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Orthodox Jews: Here's How to Stop Making a Chillul Hashem

Orthodox Jews: Here’s How to Stop Making a Chillul Hashem


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Baruch C. Cohen, a Los Angeles civil litigation attorney, has taken a special interest in creating awareness in the community about the dangers of chillul Hashem, which literally means a “desecration of God’s name” and is used when a Jew does something that bring shames to Judaism. “I appear in court, state and federal, and I wear a yarmulke while doing so. When you wear a yarmulke in a professional setting, you become acutely aware of how the non-Jewish or non-observant community perceives your actions.” In court, Cohen is used to seeing people at their worst, and when this happens to someone who is visibly Jewish, the ramifications are huge. “Those who are critics of Judaism or have an issue with it, never fail…to mock the religion when they see a guy being hauled away by the FBI for insurance fraud.” Anti-semitism is a fact of life. “Whether you’re observant or not, we do not need to encourage more people to not like us. We don’t need to give them additional ammunition.”

After being in practice for over 30 years, Cohen saw a video of Benjamin Brafman, a criminal defense attorney, who championed the cause. It made him realize that he too could make a different and educate others. “It carries a greater punch when the message is delivered by an attorney. A rabbi can speak…and they’re great, but when it comes from the other side of the professional mechitza [it matters].” When Cohen started speaking, people listened and soon, he was being booked to talk at various schools and organizations.

There is a saying that goes, ‘if a Jew doesn’t sanctify Shabbos, the non-Jews will make Havdallah.’ Cohen takes this to mean “If a Jew doesn’t realize the importance of holiness, of acting properly like a Jew should, then unfortunately, it will inspire the Gentile world and those who hate us to show us that we’re not in their community. They will make the ‘havdallah,’ [saying] ‘Jew, you’re not welcome in our communities.'” This equals an added obligation to act with kedusha at all times. “Judges don’t care what you wear on your hair. They only care that you have integrity and you’re telling the truth.”

Whether from in-fighting, condescension towards other Jewish communities, or trying to beat the system and take shortcuts, the culture of chillul Hashem is rampant in some places. The culture of perfectionism is also detrimental. “When people operate with the pressure that it’s A+ or nothing, they’ll also tempt their yetzer hara to want to take that shortcut and compromise their values because that A+ is the [goal] outcome.” This poisonous root sends people in the wrong direction. Cohen feels that if the root evils are corrected, a lot of the bad behavior will end as well.

Cohen stresses that the responsibility to change our perception is just as much about the slum lord choosing a different life as it is about double parking or opening the door for the pregnant woman pushing the double-stroller. “It’s the subtle[ties] of derech eretz. We need to see how we are being perceived.” Putting ourselves into the shoes of others is the key. “Being an observer means to think what they are thinking.”

Cohen has been met with a ton of positive feedback. He made a list of his top recommendations of chillul Hashem prevention on his Facebook page which has been shared widely, which we copied below. “These are the rules that go to the core essence of who we are, and I make this pledge: follow these rules and you will not be doing a chillul Hashem.”

Baruch C. Cohen’s Rules for All Orthodox Jews:

1. The World Does Not like Jews – we do not need to encourage more people to dislike us
2. Wearing a Yarmulke – carries with it an extra measure of responsibility
3. We Must Be More Honest – more careful, more courteous & more prudent
4. When We Screw-Up, it Gets Magnified – the “Cringe Factor” (ie., Frum Slumlords)
5. Having Good Intentions Is Not a Legitimate Excuse – for breaking the law
6. Bad Behavior for a Good Cause – a lie for a good reason & a Mitzvah is still a lie
7. The US Government Is Not the Enemy – we’re not in Europe during WW-II
8. Stop Dehumanizing “the Other” – the victims of fraud are not on a lower human level
9. Stop our Elitist Views – Adopt the Rambam’s “Gam Hem Keruyim Adam”
10. Stop our Inflated Sense of Entitlement – “Es Kumt Tzu Mir” self-sabotages success
11. We Cannot Pick & Choose the Rules We Live by – no smorgasbord

Baruch C. Cohen’s Rules for the American Orthodox Jew:

1. Keep Your Word – do what you what you say you’re going to do
2. Document Everything – confirm everything in writing
3. Follow the Rules – be a law-abiding citizen – know the laws – serve on a Jury
4. Don’t Think You’re Smarter than the Law & Won’t Get Caught – you will
5. Myth of Shortcuts – work hard; there’s no express elevator to the Penthouse Suite
6. You’re Not Right Because You’re Orthodox – you’re right because you’re honest
7. Establish Credibility – “Man Up” & admit when you’re wrong
8. Listen to Your Internal Compass – if it sounds to good to be true, it is;
9. Consult Before Taking Action – not after
10. Believe in Yourself, Act with Courage & Confidence – but never with arrogance
11. Stop Being Nosy – “but I’m just asking” is no excuse for prying
12. Give Unconditionally – with no expectation of anything in return
13. Insert Bais Din Arbitration Clauses in Your Contracts – believe in our Torah
14. Stand up Proudly for Judaism & Eretz Yisroel – never apologize about either
15. Pause, Before Pushing “Send” on Emails and Texts – it could save your life

For more information, email Baruch Cohen at bcc4929@gmail.com.

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  1. Personally, I think that the key to avoiding chilulei hasheim is to stop aiming at avoiding them.

    What I mean is, I would say the root problem is that Orthodox Jews think of our task in life predominantly in terms of mitzvos bein adam laMaqom — mitzvos between a person and the Omnipresent. In contrast to Hillel saying that the whole of Torah is “that which you loathe, do not do to another… Now go study!” Or Rabbi Aqiva’s “‘love your friend as yourself’ — this is Torah’s great principle.” Or Ben Azzai disagreeing, “a greater principle is ‘these are the generations of Adam” — being aware of the common family of humanity. These ideas are taught in the early grades, posters on classroom walls, but in the long run they do not dominate our discussion of what it means to be a good Jew.

    When I was young, an Orthodox Jew was described as one who keeps “Shabbos, Kashrus, and Taharas haMishpachah.” (The last being laws of family purity, i.e. laws involving sexuality.) Contrast this to the four laws one must teach a prospective convert, singled out from the obligation to teach them the general picture, “leqet, shikhechah, pei’ah vema’aser sheini — gleanings, forgotten produce, and the corners of the field, and the second tithing” for the poor. To our sages, the defining features of Jewishness are interpersonal mitzvos, not ritual ones.

    Worrying about chillul hasheim keeps that focus on ritual. It doesn’t reinforce the idea that double-parking someone else in is simply wrong and not what we are here in the world to do. It says it’s wrong to double-park, but lacks the motivation to work on one’s character to pay more attention to how our actions impact others.

    (You translation of “chilul Hashem” is “desecration of God’s name”. This has to be the correct translation, as the idioms “chilul hasheim” and “qiddush hasheim” [sanctifying the name] predate the norm of calling the Creator “Hashem”, so it must have been literally, “the name”. But then the transliteration should be “hasheim” or some such, but in particular written without the capitalization, as we are not using a reference to G-d.)

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