Chareidim L’Kol Davar

In his column last week on the chareidi teenagers recently charged with smuggling drugs into Japan and the criminal who sent them, my esteemed colleague Rabbi Moshe Grylak referred to them as “Jews of chareidi appearance.” His reasons for doing so are easily enough discerned. First, he wanted to remind us, just in case any such reminder is needed, that smuggling is not proper profession for Jews who tremble before G-d.

And second, he sought to offer us the psychological balm that those in question – and even more so the one who sent them – are not really chareidim; they just dress like chareidim. Unfortunately, there is no solace to be had on that score.

Sometimes, as in the case of someone who traded his blue jeans and t-shirts for a black suit and peyos two months earlier, it bears noting that the person being discussed was not raised in a chareidi family nor educated in chareidi schools. But that was hardly the case with the youths in question. They were raised in chareidi families; they were educated in chareidi institutions; and they fully identified themselves as chareidim.

Nor was their arrest a unique event. The phenomenon that Rabbi Grylak describes of Jews in chassidic dress being singled out for special scrutiny by customs officials around the world did not come about because of just one or two such Jews being caught smuggling drugs or other contraband. It took the combined efforts of numerous chareidim on many continents to create this stigma in the eyes of law enforcement officials.

In short, the teenagers arrested in Japan represent a more general educational failure that requires a bit of soul-searching. (and that is true even though it is clear they had no idea what they were carrying.) They would never have knowingly put anything treife into their mouths. (Not eating non-kosher food, unfortunately, may no longer be possible for them. Unlike American prisons, Japanese prisons do not routinely make provision for kosher food.) Even the cruel person who dispatched them to their fate probably does not eat treife.

Yet the potential chilul Hashem if they were caught smuggling, no matter what they were smuggling, did not enter their calculations. Yet chilul Hashem is much more severe than eating treife. Only about the former, are we taught there is no difference between advertent and inadvertent transgressions (Pirkei Avos 4:5). Even though pikuach nefesh overrides all but three cardinal transgressions, both Rabbi Elazar Menachem Schach and Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky, z”l, told Rabbi Moshe Sherer, in response to a query he had put to them, that rule does not apply where there is likelihood of chilul Hashem.

At the very least, we should hope to raise children who have the ability to take into account the future consequences of their actions (roeh es hanolad) and make some kind of balance of the potential “reward” for the sin against the potential loss involved. The continued widespread existence of smoking among our youth is only a less dramatic proof of our failure in this regard.

I don’t know what the young men now in a Japanese prison were offered for their services – according to one report, it was a free trip to the kever of Rebbe Elimelech of Luzenzk. But it is hard to imagine any scale on which it could compare to the risk of 12 years in what is reputedly one of the cruelest prison systems in the world – one designed to make crime as unenticing as possible.

THERE IS ANOTHER REASON why any attempt to downplay our connection to those involved in smuggling by describing the latter as “Jews of chareidi appearance” won’t wash. Sadly, the willingness of some youth to engage in criminal behavior and of adults to use them as couriers derives, in part, from attitudes that are too widespread. For some, our designation as the “chosen people” does not primarily refer to our higher level of obligation and our role in showing the world what individuals and a society shaped in accord with Hashem’s will would look like.

Rather the Kuzari’s description of the Jewish people as the highest level of creation is somehow twisted to mean that we are completely removed from the rest of humanity: We need not feel any obligation to obey their laws or concern ourselves with their well-being. Only such an attitude can explain the willingness of those who dispatched these youths to traffic in drugs whose destructive impact is well known.

Yet our special status as the chosen people actually imposes a higher degree of responsibility and a universal mission. A story involving Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, one of the outstanding talmidim of Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, Hy”d, and a long-time rebbe in Philadelphia Yeshiva illustrates the point.

Reb Mendel once drove into a car repair shop. In the garage, he noticed a calendar with the types of images from which we are taught to avert our gaze. The typical reaction for most of us would have been to simply ignore the calendar and look the other way. Reb Mendel, who was already in his latter years, however, risked life and limb by ripping the calendar off the wall right in front of the rough crew working in the garage.

