The way to teach “You shall not hate your brother in
your heart; you shall surely instruct your fellow and do not bear a sin because
of him” (Leviticus 19:17) Soon after my aliya, I took a bus through downtown
Jerusalem. I didn’t particularly notice a young woman in the back of the bus who
sat down next to a pious-looking haredi man. He, in his black hat, black coat
and long beard, and she, in her sandals, skirt and sleeveless top, were part of
a typical Jerusalem scene.
When the young woman quietly asked the man to
close the window, he turned to her rather matter-of-factly with the words,
“Would you please lengthen your sleeves.”
“Mister,” the woman said, her
voice rising to match her indignation, “the open window is bothering me!”
“Madam, your bare arms are bothering me,” he responded.
Her face was now
grim and determined as she shouted, “Are they my arms or your arms?” My stop was
approaching and I was running late for a meeting, but I was also desperate to
hear the outcome of this confrontation, and almost everyone on the bus,
including the driver, voiced their position for or against the woman.
one on the bus argued from a practical perspective – how could she lengthen her
sleeves even if she wanted to? I, for one, found the intellectual and emotional
exchange exhilarating until I overhead a man behind me cry hysterically to his
wife, “I told you we have to leave the country. When they are in control, they
will demand total religious conformity from all of us.”
By the time I got
off the bus, the window had not been closed nor had the sleeves been lengthened.
Still, for the first time, I began to sense the passion of secular Jews in
Israel who are frightened of the future and view the growing religious trend as
a movement toward repression and persecution. This incident wasn’t just another
disagreement; it was part of a conflict that threatens to tear apart our
The standard liberal position would regard the haredi man in this
incident as the villain, but what would be the position of our Jewish tradition?
The verse cited above, “You shall surely instruct your fellow and do not bear a
sin because of him,” seems to be a very definite scriptural
Maimonides formulates the law “One who sees his friend
sinning or following an improper path is commanded to restore him to the proper
way of life…. Anyone who is able to instruct and does not do so becomes
responsible for the sin of his friend.” (Laws of Proper Opinions 6, 7). It seems
that the haredi man did exactly what he was supposed to do! A closer look at the
texts, however, reveals a different reality. The Talmud (B.T. Yebamot 65b)
states, “Just as one is commanded to say that which will be obeyed, so is one
commanded not to say that which will not be obeyed.”
“Should you rebuke someone to the point that his face changes color? The Torah
states: ‘You should not bear a sin because of him’” (ibid).
teaching us that you must be certain that your manner of reproach will not cause
you to sin, by publicly shaming someone and by turning them even farther away
from Judaism. Fascinatingly, the Vilna Gaon teaches that if someone declares
himself to be a non-observant Jew, it is forbidden to attempt to instruct him
because you will most likely alienate him even farther from our tradition
(Shulhan Aruch Orah Haim 608, Biyur Halacha).
LET ME briefly recount an
incident that illustrates the proper way to instruct. Soon after my aliya, I
conducted a seminar for 25 non-observant families on the topic of Shabbat. In
the aftermath of the seminar, many of the children were switched from secular to
religious schools. The success of the seminar was not due to the presenters but
rather to two participants. A husband and wife, who were professors, were deeply
moved by all the learning, and after the seminar they hosted a weekly class in
their home, which the entire group enthusiastically attended. When I met with
them to thank them, I asked what had initially caused them to respond to our
They told me that they lived in a small apartment building in Ramat
Gan whose inhabitants were all secular, except for one observant family. That
family never complained when people held loud parties on Shabbat. Instead, they
were always warm and friendly to everyone. On Friday nights, they kept the door
of their apartment open. As the delicious aroma of the food and the sounds of
their singing wafted through the building, children started gathering at the
open doorway. The family welcomed them in, and soon adults followed and they,
too, were warmly welcomed into the apartment.
“We were moved to tears
when we saw our neighbors bless their sons and heard them singing together
around the table,” the wife told me. “So when your advertisement appeared in the
newspaper, my husband and I were more than ready to hear about the Sabbath and
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah
Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.