When I locked up the synagogue and headed home after services this past Friday evening, all seemed well. When I returned on Shabbat morning, I noticed that the beautiful sign advertising our Yom Kippur services—which we had spent a long time designing and printing—had been torn down. At first I assumed it must have been a strong wind overnight, but upon closer examination it became clear it had been torn deliberately.
Fortunately, we have good security cameras, and after Shabbat I was able to examine the footage. I could clearly see a person stop in front of the sign at 4:30am and tear it down vigorously.
I posted the video on my Facebook page and many people suggested I file a police report.
The next day was Yom Kippur and I didn’t have much time, but later in the week I did file a report and the police confirmed that the incident fit their definition of a hate crime. They took it seriously, even sending the video to local media in the hope that someone would identify the perpetrator.
Many people asked why I would bother with such a trivial matter. It’s just a sign and the monetary loss is probably under $100. The woman in the video seems a little off, so why bother? Perhaps it could even be considered a waste of the NYPD’s time when there are far bigger problems plaguing the city right now.
But here’s Judaism’s take, which is fresh in my mind because my 7th-grade son just started learning the tractate Bava Kama, which discusses the intricate laws of damage to property.
Is it a small crime? Well, the Torah does not distinguish between a crime that involves damages of $100 or damages of 1 billion. A crime is a crime and must be dealt with.
But more than that, the Torah teaches that the evil inclination never starts by tempting a person to commit a large crime. First the person is lured into doing something that seems minor and trivial, but then the next day it entices the person to commit a worse sin and then it advances every day until the person is committing terrible sins and crimes. So surely it is worth the NYPD’s efforts to catch this person while they are still doing small crimes, so they can be stopped before they progress to something more serious.
As to the argument that the woman appears deranged or in an altered state of consciousness, the Torah does say that a “shoteh” (lit. a fool) is absolved from mitzvot, but does she fit the definition? The Torah defines it as “one who goes out alone at night, sleeps in the cemetery, and tears his own clothing.” She seems to fit part, but not all, so I am not sure she would be considered a “fool.”
But most importantly, I think, is contemplating what gives a person the temerity to commit a crime. Primarily, it’s the notion that nobody is watching. If we educate every American to truly understand that G-d is always watching—something that Jews and gentiles alike need to know—then I am certain that crime would decrease exponentially, even at 4:30am when no humans are around to see.