Why did he bother? What was the point of potentially setting off a riot, especially since it is probably safe to assume that none of the mechanics in the shop were Jewish? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect the reason is that Reb Mendel saw himself as responsible for the world that Hashem created. The calendar polluted that world and degraded human beings created in the Divine image.

Even if the immediate victims of that pollution were not likely to be Jews, Reb Mendel knew that a Jew’s responsibilities extend to the entire world, for only we were given the mission of bringing the knowledge of Hashem to all of mankind.

Unless we internalize that mission, we can expect more tragedies like that in Japan.

This article appeared in the Mishpacha on Wednesday, 4th of June 2008

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29 Responses

  1. Rafi G says:

    I did not think Rabbi Grylk was downplaying the connection to being Charedi. I read his article in hebrew and there he calls them “the three charedi bachurim in Japan”. I don’t see him trying to disassociate them from Charedi Jewry.
    He attacks them for putting the rest of us at risk, and for creating a chillul Hashem, so they can make a bit of money 9or whatever it was that they were promised.

    But being that you understood his article the way you did, now what? So they are Charedi. How do we deal with this situation? Do you disagree with him calling them rodfim? should we consider this pidyon shvuyim? Should the askanim get involved and have rabbonim sign declarations saying ti is assur to take suitcases from people, even charedi people, as he suggests?

    now that you say they are charedi, which they are, how are we supposed to relate to this?

  2. Naftali Zvi says:

    Aside from the great Chillul Hashem, incidents such as these can bring about some very disturbing side effects for frum (especially Chareidi-“dressed”) travelers such as having our teffillin tampered with or our personal Kosher food confiscated. The community cannot afford to shrug off such incidents as “yotzei dofen”.

  3. joel rich says:

    Generally agree with your thoughts but am a bit surprised that there was no mention of dina dmalchuta dina (the law of the land is the law) as a specific halacha which would forbid the actions discussed. I’d also like to understand better under what halachik category was R’ Mendel allowed to destroy someone else’s property.


  4. YM says:

    This is a DISASTER, and I know that many would suggest that the culprit is the culture of lifelong Kollel and non-participation in the workforce, although I suggest that the deeper issues is the lack of interaction with, and the negative attitude found in these communities toward non-Jews and society in general; This may be what causes a lack of awareness or concern with chillul Hashem.

  5. Melanie says:

    Joel Rich wrote that he is a bit surprised that there was no mention of dina dmalchuta dina

    It seems to be commonly accepted among many Jews believe that the only laws that bind are actual halacho, not any secular laws whatsoever. Which leaves open the unfortunate possibility of chilul Hashem, too difficult to evaluate since the majority of any kind of secular-legal infraction never comes to light.

    But that being the case, why so money-hungry? In other words, all these violations of secular law are to make money. Where’s the hashkofo of being happy with one’s lot, believing that Hashem gives us what we need?

  6. Bob Miller says:

    The question is whether people identifying with a community do or do not objectively meet the associated description. There is an inward component to being a Chareidi or anything else, not only some combination of outward appearance and public behavior.

    However, any community that finds particular kinds of misbehavior going on in its midst has to take stock and make the needed corrections.

  7. Danny Rubin says:

    “In short, the teenagers arrested in Japan represent a more general educational failure that requires a bit of soul-searching.”

    Rabbi Rosenblum,

    I would first like to express my gratitude that both you and Cross Currents provide an appropriate venue for this soul searching.

    What I would like to add to this search is that I suspect the offenders are among the many, that were deprived the opportunity of exploiting there talents in an honest career that requires university training.
    ( This does not condone their terrible action by any stretch of the imagination.)

    As long as realisic financial responsibility is excluded from the tenets of Torah education we are inviting this type of corruption, perversion and worse.

  8. Big Maybe says:

    Outwardly we must all condemn what these bachurim have done. Inwardly however, we must feel real anguish for them. Who can imagine the horrible situation they find themselves in? Who doubts the overwhelming regret they feel every day? And who is not devastated when picturing the grief their parents are in? I myself cannot think about them without terrible sadness. Now take those thoughts, and apply them to poor choices you and I make every day, and tell yourself:
    דע לפני מי אתה עתיד דין וחשבון

  9. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    What disturbs me most is that if this has been a common phenomenon, we haven’t seen a kol koreh warning bochrim and others not to accept offers to transport packages due to the danger involved. Before Rosh Chodesh, Flatbush was plastered with posters enjoining us to say tehillim for the three bochrim who were caught in Japan. Why don’t we see a warning from the same rabbonim not to fall into the same trap?

