The Road of Kiddush haShem

EnglishLiving a life that radiates Kiddush haShem (sanctification of the Divine Name) is very high on the list of Jewish values. We promote behavior that allows us to bring “light unto the nations,” to use the Isaian paradigm, and frown upon behavior that puts Jews and Judaism in a negative light. Many a parent or teacher has admonished his or her charges to refrain from Chillul haShem, the polar opposite of Kiddush haShem.

What, however, are Kiddush and Chillul haShem? Is it about appearances and manners? … about what is and is not acceptable in the respective cultures we inhabit, a concept mostly applicable in the vast Jewish Diaspora?

Much has been written on this topic, and it cannot be treated exhaustively in the short space allotted here. However, I would like to offer two interesting data points.

Rabbi Ezriel Hildesheimer, in his collected writings (Israel Hildesheimer, Gesammelte Schrifte), addresses the suggestion by another author, that business travellers who set out by train before daybreak should put on their tallit and tefillin and pray before leaving, even though the earliest time for morning prayers had not arrived yet, with the consequence that the businessman in question might not fulfil any of the obligations of tallit, tefillin and shacharit prayers. The reason for this suggestion? You guessed it, Chillul haShem. For the author in question, the unseemliness of doing something so uncivilized as engaging in Jewish prayer in front of Christian German travelers was a kind of Chillul haShem.

Rabbi Hildesheimer, who was not shy to express his opinion in the most direct manner, especially where corruption of halakhic concepts was involved, utterly refuted the other author and pointed out that engaging in appropriate halakhicly mandated activities – by definition – could not constitute Chillul haShem. If anything, the willingness of the traveller to suffer the unpleasant stares of others was itself a great Kiddush haShem.

That said, I must interject that this is not a general mandate to stand for shemonei essre, with tallit and tefillin, in the train or plane isle and block traffic. As numerous posqim have demonstrated, one needs to be sensitive to the halakhic requirements of what is and is not a proper locale for prayer, and how to pray with kavana, rather than putting up a show.

Let’s return to our topic. The reason many people would instinctively have difficulty with the fulfilment of certain ritual activities in the public square, is that it makes one stand out. But is our differentness so unappreciated? The following articles put that mistaken notion partly to rest.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatcher reports about a basketball game between a local Yeshiva high school and a public high school and remarked:

Surprisingly, it is not the yarmulkes the boys wear. Or the skirts that some of the girls wear, as they race up and down the court.

“They were extremely nice,” said Moses, a senior guard for the Eagles. “I mean the whole team was nice – before and after the game.” [as opposed to the rowdy fans and players of other teams –AF]

Then, the article concludes with:

“We put our religion before anything else. Then, schoolwork comes afterwards. I guess then comes basketball,” Hirschhorn said. “So, it is really different and we look different and that is just who we are. Hopefully, people understand that.”

The Toledo Blade reports on an Orthodox athlete, Naama Shafir:

The Rockets have learned a lot about their freshman point guard, Shafir, in the last four months. Always be ready when she has the ball because there’s likely a flashy pass coming your way. Anyone can learn English in a matter of weeks. Please give her time to herself during the Sabbath.

Shafir, a native of Hoshaya, Israel, is UT’s leading scorer with 12.7 points per game. She’s also believed to be the first female Orthodox Jew to earn an NCAA Division I scholarship. Tamir Goodman, who played men’s basketball at Towson from 2000-2001, is the only other known Orthodox scholarship athlete to play in the U.S.

“She is very devout in her religion, as she should be,” Cullop [the coach –AF] said. “It was very important to her that she found a place where she could still practice her religion and play basketball. Until she found that, she wasn’t coming.”

Among Shafir’s requirements: she needed to eat a kosher diet, wear a T-shirt under her jersey, couldn’t practice from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and couldn’t ride in a motorized vehicle during that time frame.

“It would be easy for her to say, I’m away from home, I’ll eat whatever, I’ll practice over Shabbat,” Cullop said. “It’s to be admired that she said, this is what I want to do. My team admires what she’s doing. She’s a great example of someone who is sticking to their guns and doing what they believe.”

While we may quibble about the details of her arrangement, it is clear that standing up for your beliefs with integrity cannot be anything but a Kiddush haShem.

Finally, the hat tip. Thanks to Jonathan Mark, who reported the above in The Jewish Week, closing his article, Jewish Teens Defy The Norm, with a perspective on Satmar:

what about Orthodox teens off the court?
New Census Bureau data reveals that upstate’s Kiryas Joel, an all-Satmar village (pop. 21,000), is the poorest community in the entire United States.

And yet, there is essentially no crime in Kiryas Joel, beyond some broken windows and an occasional punch in the nose.

For decades we’ve been told by hundreds of editorials that poverty breeds crime, even terrorism. Why not KJ? Where are the front-page stories seeking to comprehend the phenomenon? Also, KJ’s median age is 17, the worst possible demographic for crime.

Perhaps not the blame but the credit goes to KJ’s Satmar culture. They are called “extremists.” They have extremely low crime, defying the social scientists because they won’t defy the omnipresent God.

They say you can find God in a house of worship, or in the Grand Canyon at sundown. Now reporters note that God can be found with yeshiva kids in sneakers, and in the back alleys of the poorest place in America where no one has much and no one needs more.

Would this kind of extremism among Palestinians perhaps be more productive in bringing about peace in the Middle East?

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