rabbinic counsel:

The Netziv highlights three factors to consider in any protest:
Is it with anger?
Is it proportional?
Will it corrupt more than it mends?

Similarly, in Likutei Sichos 3 Pinchas 5743, the Lubavitcher Rebbe posed a key question: Will our actions lead to peace, or to more hatred and fighting?

And we closed with a thought from Rav Yisrael Salanter (Tenuas haMussar I pg. 305): אם הצדק אתך השתדל להשאר צודק – "If justice is on your side, work to keep it that way."

Sources we cited:

1. Talmud, Rosh haShanah 17a

המינין והמסורות והמשומדים והאפיקורסים שכפרו בתורה ושכפרו בתחיית המתים ושפירשו מדרכי צבור ושנתנו חיתיתם בארץ חיים ושחטאו והחטיאו את הרבים כגון ירבעם בן נבט וחביריו יורדין לגיהנם ונידונין בה לדורי דורות

Attackers of Torah, those who turn Jews over to their foes, those who convert out, heretics who deny Torah and the resurrection of the dead, those who separate from the community, those who intimidate others, those who sin and cause the masses to sin like Yeravam ben Nevat and his colleagues – these people descend to Gehennom and are judged there for all generation.

2. Talmud, Gittin 7a

שלח ליה מר עוקבא לר' אלעזר בני אדם העומדים עלי ובידי למסרם למלכות מהו שרטט וכתב ליה אמרתי אשמרה דרכי מחטוא בלשוני אשמרה לפי מחסום בעוד רשע לנגדי אע"פ שרשע לנגדי אשמרה לפי מחסום שלח ליה קא מצערי לי טובא ולא מצינא דאיקום בהו שלח ליה +תהלים ל"ז+ דום לד' והתחולל לו דום לד' והוא יפילם לך חללים חללים השכם והערב עליהן לבהמ"ד והן כלין מאיליהן

Mar Ukva sent to R' Elazar: There are people who stand against me, and I could give them to the throne; what should I do?

R' Elazar wrote back: It is written, "I guarded my path from sinning with my tongue; I muzzle my mouth when the wicked are still opposite me." Even though the wicked are opposite me, I will muzzle my mouth.

Mar Ukva sent back: They are causing me great pain, and I cannot manage them.

He sent: It is written, "Be silent for Gd and hope [hitcholleil] for Him." Be silent for Gd, and He will make them corpses [challalim]. Rise early and stay late in the Beit Midrash, and they will disappear on their own.

3. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Chovel uMazik 8:11

כל המיצר לציבור ומצער אותן מותר למסרו ביד גוים להכותו ולאסרו ולקנסו, אבל מפני צער יחיד אסור למסרו

Regarding one who troubles and pains the community: One may give him to the nations to strike, bind and fine him. One may not do this for an individual's pain, though.

4. Mishnah Keritot 1:7

מעשה שעמדו קינים בירושלים בדינרי זהב אמר רבן שמעון בן גמליאל המעון הזה לא אלין הלילה עד שיהו בדינרין נכנס לבית דין ולימד האשה שיש עליה חמש לידות ודאות חמש זיבות ודאות מביאה קרבן אחד ואוכלת בזבחים ואין השאר עליה חובה ועמדו קינים בו ביום ברבעתים

Once, bird offerings in Jerusalem cost gold dinarim. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: By the Temple! I will not sleep tonight until they cost standard dinarim.

He entered the court and taught, "A woman who needs to bring offerings for multiple births or impurities brings one offering…" Bird offerings dropped to a quarter-dinar that day.


5. R' Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, Haamek Davar to Bereishit 49:5-6

וכדאיתא בתענית (דף ד, א) 'האי צורבא מרבנן דרתח, אורייתא הוא דרתחא ביה כו', אפילו הכי מיבעי למילף נפשיה בניחותא, שנאמר: 'והסר כעס מלבך'. שעל ידי כעס נעשה דברים זרים יותר מהנדרש לצורך הענין, ובזה יהיה קלקולו יותר מתיקונו.

This is like the Talmudic passage (Taanit 4a), "When a Torah scholar boils, it is Torah that is boiling within him… and yet he is obligated to conduct himself gently, as it is written (Kohelet 11:10), 'And remove anger from your heart.'" Due to rage, foreign deeds, beyond any proportion to the matter at hand, are performed, and this corrupts more than it mends.

6. R' Yisrael Salanter, as cited in Tenat haMussar 1:305

אם הצדק אתך השתדל להשאר צודק

If justice is on your side, work to remain just.


  1. i think that most people in the frum world at that time just did not know what to make of the whole thing. most people had respect for both movements. today i would have to admit that i think the satmer rav was right. There were other tzadikim at the time that simply did not know what to make of chabad like bava sali or rav hutner. until one by one it dawned on them that something was deeply unkosher about chabad. Rav hutner after learning with the rebbe for a while stopped and said as his a reason "the guy thinks he is the messiah". bava sali also wrote with the rebbe for some time until he also stopped writing to him. No one really knows the reason. the correspondence ended at the time when the chabad were getting less and less secretive about their beliefs in the rebbi being the messiah. But the very last letters were that the rebbi asked a blessing from bava sali for children. bava sali wrote back that he should divorce his wife. That was the final letter exchange between them.

  2. Is this one a really religious conflict at all or just a truf war?

  3. Well, I guess we now see where the Sikrikim get their support from - people like Adam Zur, who because they've decided that there's something "deeply unkosher" about a movement, consider it legitimate for others to beat up members of that group and come close to killing one of them.

    Shomu shamayim!

  4. Adam -
    Please provide sources for your comments from Rav Hutner and the Baba Sali. I don't want to censor comments, but I would be required to do so if these could not be backed up.

    Anonymous 9:50 AM-
    I would tend to see it as both.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. my answer:
    bava sali had two of his grandchildren that were shamashim during the night. This was not the same thing as the shamash that was during the day. One of those grandchildren is a close friend of mine, Shimon Buso. That is the person that saw the letters and told me the story.

    I have a few friends that were at Chaim Berlin at the time. I don't remember from who i heard the story. One friend gives the highest shiur when reb yonathan is not there i.e Shelomo Haliua. another friend who learned in Chayim Berlin at that time and teaches kabalah in Yerushalaim in some yeshiva--Perez Aurbach. But the story is well known in Chaim Berlin.