  10. lacosta says:

    Why don’t we see a warning from the same rabbonim not to fall into the same trap?

    —and when we read today of acid burns inflicted on a victim by allegedly the betar ilit modesty patrols today, will there be kol kore’s against violence on The Other; or do we interpret uviarta hara mikirbecha to be in force now…

  11. Aaron says:

    “smuggling is not proper profession for Jews who tremble before G-d”

    What about hiring illegal aliens as housekeepers and factory workers? Whether or not other families and our business competitors are often getting away with the practice, the fact is that every time a Shomer Shabbos Jew (or company) is caught, it is always a chillul Hashem.

    What about engaging in anticompetitive business practices that may fall under a country’s antitrust laws?

    Are hechsherim ethically glatt or are there often strong-arm politics involved with mashgichim that would make us wince if they were publicized outside our community?

    Regarding the calls for improvements in education… providing a wider track in our haredi yeshivos for bochurim to acquire marketable skills aimed at gainful employment will be a good start. This isn’t something to BEGIN to think about around age 22. Maybe withhold advancement in Gemara shiurim from those students who refuse to master 7th-grade math (pre-algebra) or write a business letter or a short report. If you can’t communicate written prose clearly in your mother tongue, it’s very likely that you aren’t thinking clearly in gemara, either. Scoliosis in fundamental skills isn’t likely to generate a future gemara acrobat.

    I’d wager that these kids caught in Japan weren’t particularly good at the “3 R’s”, having been trained that choldik knowledge was treif.

  12. Chaim Fisher says:

    Rav Shternboch told me meforash that this column is wrong. Is it permitted to say such a thing on this site? Or will the moderator delete this message because even though it is the opinion of an Adam Gadol it is not suitable to Cross Currents?

  13. Dovid Kornreich says:

    I suspect the offenders are among the many, that were deprived the opportunity of exploiting there talents in an honest career that requires university training.

    As if the university is a bastion of honesty and high morality. Chareidi-supervised non-academic vocational training is the way to go.

  14. Dr. E says:

    —What disturbs me most is that if this has been a common phenomenon, we haven’t seen a kol koreh warning bochrim and others not to accept offers to transport packages due to the danger involved. Before Rosh Chodesh, Flatbush was plastered with posters enjoining us to say tehillim for the three bochrim who were caught in Japan. Why don’t we see a warning from the same rabbonim not to fall into the same trap?—

    I was in Brooklyn last Shabbos and noticed the aforementioned Kol Korehs urging everyone to daven for the guys. I commented to my wife that halivai– the same enthusiasm should be shown in support of three non-“Chareidim” named Shalit, Goldwasser, and Regev. I guess they either didn’t attend the right Cheder or their fathers don’t go to the right shteibel.

    I didn’t bother reading the entire text, but it would not surprise me if there was some insinuation of oppression of frum Jews by Goyim. As my friend Danny Rubin commented, this is no doubt a possible scenario when the life plan is one of undereducation and underemployment.

  15. Ori says:

    Dovid Kornreich: As if the university is a bastion of honesty and high morality. Chareidi-supervised non-academic vocational training is the way to go.

    Ori: In the US it’s relatively easy to open a university. In Israel you can use Open University textbooks, teach with your own people, and send the students to Open University exams.

    Either way, it should be possible to provide academic vocational training in a Charedi environment. Maybe not law school or medical school, but most other things.

  16. Jose says:

    Dr. E.

    I think you will find that Chareidim who are sayng tefillos for Shalit, Goldwasser, and Regev. Does that mean that there should not be calls for tehillim for these bochurim?

    Mr. Reismann,

    There have been Kol Korehs. It has been reported that Hrav Shteinman said that people should not take packages even from people thay know.

  17. Yosi G. says:

    I totally agree with this, but now I wonder:

    In my local community are someone who scammed millions with phony mortgages, another who served time for taking federal school funds wrongly, yet another who did time for money laundering as well as a stock-market manipulator.

