The halachic angle: Boycotting Angel Bakery

  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The Torah passages and Israel's holidays are full of important messages that are relevant and empower our day-today lives. Rabbi Shai Tahan, head of the Sha'arei Ezra community and head of the Arzi HaLebanon teaching house, opens the gates for us to understand these messages, from their source, in a clear way. This week: Boycotting Angel Bakery.

Last week the Charedi community in Israel was outraged to hear that the chairman of Angel Bakery and former Public Security Minister, Omer Bar-Lev, protested outside the home of the elderly Gadol Hador, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevizh, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein Shlit”a. This act was viewed as a direct insult on the Rabbi and desecration of the Torah.

Leaders of the Charedi community around the country immediately have called for a boycott on Angel Bakery, Israel's largest commercial bakery. This boycott indeed took a heavy toll on the bakery’s revenue as several significant yeshivas such as the Mir, Hevron and many others have announced that they will cut ties with the company.

The boycott spread quickly from the Haredi community to other religious communities as well, and even many people who are secular joined the boycott as a form of respect to the Rabbi as they feel that the act of Bar-Lev was wrong and distressful.

How do we view a boycott in Halachic terms? 

Rebuking vs Protesting.

What is the purpose of a boycott? Is it a form of rebuke תוכחה?

The Mitzvah of rebuking must be done with a purpose that the person being rebuked should change his ways and repent; but in a case where the person is totally secular—and certainly if he is anti-religion such as Bar-Lev—then our Sages say (יבמות דף סה ב) that it’s not permitted to rebuke him because he won’t listen:

"אמר רבי אילעא משום ר' אלעזר בר' שמעון: כשם שמצוה על אדם לומר דבר הנשמע [דכתיב (ויקרא יט) הוכח תוכיח להוכיח מי שמקבל הימנו - רש"י] כך מצוה על אדם שלא לומר דבר שאינו נשמע. רבי אבא אומר: חובה, שנאמר אל תוכח לץ פן ישנאך, הוכח לחכם ויאהבך"

Just as it is a mitzvah for a person to say that which will be heeded, so is it a mitzvah for a person not to say that which will not be heeded. Meaning that one should not rebuke those who will be unreceptive to his message. Rabbi Abba says: “It is obligatory for him to refrain from speaking, as it is stated: ‘Do not reprove a scorner lest he hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you.’” 

To understand this further, we must first understand the distinction between three different concepts: the Mitzvah to rebuke, the obligation to protest, and taking action and using means to stop wrongdoings.

The Mitzvah to rebuke is different from the Mitzvah to protest in various ways, but the main difference is that the purpose of rebuking is to change the ways of the sinner, while the obligation to protest is in order to express disagreement with that which was done.

When one rebukes he must understand that he is doing so in order that the person sinning will change his ways, thus the Mitzvah of rebuking is only if one has a relationship with the person being rebuked; otherwise he is exempt because he won’t listen (ביאור הלכה סימן תרח ד״ה חיב).

There is also a difference between a person who sinned privately and one who sinned publically. Those who sin privately should be rebuked privately, whereas if one sins publicly then one should do whatever it is necessary to stop the Chilul Hashem (משנ״ב סימן תרח סק״י).

Another difference is that if the person being rebuked gets physical, or even just starts being verbally abusive, one is exempt from rebuking, because we aren’t obligated to get hurt verbally or physically while helping another. When we protest however, the purpose is for ourselves to show that we aren’t agreeing with whatever was said or done, and therefore one should protest even if he might get hurt (הבית היהודי עמוד 309).

Also, when rebuking the public at large that are doing something wrong it is sufficient to rebuke one time, but when rebuking a single person we should rebuke as many times as it takes until he changes his ways (רמ״א סימן תרח ס״ב). 

That is for rebuking, but when protesting there in no obligation to protest more than once, even a single person, because protesting is only to express that we aren’t agreeing with whatever was said or done (חוט שני, יוה״כ עמוד קיט).

If a person witnesses something wrong he must rebuke (unless he is exempt because of the reason explained above), and if he doesn’t, he gets punished together with the sinner.

Protesting in Demonstrations.

There is a third category that is different from the above two. This category is if we see that people are trying to do things that might affect our Yidishkeit, then we should go out and use our influence, as directed by the Gedolei Torah, for the sake of the religion (חוט שני עמוד קכג).

Rav Elyashiv was asked (קובץ תשובות ח״א סי’ מד) if going out to the streets to protest those who violate Shabbat fall under the category of rebuking. The rabbi answered that it isn’t a form of rebuke, rather its purpose is to try to stop, as much as possible, the widespread desecration of Shabbat in public areas.

When we hear of someone who is assaulting or degrading a rabbi in any way, we must protest or risk being punished for keeping silence.

The Gemara (בבא מציעא פד,ב)  speaks of the great Rabbi Eliezer that was punished because of a single incident that he didn’t protest the honor of a Talmid Chacham. 

Another story is told (רש״י סנהדרין מד,ב) of a great person who was buried in disgrace because he didn’t protest when he heard someone speak negatively of the Rabbis.

The amazing response of the public in this particular case with the bakery is actually very much aligned with the Halacha, as the Gemara (יומא כג,א) says that a Talmid Chacham should not forgive those who insult him until they ask for forgiveness, he also shouldn’t take active revenge but rather others should avenge his honor.

This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel