David Walk
David Walk

That’s a Chillul Hashem!!

Back in the 70s, I had a friend who owned, what he called, his ‘CH’ hat. The ‘CH’ had nothing to do with Montreal’s hockey team (Le Club de Hockey Canadien). It was the hat he wore in place of a KIPA when he was going to do something which might be construed as a CHILLUL HASHEM. When I asked him what a CHILLUL HASHEM was, he responded, ‘You know it when you see it.’ In retrospect, I don’t even want to know what exactly he did, but I do find it remarkable that the custom of wearing a head covering was more sacred to him than the Torah prohibition of CHILLUL HASHEM. At some point, this young man grew beyond this immaturity, and is a solid citizen today, and when he wears a hat, it’s black.

I think he actually confused the concept of SHANDA (embarrassing behavior) with CHILLUL HASHEM, desecrating God’s holy Name. Like Mrs. Doubtfire, most of us can recognize a SHANDA. I’m not as sure about CHILLUL HASHEM. That’s more complicated.

The term came up in last week’s Torah reading. There are a small number of the many mitzvot in parshat Kedoshim about which we’re told that transgressing this precept will result in a CHILLUL HASHEM. For example: eating certain offerings after the expiration date (Vayikra 19:8), swearing falsely (19:12), offering children to idolatry (20:4). It seems that these examples of CHILLUL HASHEM are based on the severity of the crime.

In this week’s parsha, on the other hand, the term of CHILLUL comes up in the context of the Cohanim. They must not copy Gentile mourning practices (21:4 & 6), There are also prohibited sexual behavior which if performed by members of Priestly families results in CHILLUL HASHEM (verse 9), and the term CHILLUL is used concerning certain women whom Cohanim may not marry (verses 13-14). Finally, there is a list of blemishes and impurities which invalidate a Cohen and can result in CHILLUL HASHEM (verse 23 & 22:2). So, for a Cohen the nature of CHILLUL HASHEM is more based on their special status in society rather than the severity of the transgression.

This whole section (chapters (19-22) ends with the following declaration: Do not desecrate My holy name. I must be hallowed in the midst of B’nei Yisrael. I am the Lord, Who hallows you (22:32). According to most authorities this states the mitzvot of KIDDUSH HASHEM and CHILLUL HASHEM. But not according to the Ibn Ezra, who claims: This is directed to the sons of Aaron, for this whole section is connected to what is earlier stated (about B’nei Aharon). We’ll ignore him.

Maimonides is most expansive on this idea of CHILLUL HASHEM, and lists 8 types. But I’m only concerned with one: For example, a person who purchases merchandise and does not pay for it immediately, although he possesses the money, and thus, the sellers demand payment and he pushes them off; a person who jests immoderately; or who eats and drinks near or among the common people; or whose conduct with other people is not gentle and he does not receive them with a favorable countenance, but rather fights with them and vents his anger; and the like (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, 5:11). In other words, CHILLUL HASHEM is about how we treat others, and, therefore how we are perceived by society This is really based on the Talmud (Yoma 86a), where no definition for CHILLUL HASHEM is given, just examples.

The Rambam seems to conclude that the definition for CHILLUL HASHEM is based on the impression the perpetrator makes. This is in contradistinction to Rashi who emphasizes the severity of the actual transgression. Rashi, as opposed to the Rambam, is concerned with the intent of the sin. Things are worse if the transgression is done rebelliously. To the Rambam, not so, it’s all based on the perception of others. CHILLUL HASHM is in the eye of the beholder.

This debate brings me to what I consider the central point of contention. Is CHILLUL HASHEM about the public attitude towards Jews and the Jewish religion, or is it about the individual’s connection to God? I firmly believe that it’s both.

The special rules about Cohanim (and, later Talmudic discussions about scholars) underlines the importance of maintaining proper respect and honor towards the religion. That’s the central idea in the Rambam. On the other hand, concerns about the attitude of the sinner and the severity of the crime, as in Rashi’s position, leads to the conclusion that CHILLUL HASHEM is about losing connection to God and holiness.

The first position would define CHILLUL HASHEM as desecrating God’s name by embarrassing Judaism and the Torah. The second opinion is that CHILLUL HASHEM describes the desecration of my holy soul, breaking the bond between God and the Divine spark that dwells within us all.

A SHANDA is bad and embarrassing. CHILLUL HASHEM is about concern for the very fabric of our relationship with God, and is disastrous for the individual, the Jewish people, and the ultimate fate of our world. Let’s sanctify God’s Name.

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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