Ask the Rabbi: Does Halacha mandate protesting opening parking lots?

Does Halacha mandate protesting the opening of municipal parking lots on Shabbat?

Police remove haredi protesters trying to block tr (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Police remove haredi protesters trying to block tr
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Leaving aside the tactics recently employed, does Halacha mandate protesting the opening of municipal parking lots on Shabbat?
C.B., Jerusalem

A From the outset, I must state that I find the recent riots disgraceful, both in terms of their negative impact on Jerusalem's image and their distortion, to my mind, of Jewish values. While the recent protests, thankfully, have not gained widespread religious support, even within the haredi community, it behooves us to examine the relevant sources that would lead one to protest, even in a more respectable way.

Immediately before the Torah more famously commands, "Love your neighbor as yourself," it lists a series of ordinances related to interpersonal behavior, including the commandment to rebuke. "You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman and incur no guilt because of him. You shall not take retaliation or bear a grudge..." (Leviticus 19:17-8). As Hizkuni (13th century, France) noted, these mitzvot encourage people to openly discuss their differences and mend fences. Instead of loathing someone privately, we must air grievances to clarify matters and prevent vengefulness.

In addition to repairing broken relationships, however, the commandment to rebuke also imposes accountability on us for our friend's behavior ("incur no guilt because of him"). As Maimonides codifies, one who sees someone sinning in his ethical or religious behavior bears responsibility to prevent further wrongdoing. Thus the Torah enjoins us to gently and privately reprove misconduct, even if requires multiple attempts (Hilchot De'ot 6:6-8).

The talmudic sages recognized the difficulty of performing this delicate task. They chastised the false modesty of those who gossiped about misconduct to others, yet shirked this commandment by claiming their unworthiness to criticize, when in fact they feared arousing hatred. On the other hand, they also questioned whether anyone in their era was skillful enough to properly reprimand, or sincere enough to accept rebuke (Arachin 16b). The sages determined that when in doubt whether rebuking will succeed, one must try, but should always stop if threatened with curses or physical abuse.

Difficult dilemmas ensue when one believes that any attempt to censure will utterly fail. Some responded that in such cases Halacha forbids rebuking, since it will only antagonize the wrongdoer. The sages declared, "Just as one is commanded to say that which will be obeyed, one is commanded not to speak when he will be disobeyed" (Yevamot 65b). Similarly, the Talmud advises rabbis not to scold unwitting sinners (shogeg) if they will continue to consciously sin (mezid) once they are made aware of the prohibition, as this will increase the severity of the offense (Beitza 30a). Based on these sentiments, two prominent 13th-century authorities, Rabbi Moses of Coucy (Smag 11) and the unknown author of Chinuch (Mitzva 339), prohibited rebuking sinners whose obstinacy made them impossible to scold.

An opposing trend, however, emerged from different talmudic sources which advocated that upright Jews, as promoters of goodness and Torah within society, must speak out against injustice and sinfulness. Furthermore, while God knows who will heed rebuke, mortal humans do not, and they should not deprive others the opportunity to repent (Shabbat 55a). Based on these sources, Rabbi Eliezer of Metz (12th century, France) declared that while one may discount unwitting sinners who will not heed rebuke, wanton sinners must face censure, even if might increase their culpability (Yere'im 223).

An alternative approach, advocated by Rabbi Yosef Ibn Habib (early 15th century, Spain) and adopted by Rabbi Moshe Isserles (OC 608:2), contended that given the desecration of God's name and the potential negative influence on society, all wanton sins in public must receive at least one condemnation. However, with the modern emergence of Jewish sectarianism and secularism, prominent decisors like Rabbi Yechiel Epstein (Aruch Hashulhan 608:7) and Rabbi Yisrael Kagan deemed this requirement inapplicable, claiming that such criticism only makes sense among comrades with shared cultural assumptions.

To a large extent, debates over Shabbat protests have centered on this dilemma of whether one aims to persuade others, or to make a statement for oneself, if not for the society at large. After an unsuccessful 33 weeks of protests against the opening on Shabbat of Petah Tikva's Heichal theater in 1984, Rabbi Yitzhak Zilberstein and Rabbi Simha Kook defended these demonstrations as expressions of rights and values (Tehumin 8). Petah Tikva's chief rabbi, Moshe Malka, a declared reluctant participant in the demonstrations, countered that the extended reprimands only emboldened secularists and harmed the Torah's image in Israeli society (Tehumin 7).

Beyond their futility, moreover, I would add that such protests distract the religious community from developing a meaningful Shabbat culture that would generate broader interest. Especially when officials make accommodations for religious sensitivities, the community must focus on educational initiatives that will allow all Jews to claim their heritage to Shabbat - and Jerusalem.

The writer, on-line editor of Tradition, teaches at Yeshivat Hakotel and is pursuing a doctorate in Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University.

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