    Can I assume I’d be correct in protesting when they get “kibudim”? After all, they’re certainly a bigger affront to Judaism than a gullible “charedi” bochur.

  18. LOberstein says:

    Rabbi Grylak is willing to risk criticism by pointing out problems. Kol Hakovod to him and to others who ry to deal with the problem of poverty in the Israeli chareidi world. I have a nephew by marriage who is a born and bred Gerrer Chossid with a spodek on his head, who is part of the Boro Park Gerrer community. He got his GED,went to Touro and is now a CPA working for a large shomer shabbos company as the chief financial officer. When we see the same phenomenon in Israel by chassidim and Litvaks, then we will see much blessing for the State of Israel and for the People of Israel. May the day soon come.

  19. David Kay says:

    Whilst I may agree to most of the article one thing disturbs me greatly.
    According to many these bochurim were very slyly led to believe that they were doing no wrong whatsoever, and were only doing a regular courier service for the “benefactor” who had given them a free ticket to Lizhensk.

    I therefore find it very hurtful and wrong that any blame whatsoever is placed on them. If the version mentioned is true they were an “Oines” in the chillul haShem that unfortunately evolved and not a shogeg or worse.

    There are probably other versions of the story too, but “hevi don es kol haodom lkaf zechus is definitely something that this writer should practice especially when addressing multitudes.

  20. Dr. E says:


    I’m glad that you have seen Kol Korehs and public announcements in the Chareidi community, encouraging tefillos on the MIA’s behalf. Somehow I missed them. In other words, no way Jose. 🙂

    ——Dr. E.

    I think you will find that Chareidim who are saying tefillos for Shalit, Goldwasser, and Regev.——

  21. aaron from L.A. says:

    the chareidim who are involved in this activity feel that since Goyim will be consuming these “goods”,why should they even care?The unfortunate truth is that they forget that they weren’t the only people made B’tselem Elokim.

  22. dovid says:

    Dr. E.: “I think you will find Chareidim who are saying tefillos for Shalit, Goldwasser, and Regev.”


    Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam (Baumel), Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman be Sarah (Katz), Tzvi ben Pnina (Feldman), Ron ben Batia (Arad), Guy ben Rina (Hever), and Jehonatan ben Malka (Pollard).

  23. Baruch Pelta says:

    As if the university is a bastion of honesty and high morality. Chareidi-supervised non-academic vocational training is the way to go.

    YU and Touro College in America seem to be working out pretty well in America.

  24. yankee says:

    Whenever R”L such a situation develops in our communities, well meaning people trot out the “dinah d’malchusha dinah” argument and why is it not taught, etc. Unfortunately, this shows a commn held ignorance of this rule.

    Dinah D’malchusa Dinah does not mean that a Jew has to follow secular goverment’s law and if he doesn’t, he will be called to heavenly judgement after 120 years. When our time comes to give an accounting of our actions in this world, they won’t bring up unpaid parking tickets, speeding violations, business lunch writeoffs, etc.

    When klal yisroel went into golus after churbas bais sheini, the Rabbis realized that they had a problem. We were going to be ruled by secular goverments who have their own laws that don’t follow Torah. A Jew will say I don’t have to pay taxes since Torah does not say to pay taxes to the Roman goverment. The Torah does not say that I have to pay property tax. The end result would be people being arrested, tried, etc. According to Torah, every Jew has the duty to do everything in his/her power to get this person freed. This would lead to even more arrests, executions, etc as every Jew would have to fight to free this person. To avoid such a situation that would lead to the destruction of klal yisroel, the Rabbonim ruled “dinah d’malchusa dinah” which allows a foreign non-Jewish goverment to pass laws and Jews living in exile in that country have to follow it.

    This does not obligate a Jew to follow secular law as a Torah law, but it puts a process in place that a Jew cannot use halacha and Torah to ignore the law of the land.

  25. Ori says:

    Yankee, this interpretation would imply that Jews are only obligated to obey the law to avoid getting caught. Do you have sources for it?

