Saturday, January 01, 2011

A Cringe Worthy but Teachable Moment

I wasn’t going to say any more about the Chilul HaShem that keeps on giving. But after reading an op-ed by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky in the Jewish Press, I feel it important to publicize what he says. It should be read in its entirety.

I believe Rabbi Pruzansky hits the nail right on its proverbial head. This should put to rest all the apologists who sole concern is to be Dan L’Kaf Zechus to that religious couple who appeared on the People’s Court . It should also completely refute those who amazingly have said they do not even consider this episode to be a Chilul HaShem! Here are some excerpts:

It was a cringe-worthy moment - on national television, religious Jews were accused of telling a bald-faced lie in order to win money from struggling Hispanic businessmen. Subsequently, the couple mounted a defense in the Jewish media - that perhaps the judge had not called Georgie or had called the wrong Georgie, that they had been unsettled and frightened and did not defend themselves adequately or quickly enough. Some even suggested they would and should sue "The People's Court."

I hope not. The question that presents is this: If what they are saying is true, then why didn't they scream when accused that "it can't're making a terrible mistake," much like Yehuda did when confronted with evidence of Binyamin's guilt. He didn't wait to investigate or mull over possible retorts because he knew Binyamin was innocent and that something else was afoot. If the couple knew then what they claim to know now, they should have said it then. Post-conviction (here, post-liability) assertions carry zero weight. If you know it can't be, then say so. It would make for great television, which is what the producers want anyway.

Unfortunately, the post-facto defense does not really matter, and once the public trial ended, the real facts and the winner/loser of the court case paled before the Chillul Hashem, desecration of God's name, that was engendered. The actual truth or justice or whether the couple was indeed right or wrong, deserved compensation or not, is now irrelevant.

"It matters not whether Chillul Hashem is intentional or unintentional" (Avot 4:4); the effect is the same. A Jew has to be extremely careful of his/her public persona, deeds and appearance because desecration of God's name is a horrendous sin even if it is unintentional and inadvertent - even if it was involuntary. The impression left that religious Jews - scrupulous in their observance of the laws of modesty but cavalier (or worse) about other people's money - is one that is difficult to dispel. And for hundreds of thousands of viewers, rightly or wrongly, it will never be dispelled.

Chillul Hashem is not a deed;it is the result of a deed.

This episode - which teachers have shown to their classes in order to provoke discussion and draw conclusions - is a chilling reminder of what can happen when we become too comfortable with ourselves and do not project the possible consequences of a particular course of action. We can undo the damage - whether intentionally inflicted or not - by reinforcing to ourselves the Torah's notions of ethical conduct to all man, not insisting on every claim we might have, and focusing on what is holy and upright. Then we will be a truly great nation, worthy of the standards that God has set for us.