June 15, 2024
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Chillul Hashem and the Obligation to Study Mussar Daily

In recent weeks, we have been inundated with headlines of incidents, occurrences, activities and statements that, for the most part, clearly constitute chillul Hashem. Yet we are, it seems, at a loss in regard to three major issues. We grapple with how exactly to define what constitutes chillul Hashem. We are perhaps uninformed as to the gravity of the enormity of chillul Hashem. And we are entirely clueless as to how to prevent it.

What follows then is an overview about chillul Hashem and of what may be a cure for it—that we have had all along. We can perhaps gain some insight into both the definition and gravity of chillul Hashem from the following Gemara.

 A Difficult Gemara

The Gemara (Shabbos 31a) tells us that the very first question we are asked in the world to come is “Were you honest in your business dealings?” The second question that is asked is “Did you set times for Torah study?”

At first glance it would seem that there might be misplaced emphasis here, since the Midrash Tanchuma (Bereishis 10) tells us that the world was created for Torah and its study.

Why then should matters of honesty in business be the first question? Since Torah is more important than anything else, the first question that should have been asked is “Did you set times for Torah study?”—not the second question!


The Pri Megadim in his Aishel Avrohom (OC 156:2) cites the Eliyahu Rabba’s grandfather’s answer to this question. He explains that if, Heaven forbid, he was not honest in his business dealings—his entire Torah learning constitutes a chillul Hashem!

In other words, this question is a prerequisite for Torah study, because if he is not honest with others in business, the Torah learning is not a source of merit. It is the opposite. The Torah learning itself is the source of chillul Hashem!

This shows how very serious and fundamental the concept of chillul Hashem actually is.

 Who Is Commanded in It

Every Jew is commanded not to desecrate Hashem’s Name, as the pasuk states: “Lo sechalalu es shaim kodshi.” The mitzvah is listed in the 613 mitzvot of the Rishonim and in the Sefer haChinuch 295. Indeed, if someone causes others to make chillul Hashems—the Shulchan Aruch rules that he should be put in Cherem (YD 334).

 What Constitutes Chillul Hashem

The Rambam (Yesodei Torah 5:4) explains that chillul Hashem is actually the opposite of Kiddush Hashem. This is a good rule of thumb to follow when one wishes to explore what exactly is a chillul Hashem. Nonetheless, it is also important to examine what Chazal tell us specifically. The lack of clarity on the issue has created a situation where it could reasonably be said that one man’s Kiddush Hashem is another man’s chillul Hashem.

For example, some people think that show of strength is an example of Kiddush Hashem. Others feel that an abuse of strength is, in actuality, a grave chillul Hashem. It is thus important to see what Chazal and poskim tell us in order to have a better gauge of the issue. It is not that this examination will resolve any issues between people who are arguing points among each other. But, hopefully, it will give a number of us greater insights.

For example, before we saw the Pri Megadim that introduced this essay, most of us were of the opinion that if someone is dishonest, it is a bad thing, but not that it converts the very Torah that he had learned into an object of chillul Hashem. Now we know otherwise.

 The Different Categories

Chillul Hashem can be categorized in different ways.

1. There are a number of different categories of chillul Hashem that are differentiated in some of the Rishonim.

2. There are aveiros that the pesukim in the Torah call a chillul Hashem.

3. There are behaviors that, no matter who the Jew actually is, also constitute a chillul Hashem.

We will begin with the three different categories found in the Rishonim.

One category is when one is forced to violate one of the three cardinal sins that we must give up our lives for. If someone did not do so, this is a chillul Hashem according to Sefer HaMitzvot (#63).

A second category is whenever one purposefully does an aveira out of spite—this, too, is considered a chillul Hashem (Sefer HaMitzvot, ibid).

 The Important Person Category

A third category is when an important person does something that causes people to talk—even if it would generally not be considered an aveira (Shabbos 51b). This is considered a chillul Hashem because people will learn from him. The Gemara explains that the greater the person is, the more careful he must be.

According to the SMAG #2 and SMaK #85, however, category three is even if it is not an important person but a regular talmid chacham whose actions cause people to talk—this, too, is chillul Hashem. These authorities also say that when a Jew does any action that will cause goyim to say, “The Jews have no Torah”—this is a chillul Hashem.

 Debate as to the Reason for the ‘Important Person’ Category

There is actually a debate as to the reason for the third category of a great person. Is it because he has a higher standard with which to comply? This is what Rabbeinu Yonah (Avos Mishna 4:4) and the Rambam (Maamar Kiddush Hashem) write. Others understand it because other people will learn from him. Other Rishonim hold that it is because the Torah will be lessened in the eyes of others because of him (Rashi on tractate Shabbos 33a).

 Examples of Category Three

What are examples of category three? The Gemara (Yuma 86a) gives us illustrations. Rav gives an example of a talmid chacham who doesn’t pay the butcher bill right away. Rav Yochanan gives as an example of chillul Hashem of a talmid chacham who goes without Torah and without tefillin for four amos. Rav Yochanan’s explanation assumed that the onlooker does not realize that the talmid chacham just had a marathon session of Torah study and did not have the strength to continue further or the strength of intent to wear the tefillin properly.