    BTW, what is the Halachic status of helping somebody do something forbidden, such as hurting your health for no good reason? If I ask you for a knife to amputate my finger(1), are you allowed to give it to me? What if I ask you for wine when I’m an alcoholic? Does it matter if I’m Jew or gentile, or are both forbidden to take unreasonable risks?

    (1) Assuming that my finger is fine and there is no medical reason to amputate it.

  26. yankee says:

    Thanks for the comment.
    My post was only regarding the issue of dinah d’malchusa. This does not take into account chillul hashem, which forbids us from doing something even in private quarters that would be a chillul hashem if it was done publicly.
    What I wrote is paraphasing a shiur I heard from a prominent modern day posek. Again, this does not take into account chillul hashem. Dinah d’malchusa does not give you a Torah obligation to follow the law. It causes us to acknowledge the power of the ruling goverment to enforce the law, and we cannot hide behind halacha and Torah to deny the goverment that power.
    I will IY”H post sometime this week some sources for the parameters of dinah d’malchusa.

    Helping someone do something that is forbidden is probably “lifnei eever” (before a blind man do not put a stumbling block”, so giving a knife to someone who wants to hurt himself or giving an alcoholic another drink would be definitely halachically forbidden.

  27. Ori says:

    Yankee, thank you. This makes sense.

    So smuggling drugs when you have reasons to think you won’t get caught isn’t a dinah d’malchuta violation. It is, however, a chillul hashem in a society that believes drug smuggling is wrong. It is also a lifnei eever if you have reasons to think that those drugs will be marketed to current or future addicts.

  28. Yankee says:

    I did some research and talked to a prominent poisek regarding this. To do these issues justice would be a long article and I’m thinking of going that route eventually.

    A Tshuvas Harivosh discusses when someone does an act that harms society, in his teshuva it was counterfeiting money. He ruled you can go to the secular authorities and it is not mesira, since their actions are destroying a vital function of civil society. He writes that it is worse than chillul hashem. Drug dealing and ‘importing’ falls into this parameter since we know it ruins neighborhoods and entire social networks (check out Watts, South Bronx, etc). Therefore, if I knew these 3 young men are knowingly taking drugs into Japan, I can inform Japanese police and it is not mesira. Dinah d’malchusa is again not a prohibition directed to us, but a tool for the goverment to enforce its laws without the entire klal yisroel rioting.

    Chillul Hashem is a very misunderstood rule and applied incorrectly by almost everyone, including me and most of the people who posted here. Causing goyim to look down or think ill of us is possibly the issur of “Eivah”, depending on the circumstances. Chillul Hashem applies when a Jew violates a Torah (and sometimes a Rabbanan) prohibition publicly. For example, embezzlement from private people or pension funds. It is stealing money (Torah issur) and chillul hashem if it becomes known. On the other hand, if I speed and get stopped, it is not a chillul hashem. I did not transgress a Torah law by speeding. If I stop my car in the middle of a street during rush hour and block traffic, I will get lots of people angry and they may call me “dirty Jew”, and some other words. It is “eivah” and a chillul hashem since I wasting their time and gas is stealing, which is a Torah issur.

    If you illegally copy some software and get caught, it is not a chillul hashem. According to Torah, intellectual property rights do not exist. The US goverment’s declaring it illegal does not make it a chillul hashem. A rov pointed out to me that medicine patents run 17 years in America. In Canada, Japan and China they run shorter. This 17 year rule was the result of a compromise in congress. I manufacture this intellectual property medical patent in year 10. Is this a chillul hashem because of a political compromise? I may get fined, sued, etc. but a Torah issur does not apply here.

    The neturei karta idiots who went to holocaust denial conference in Tehran definitely caused “eivah” which applies to Jews as well. A rov told me it is hard to find the chillul hashem in it. He can’t stand them since his grandparents were killed by the germans yimach shmom, and therefore they caused “eivah” but where is the issur in Torah that would cause the chillul hashem.

    This doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of this issue, and I hope to write more on this including sources in gemorrah, reshonim, and shaalos Ut’shuvos.

    Thanks for giving me such a great stimulating subject to think about.

  29. Ori says:

    Thank you yankee. When you write that article, I’d like to read it. Could you post a link here, or e-mail me as ori =at= simple =dash= tech =dot= com?


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