There are some observations that can be made from these illustrations. In regard to chillul Hashem, according to Rabbi Yochanan, “perception is reality.” According to Rav, we have established the notion that it also involves a middah, a character trait, or behavior and not just an actual sin.

 What the Torah Calls Chillul Hashem

There are specific aveiros that the Torah itself specifically calls chillul Hashem. (See, for example, VaYikra 19:12). Most of these have to do with falsely swearing (shavuos) (See Rashi Taanis 23a), although giving one’s child to the Molech (VaYikra 18:21) is also called a chillul Hashem by the Torah.

Abusing justice by the judges is also a grave chillul Hashem.

The Gemorah will also provide pesukim that back up the idea that certain activities such as going to goyish courts is a grave chillul Hashem (Gittin 88b).

Anything having to do with avodah zara (See Rabbeinu Yona Avos 4:4 based on Yechezkel 20:39) is also considered a chillul Hashem.

 General Chillul Hashems Caused by People

Anyone who sins and causes others to sin—choteh umachti es harabbim—is actively being mechalel shaim Hashem (Rashi Yuma 86a).

Another form of chillul Hashem is when it is pointed out to the world that klal Yisroel is not doing their job. The Beis Yoseph explains (YD 254) that if a poor person needs to be supported through gentiles—this is a situation of chillul Hashem. It is, in fact, forbidden for him to do so unless he has nothing to eat. Regardless, it is forbidden for us, the community, to allow the situation to continue.

If Jews are aware that someone Jewish is going to falsely swear in front of gentiles that he does not owe money, when the gentile knows that he does—this is a situation of chillul Hashem. The Jews must stop him from swearing falsely and rather must work it out with the gentile. This is a ruling in the Ramah in Shulchan Aruch in the laws of Shavuot (YD 239:1).

Generally speaking, we are permitted to take donations from a gentile for a synagogue. However, if the gentile gave it to something specific in shul—we may not change it for anything else because of the chillul Hashem aspect of it. One may do so, however, under certain circumstances if the donation was made by a Jew. [TaZ’s explanation of ruling in Shulchan Aruch YD 259:6]

The Bach in a responsa (#111, old) cites the Sefer Chasidim (#829) that if it is the custom among the gentiles to forbid a certain food because a horrible sin was done with it—then Jews should also refrain from eating it. This is on account of chillul Hashem.

Publicizing a previously performed aveira that was unknown may also be a form of chillul Hashem (see Tehillim 32:1 from Yuma 86a.) Therefore, when an aveira is not known publicly one should not say a public vidui.

Physical relations with gentiles is also considered a chillul Hashem (Rambam Issurei Biah 12:6).

Whenever it is possible to minimize a chillul Hashem we should do this. This is seen from many poskim, for example, Chsam Sofer (OC Vol. I #61). One such illustration, an extreme one, can be seen from the following idea:

Even though we no longer have the ability to deal with cases of capital punishment – there are times when the beis din must act out of Migdar Milsa, especially out of chillul Hashem. There was such a case where a person (warning: impending euphemism) “blessed” Hashem and he was punished most severely because of the chillul Hashem involved (See Teshuvos HaRosh 17:8 cited in Darchei Moshe CM 425).

What is shocking about this latter illustration is that nowadays we cannot perform capital punishment and if we do, it would constitute a capital offense on us as well. And yet to prevent chillul Hashem, the beis din allowed it in that instance, in order to minimize the chillul Hashem of someone “blessing” Hashem. It is this author’s belief that the very term for the prohibition is referred to by the sages as “blessing Hashem” in order to minimize the chillul Hashem of the entire idea. [It should be noted that nowadays this ruling of the Rosh is not applicable at all.]

 How Hashem Deals With Chillul Hashem

The Gemara tells us (Kiddushin 40a) Ain Makifin b’Chillul Hashem—this means that Hashem pays back (in punishment) a chillul Hashem right away. What this means is subject to some interpretation (two views even being found in the Gemara), but we see from all of this the gravity of chillul Hashem.

 How to Prevent It

Believe it or not, the method of preventing chillul Hashem lies in a daily halachic obligation that few of us are performing—studying Mussar daily. And although the Mishna Brurah clearly rules that this is, in fact, a great obligation, the obligation is almost universally ignored. The Mishna Brurah is found in chapter 1 sub-paragraph 12 of the Shulchan Aruch.

The Chayei Adam Klal 143 also writes that it is an obligation that supersedes learning Mishnayos or any other learning. This means that it beats out Daf Yomi. That’s right—the obligation set forth in MB 1:12 is a greater obligation than the Daf Yomi.

It is also clear that it is an obligation from the fourth chapter of the Rambam in Shmoneh Perakim.

In rishonim, we find that Rabbeinu Yonah (2:15) also discusses this daily obligation, too.


But will the 1:12 obligation prevent chillul Hashem? It seems from the writings of the classic rishonim and acharonim that it can. Indeed, a number of contemporary roshei yeshiva have also urged the organizational leadership of our Torah organizations to figure out somewhat to incorporate the MB 1:12 obligation in our daily routines.

This author recalls that, once, at an Agudah convention, the 1:12 obligation issue was brought up. Indeed, it was suggested by a prominent gadol that it be incorporated in the Daf Yomi program. Unfortunately, this has not yet occurred.

By Yair Hoffman


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